January 19, 2016

When the snow comes, make sure to sled safely


Excitement over flurries can overtake common sense; remember to sled safely on the snow.

Being a native of a deep Southern state that rarely sees snow, I personally remember one winter when my brother and I were excited to see the first flurry. As the snow quickly made a mark on the ground, my brother grabbed a makeshift sled and hurtled himself down the hill on a trash can lid. My parents wrung their hands in terror, yelling “Slow down!” As I watched my brother plunging over the small patches of ice, laughing and giggling from the speed of his trip down the snowy hill in our backyard, I realized that I, too, wanted to join in and experience this “new” sport of winter sledding!

The first dusting of snow brings a burst of wintery excitement for all as the snow slowly falls and schools quickly close due to the frigid temps and dangerous commutes. Yet, the falling snow brings the desire for kids of all ages to grab sleds and head outdoors to experience this wintery gift.

Now that I am an advocate for safety, I see the imminent dangers that we were exposing ourselves to as we laughed and enjoyed the wintery weather for the very first time that rare winter. Below, you will find helpful information for you and your family to enjoy wintery weather by putting safety first:

Choose the right sledding hill

When hills get coated with snow, they may all look like great locations for sledding, but be very careful when choosing a location for your kids to sled. Not all hills are safe.

  • Select a hill that is not too steep and has a long, flat area at the bottom for your kids 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, poles or trees before your kids begin sledding.
  • Don’t sled on ice. This is an important reminder in Tennessee and other southern states, where ice may more common than fluffy snow. Icy slopes make for hard landings if kids fall off sleds, and icy conditions can increase speed, which may contribute to more serious injuries if they do occur.

Adult supervision is the key to safe sledding

Children should be supervised at all times, but it is important to pay extra attention when they are engaged in a potentially dangerous activity like sledding. Supervising adults should make sure all participants are sledding safely and not engaging in any unnecessarily risky behavior.

Use appropriate sledding equipment

Make sure all equipment used for sledding is safe and in good working condition. Sleds that are cracked, broken or damaged in any way should be discarded as they could pose a danger to the user and others. Also, the use of anything other than a device designed specifically for sledding — including garbage can lids, lunch trays and tarps — should be prohibited. Children sledding should also wear appropriate clothing for the temperature.

Bring a helmet on your sled ride

Sleds going down steep hills can travel at speeds in excess of 20-25 mph and if a rider is thrown from the sled or crashes into an object, the damage could be extensive and even fatal. Every year brings deaths from brain injuries suffered during sled accidents. Wearing a helmet while sledding can greatly reduce these injuries.

Sit in a forward-facing position

No one should sled headfirst. All participants should sit in a forward-facing position, steering with their feet or a rope tied to the steering handles of the sled.

Ride safely

It is important that all sled riders are aware of how their particular sled is meant to be ridden and what the designed rider load is. Putting more people on a sled than it was designed for could be dangerous to all riders and other sledders if the overloaded sled goes off course. Sleds should always be used in the way they were designed, and it is up to the supervisors to make sure children use them properly.

The good news is that you, as a parent or caregiver, can play a major role in preventing skiing, snowboarding and sledding injuries. Enjoy the weather and be sure to choose safety first!

Emily Riley is an injury prevention program coordinator at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital with a background in adolescent health and development. When she is not working, Emily enjoys running, cooking/baking, being outdoors, exploring local coffee shops and spending time with the people she loves. She also has a hard time putting down a good book.

Tired of sledding and need something else to do? Read our 10 Easy, Fun Snow Day Activity Ideas.