How to sled safely while still having fun

December 27, 2015 Providence Health Team

Depending on where you grew up, you may have fond memories of taking your love of snow sitting down – on a trash bag, a lunch tray, a tube, coaster or toboggan. Whatever your vessel, flying down a hill, the wind whipping at your face, is a singular wonder that belongs to winter.

No doubt, you took a spill or two in your time, some that knocked the wind out of you – and left you grateful it hadn’t been worse.

This year, whether you and your kiddos are headed to the mountain or another snowy clime for some downhill fun, make sure to keep them safe and happy with these necessary sledding precautions.

More thrills. Fewer chills and spills.

According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 20,000 kids age 19 and younger end up in the emergency department each year as a result of sledding-related accidents. Don’t take any chances. Follow these simple steps to make sure your child has more thrills – and less spills and chills.

Wear a helmet. Think of it like riding a bike, or getting on a skateboard or scooter. You’d ask your child to put on their helmet for those activities, yes? You can pick up a lot of speed going downhill. It’s possible to fall off, hit an icy patch or collide with another child. A helmet can greatly reduce the chance of a head injury or concussion. At the very least, kids age 12 and younger should wear a helmet.

Stick to the proper “vehicle.” Yes, back in the day, trash bags, cardboard boxes and a stolen lunch tray or two from your school cafeteria made for awesome rogue sledding. But these types of makeshift substitutes are less predictable – and not worth the risk. Even inner tubes and snow discs (“coasters”) present their own problems: they turn around mid-run, with no way to steer, and they can go really fast. Pick a sled with a steering mechanism and runners, if possible.

Avoid roadways, ice, trees and crowds. A clear path on a proper bed of snow ensures the safest passage from the top to the bottom of a hill. Ice makes for hard landings and increased speed. Hills shouldn’t empty in a roadway – however sparsely traveled – and too many people sledding alongside one another is a recipe for collision. Avoid sledding anywhere there are trees.

Other tips to keep things from going sideways:

  • Kids should go downhill feet first, sitting up. This is least likely to result in injury.
  • Younger kids (age 5 and younger) should go downhill with an adult.
  • Older kids should sled solo (single riders only!).
  • Bundle up with the proper gear, including hats, ear warmers, gloves and snow pants.
  • Make sure kids stay hydrated – especially the heavily bundled, who can sweat a lot inside all those layers.
  • Apply sunscreen to your child’s face, as light reflecting off snow can cause sunburn on exposed cheeks.
  • Sled in the daylight only.
  • Grownups should supervise their kids, or designate an adult who can look after them.

Do you or your child need a doctor? If so, find a local primary care provider here.

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