Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's a snow day: Sledding tips to keep you out of the ER

AP Photo/Laramie Boomerang, Andy Carpenean
Chelsia Wilson of Cheyenne, Wyo., goes sledding on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011, at Happy Jack Recreation Area in Albany County, Wyo.
The roads in Metro Detroit may be empty but you can bet with the snow that fell last night -- the sled hills will be covered with kids, flying saucers, snowboards and Radio Flyers. 

As a child growing up in Ontario, I have many beloved memories of unspoiled snow days spent outside with our wooden toboggans flying down the nearest hill or frozen river bank. If you tilted your sled slightly, when you got to the bottom you could extend the ride down the river. The trip down was a blast, the trek back up, exhausting. Some days, when we were totally prepared, wearing snowmobile suits, warm boots, hats and all the gear that one needed to survive the cold, the only thing that prompted our return home was the growling of our stomachs. Then the hot drinks and all the marshmallows your cup could handle were on me, as our house was closest to the river.

In all the times that we spent flying down the hills, I cannot recall anyone getting hurt badly enough to require a visit to the hospital. As a parent of kids, who belly-flop down the side of a hill going way-to-fast, I know we were fortunate nothing happened but I now find myself paying close attention to safety tips such as these:

Make sure the path is clear
Check the area where your children plan to be sledding, not only the area on the way down but at the bottom as well. Remember the scene in "It's a wonderful life," when George Bailey's brother was going so fast he flew past the paint cans and fell through the ice? The area should be wide open and free of trees, fences, utility poles and traffic, as there’s always one rider who will keep on going.

Forget breaking a world record.
There is no prize for piling on one sled as many people as you can. My toboggan was designed for two people, but otherwise only one rider should saddle up at a time to reduce the risk of getting thrown off.

Remember hill etiquette
Depending on the size of the hill you're on, or how many people are sledding, children should know the rules about waiting their turn and watching out for others. What's nice about many hills these days, there's usually an area for little ones. Colliding with a big kid on a snowboard can be like hitting a tree.

Helmets are in style
They’re not mandatory on sledding hills but because of what we know about close-head injuries, they are definitely recommended. Children wear helmets for snowboarding, biking and skateboarding, so why not sledding, too? Invest in something that's fashionable and maybe they'll be more likely to wear it.

Remember you're not a tree
Make sure your riders know that a sled is unable to stop, and it's up to them to jump out of the way. It's for this reason that many hills have one area designated for going down, and another for going up.
Other than a dog, sleds should remain unpowered. Riding a sled that is being pulled by an ATV or snowmobile is probably way too much fun, and while the risks might seem low, all it takes is one wide turn, or quick flip of the sled for someone to get hurt.

Dress for the occasion
If the older children/teens balk at wearing a warm coat and woolies, bribe them with a round of 7-Eleven Slurpees. It works, really.

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