Sledding has been a winter ritual for generations. Anywhere there's snow and a hillside, you can find people sledding. Your grandparents probably did it, as did your parents, and someday your kids will do it, too. Why? It's tons of fun, and it doesn't require any special skills or equipment other than a sled and a helmet.
But sledding can also cause injuries, some of them pretty serious. To keep yourself safe, follow these tips.
Why Is Sledding Safety Important?
Though it may seem like harmless fun, sledding injuries send tens of thousands of people to hospital emergency rooms each year. More than half of all sledding injuries are head injuries, which can be very serious and even deadly. Sledders are actually more likely to be injured in collisions than skiers or snowboarders.
Choose the Right Hill
When hills get coated with snow, they may all look like great locations for sledding. But not all hills are safe. Choose yours carefully. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Select a hill that is not too steep and has a long flat area at the bottom for you to glide to a stop.
- Avoid hillsides that end near a street or parking lot.
- Avoid hillsides that end near ponds, trees, fences or other hazards.
- Make sure the hill is free of obstacles such as jumps, bumps, rocks, or trees before you begin sledding.
- Choose hills that are snowy rather than icy. If you fall off your sled, icy slopes make for hard landings.
- Try to sled during the daytime, when visibility is better. If you go sledding at night, make sure the hillside is well lit and all potential hazards are visible.
Dress for Success
Since sledding involves playing in the snow outdoors during wintertime, chances are it's going to be cold. Frostbite and even hypothermia are potential dangers. So is hitting your head. Be sure to wear the proper clothing to stay warm and safe.
- Wear sensible winter clothing — hats, gloves or mittens, snow pants, winter jacket, snow boots — that is waterproof and warm, and change into something dry if your clothes get wet.
- Avoid wearing scarves or any clothing that can get caught in a sled and pose a risk of strangulation.
- Wear a helmet designed for winter sports. If you don't have a ski or winter sports helmet, at least wear the helmet you use for biking or skateboarding.
Get the Right Kind of Sled
The best sleds can be steered by their riders and have brakes to slow them down. Avoid sleds that can't be steered, such as saucers or plastic toboggans, and never use a sled substitute like an inner tube, lunch tray, or cardboard box. Good sleds are relatively cheap to buy and are well worth the extra money.
Follow These Simple Safety Rules
You've got the right kind of sled and a helmet, you're dressed warmly, and you've picked out a perfect hill. You're ready to go. Follow these rules to keep yourself and other sledders safe:
- Designate a go-to adult. In the event someone gets injured, you'll want an adult on hand to administer first aid and, if necessary, take the injured sledder to the emergency room.
- Always sit face-forward on your sled. Never sled down a hill backwards or while standing, and don't go down the hill face-first, as this greatly increases the risk of a head injury.
- Young kids (5 and under) should sled with an adult, and kids under 12 should be actively watched at all times.
- Go down the hill one at a time and with only one person per sled (except for adults with young children). Piling more than one person on a sled just means there are more things on the hill that you can collide with.
- Never build an artificial jump or obstacle on a sledding hill.
- Keep your arms and legs within the sled at all times, and if you fall off the sled, move out of the way. If you find yourself on a sled that won't stop, roll off it and get away from it.
- Walk up the side of the hill and leave the middle open for other sledders.
- Never ride a sled that is being pulled by a moving vehicle.
While it's unlikely that you'll be injured while sledding, the possibility definitely exists. Just take a little extra time to dress properly and make sure you're following these safety guidelines, and you'll have a better time knowing you have less to worry about. Sledding is supposed to be fun. Stay safe and warm, and you'll ensure that it is!
Reviewed by: Kathleen B. O'Brien, MD
Date reviewed: February 2010