Why do playgrounds close for winter?

The Montreal climate, and not the pandemic, is to blame for rendering a lot of equipment hazardous in cold weather

Why do playgrounds close for winter

Photo credit: Christine Latreille

Parks, playgrounds, and the outdoors were exceptionally popular this year as the pandemic shut down sports and other organized activities. But since snow started falling, some playgrounds around Montreal are now off-limits. Warning signs are zip-tied to gates and climbing structures, and some cities’ swings have been put away or hung up out of reach.

No, it’s not due to COVID-19 (this time), nor do the cities want our kids to stop playing. Rather, the play structures are closed this season — and every winter before — for safety reasons that have to do with the Montreal climate.

Safety first

I feel you, it’s the pits. Kids are anxious, missing their friends and activities, and parents are stressed. I just want to let my kids loose at the park and say: “Go children! Run, climb, swing!” But during the winter months — when the ground is frozen and the climbing structures are icy — it just isn’t safe to be hanging upside down on monkey bars or scaling the giant rope climber. Kids still need to move, and move often during our cold months, but the reality is that standard playgrounds are not designed for all-season use.

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA), an organization that develops standards in 57 areas, as well as Le projet Espaces by the Alliance québécoise du loisir public (AQLP), recommends municipalities close their playgrounds and play structures in winter as a preventative measure.

The CSA standards note that winter weather conditions reduce the effectiveness of safety surfacing materials and recommend that cities’ maintenance schedules include special preparations for winter: removing or tying up swings, blocking access to slides, and putting up signs advising that the play area will be closed for the winter due to the frozen shock-absorbing material.

Le projet Espaces mentions the following hazards because of winter conditions:

Why do playgrounds close for winter
Frozen safety surfacing underneath this play structure
  • Safety surfacing for shock absorption (sand, wood chips, poured-in-place rubber, etc.) cannot prevent injury from a fall when frozen and no longer offers adequate protection.
  • Winter clothes including scarves, mitten clips, and cords can get caught in equipment, causing fractures or suffocation.
  • Mittens and gloves prevent a secure grip.
  • Snow, ice, or freezing rain can make playing surfaces, railings, stairs, and ladders extremely slippery and lead to falls.
  • Synthetic winter clothing such as nylon snow pants increase speed, especially in plastic slides, and can create a dangerously fast landing.

Different rules around the island

Not every city follows the guidelines the same way. In Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, the play modules are officially closed during the winter season (from December 1 to April 1) because of the risks incurred by frost, ice, snow accumulation, winter clothes, and the fragility of plastics while cold.

The D.D.O. website states: “For safety reasons, please take note that during the winter season, November until March, the playground equipment in the parks are closed.” Pointe-Claire posted on its social media channels that its playgrounds are closed, while clarifying that parks and green spaces remain open. Some cities are ultra cautious and don’t untie swings until mid-May, while others never mention seasonal risks at all.

Visiting playgrounds in winter

Before heading out:

  • Why do playgrounds close for winter
    Snowman making under the splash pad equipment

    Check your city’s regulations.

  • Accompany your children to ensure the playground’s safety.
  • Avoid using elevated play equipment when safety surfaces are frozen.
  • Remove any choking hazards such as drawstrings, scarves, or helmets. These can easily become entangled in equipment (this is true in every season!)

No one wants to bubble wrap their kids, I sure don’t, but there’s a difference between risky play and hazardous play. Nearly 4,000 children up to the age of 9 were admitted to a hospital as a result of a fall in 2018/19, with children 5 to 9 most often falling at playgrounds.