Whizzing O'er the Snow

GORP's Tips for Sledding Safety
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As a kid, I loved to sled. There was nothing better than an afternoon on a snowy slope with some soap-coated metal runners and my friends.

Now, as a parent, my outlook has changed. I love to see my kids sled, but there's always a part of me cringing, waiting for that dreaded collision.

Any parents can imagine the numerous pitfalls. Every year thousands of kids are injured during sledding accidents. More often than not, the scrapes and pains are minor, but sometimes they are serious, even fatal.

What can you do to ensure your sledding outings end with little more than wet seats and cold noses, instead of a trip to the emergency room?

What the Doctors Say
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has published guidelines, divided into two groups, the first of which they label"essential":

  • Sled only in designated areas free of fixed objects such as trees, posts and fences.
  • Make sure that all children in sledding areas are supervised by parents or adults.
  • Kids must sit in a forward-facing position, steering with their feet or a rope tied to the steering handles of the sled. No one should sled head-first down a slope.
  • Do not sled on slopes that end in a street, drop-off, parking lot, river or pond.

The Orthopedists add a second set of rules, which they label"preferred":

  • Children under 12 years old should sled wearing a helmet. 
  • Wear layers of clothing for protection from injuries. 
  • Do not sit/slide on plastic sheets or other materials that can be pierced by objects on the ground.
  • Use a sled with runners and a steering mechanism, which is safer than toboggans or snow disks.
  • Sled in well-lighted areas when choosing evening activities.

Though the Academy recommends that kids 12 and under should wear helmets, it seems to me that if an activity requires a helmet, kids of any age should wear one. After all, the older kids are, the faster and more daring their sledding runs become.

Helmet use may depend on one's situation. Where we sled in our yard, for instance, there are no trees or other obstacles. When my son is sledding with my husband or me, the chance of a collision is remote, so a helmet is less necessary.

Most kids these days are used to wearing helmets, whether they're biking, roller blading or ice skating. Throwing one on for sledding shouldn't be much of a stretch. It's makes perfect sense to extend the rule to sledding. Helmets provide protection and insulation on particularly cold days.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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