Sledding is fun – just keep it safe!

January 20, 2015 Providence Health Team

Be safe on the sled or ski hill.Kids. Snow. Hill. Put them together and you have the potential for sledding fun! Like many outdoor winter sports, however, sledding comes with its share of risks. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, more than 160,000 sledding-related injuries are reported in emergency rooms and clinics every winter – far more than skiing or snowboarding. The majority of cases involve children (mainly boys – surprise!) ages 10-14. Here are some suggestions to protect your sledding thrill seekers – and yourself – from hazards unknown. 

The right gear 

Helmet. Sleds can reach speeds of 25 mph (some faster). No wonder head trauma is the most common sledding injury. Children younger than 6 run the greatest risk of brain injury from sledding because of their disproportionate head size, instability and lack of strength. Studies show helmets are effective in preventing brain injuries. Protect everyone’s noggin with a ski helmet this season. 

Clothing. Weather conditions will dictate what you’ll need. At a minimum, take a winter coat or down vest, snow pants, warm footwear and mittens or gloves. And, remember: bright clothes are easier to spot, should someone sled astray. 

Sledding is hard work – especially the walk back uphill. Wear breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics (like COOLMAX or TENCEL) as a base layer against your skin. Never wear cotton – it absorbs sweat and stays wet. Wear layers for warmth – it’s easy to add or remove as the weather changes. Stay warm to avoid frostbite or, worse yet, hypothermia. 

Sled. Choose a sled you can control – a sit-up, low-rider style with molded plastic side runners, built-in steering and hand brakes. Single-seaters are safest – and offer the best view. 

Forget the plastic saucers, tubes and toboggans. They’re the riskiest for fall injuries and collisions. And, makeshift sleds like boxes, plastic trays and garbage bags are just as bad. With virtually no control, they can easily veer off course and lead to disaster (never mind a bruised back side). 

Sunscreen and sunglasses. You can get burned on a cold, cloudy day just as easily as on a sunny one. And sunlight reflected off the bright snow is even more intense. Be sure to use a broad spectrum sunscreen before you head out to sled. Don’t forget to reapply every few hours. And, get UV protective eyewear for the whole family – children’s eyes are especially sensitive to damaging UV light. 

Safety tips 

You’re all set with personal gear, so follow these simple safety tips to sidestep sledding injuries this season. 

Supervise. Sledding trips without adult supervision often end in injury. If you’re tempted to send your child sledding with the neighborhood kids ... don’t. Teach your child to ride and guide his sled and be there to evaluate the risks and monitor the action. 

Slope check. Before you set off downhill, survey the course. Walk the hill to check it out up close. Avoid areas with trees and large obstacles (like telephone poles and buildings). And, stay clear of frozen lakes and ponds, which may not be strong enough to support people. 

Look for snow-covered ledges, dips or holes that can send you flying. They’re especially hard to see in shaded areas and at night. And, keep an eye out for icy spots and stray branches or debris that could inflict injury. 

Verify that the end of the run is long and flat, with no fences, roads or parking lots. The majority of sledding accidents occur at the bottom of hills that end abruptly. 

Watch out for people. Stay away from crowded hills, and send your children down at spaced intervals. It’ll discourage racing and reduce their risk of colliding with someone else. 

Know your limits. Softer snow is slower snow. Avoid hard-packed, slick runs where speed can get out of control. Graduate to steeper slopes only after you’ve conquered gentle hills and built up your confidence. 

Quality gear, a safe slope and common sense won’t guarantee an injury-free sledding adventure, but it’s a great start. Observe these easy safety guidelines and set the example early on for your children. They’ll be more likely to do the same on outings with their families (and your precious grandchildren) some snowy winter day.

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