Why do playgrounds close for winter?

The Montreal climate 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 for the past year and a half as the pandemic shut down sports and other organized activities. But come winter, some playgrounds around Montreal will be off-limits. Warning signs will be zip-tied to gates and climbing structures, and some cities’ swings will be 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 close in winter for safety reasons that have to do with the Montreal climate.

Safety first

I feel for you, it’s the pits. Kids are still feeling anxious 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.

Why do playgrounds close for winter
Frozen safety surfacing underneath this play structure

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

  • 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. In St. Bruno on the South Shore, swings are removed from late fall until mid-April, and play areas are closed during the winter season. The measures are intended to prevent any risk of accident or falls on frozen ground which could cause serious injury to young users.

And the city of D.D.O. states on its website: “For safety reasons, please take note that during the winter season, November until March, the playground equipment in the parks are closed.” 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:

  • 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. So it’s best to wait out the snow and cold with other activities and save the playgrounds for warmer weather.