Stick to designated sledding sites to help kids avoid a trip to the ER, says Montreal trauma prevention expert

Sledding is a classic Canadian winter activity, but trauma experts say parents follow some basic safety precautions before their kids zip downhill on a toboggan.

For the second year in a row, the Montreal Children's Hospital is seeing a higher number of children hurt while tobogganing, many with serious injuries.

So far this winter, the Children’s Hospital has seen more than 50 cases of sledding injuries, more than twice the amount of what they saw pre-pandemic.

“Most of the injuries we see are broken bones,” said Liane Fransblow, trauma coordinator of the injury prevention program at the hospital.

Because so many other sports and activities are off limits due to COVID-19 restrictions, tobogganing is increasingly popular – and that means more injuries.

“These are mostly due to the fact that the kids are sledding on hills that are inappropriate for sledding and they’re banging into obstacles at the bottom of the hill, so something like a pole, a bench, a fence,” she said.

Most of the injuries are minor, but there are some broken legs. Fransblow said her biggest concern is head and spinal cord injuries.

“If they flip around somehow on their sled and bang into it with their head, they can have a very serious injury,” she said.

It’s rare, but it does happen. In Ottawa, just before the end of December, an 11-year-old girl died tobogganing at Mooney’s Bay. Witnesses say the sled she was on with two other people spun around and they slid backwards into a pole

Mooney’s Bay is a popular park but officially, it’s not for sledding.

It’s best to stick to places that are explicitly made for toboganning and posted on the borough or municipality’s website, Fransblow said.

“The biggest concern that we have is which hill people to sled on. Most of the injuries have been people sledding into objects, so think wisely before taking your kids out,” said Fransblow. “Choose the hill that's meant for sledding. Not every hill is a good hill for sledding.”

Designated sledding sites often snow added to them to ensure the slope is gentler, she explained.

Her other advice:

  • Wear a helmet
  • Don’t go too fast
  • Sit up, and don’t sled head first
  • Make sure you can't slide onto the street.

“We recommend helmets,” said Fransblow. “Nothing is 100 per cent foolproof. There is always a risk of either banging into someone else or you go sort of off track, or fall off your slide. And if you hit your head and you're wearing a helmet, you're safer than if you're not.”

Fransblow isn’t discouraging kids from sledding and having some fun in the snow, though, she just wants parents to take the proper precautions.

“We really encourage people to go out and slide, to get out. It's important for these kids. They've been stuck at home for so many years and years at this point with less activities than usual,” she said. “We want them to be active, having fun, it's important for their mental health and development – but we just want to make sure that they're safe before doing it.”

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