Tips to ensure fun and safe sledding
For many Montreal families, sledding is an easy way to get outside in the winter—all you need is snow, a slope, and a sled. But for too many children in the past few years, the fun of sledding has been ruined by injuries that could have been prevented. The last two years have seen an alarming number of children injured while sledding and tobogganing.
In 2022, during the second pandemic winter season, the Montreal Children’s Hospital Trauma Centre reported an elevated number of children and teens injured while sledding and tobogganing, with upward of 50 children treated just in one month between mid-December and mid-January. Many were treated for serious injuries, and more than 95 percent of the kids treated were not wearing a helmet. 2021 saw a record number of tobogganing-related injuries with 70 patients consulting the Emergency Department of the MCH within a three-week span. In previous years the highest seen was 50 cases in 2004, and 49 cases in 1995, with the average being 30-35 cases.
According to Dr. Laurie Plotnick, Medical Director of the Children’s Emergency Department (ED) and Sylvie Levesque, ED Nurse Manager, the children and teens treated at the Children’s in 2021 suffered traumatic brain injuries, assorted limb fractures, abdominal and pelvic injuries, eye lacerations and dental trauma.
Debbie Friedman, Trauma Director at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, says that because of the limited options for physical activity due to the pandemic, tobogganing and sledding became more popular, resulting in an increase in the number of traumatic injuries compared to previous years.
Friedman adds that not every slope makes for a safe toboggan hill. In the past two years, many municipalities reacted and took positive action to improve the safety of their hills. This included: providing supervision, informing the community of the condition of hills, creating sledding lanes, removing obstacles, and adapting hills to create a gentle slope.
“By working together, parents, children, teens and local municipalities can reduce the number of injuries by following these safety tips,” said Trauma Centre’s Injury Prevention Coordinator Liane Fransblow.
◾ Make sure there are no obstacles on the hill, such as park benches, trees, bicycle racks, bales of hay (which easily freeze), wooden boards, metal fences or other park equipment.
◾ It is important to use hills specifically designated for sledding. Always check the conditions of the hill; avoid icy conditions.
◾ Ideally, the bottom of the run should have enough flat open space so the toboggan comes to a stop by itself.
◾ Never slide into the street.
◾ A helmet (ski or hockey type) is highly recommended. High-speed impacts can result in serious traumatic brain injuries.
◾ Use more traditional sleds and toboggans, which allow for better control.
◾ Young children should always be supervised.
◾ Avoid hills that exceed a child’s skill level. Ensure that younger children toboggan on hills with a gentle slope.
◾ Do not pile too many people on a toboggan. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
◾ Always sit facing forward, and never stand or lie head-first.
◾ If you lose control, roll off sideways and do not try to stop the toboggan or sled using your hands or feet.
◾ Get out of the way at the bottom of the hill to avoid being hit by oncoming sliders.
◾ Toboggan during daylight. Many injuries occur during the late afternoon or early evening.
◾ Municipalities are encouraged to monitor the condition of the hill and should not hesitate to close hills when the conditions are dangerous.