Prevent serious sledding injuries with one simple thing

Sledding safety

You’re a good parent. You probably don’t let your kids run with scissors, play with a hot stove, or ride in cars without seatbelts. You take every possible precaution to ensure your kids’ safety and would never intentionally put them in harm’s way.

But when it comes to a popular wintertime activity, there’s a good chance you’re neglecting a vitally important safety measure that could protect your child.

According to the Center on Injury Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital, more than 20,000 kids under the age of 19 are treated for sledding injuries each year. This year, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital has been seeing serious sledding injuries – some of which have required specialized intensive care – at twice the rate of last winter. 

But preventing these injuries could be as simple as having your child wear a helmet, said Jessica Strong, community health manager at Primary Children’s Hospital.

“Head, neck, and abdominal injuries are common for kids taking part in winter activities,” she said. “If it’s sledding or skiing or snowboarding, wearing a helmet is a vital part of keeping kids safe, and can help avoid serious injuries.”

Any helmet is better than no helmet

Helmets may not prevent every injury, but they definitely provide critical protection. 

None of the children sent to Primary Children’s with traumatic injury while sledding in 2020 or 2021 had been wearing a helmet, which could have made a difference in the severity of many of these injuries, Strong said. 

Parents should ensure children are wearing a helmet when sledding. While a ski helmet would be ideal, children could wear any helmet, including a bike or hockey helmet, Strong said. 

“Any head protection is better than no head protection,” she said. 

Be aware of hidden dangers while sledding

Of course, wearing a helmet is just the first step in preventing serious sledding injuries.

Parents also need to be aware of obstacles on their favorite sledding areas due to Utah’s low snowpack. These include rocks or branches that could be hidden under the snow and cause injuries to children as they ride down the hill. 

Strong also advised that parents choose hills that are away from busy roads and trees. There should be a safe stopping place at the bottom of the hill with plenty of space to get out of the way of other riders.

Children who are sledding should make sure they climb up the hill on the side, rather than the center of the hill to prevent collisions, Strong said. 

Strong also urges parents to make sure their kids have warm clothes, wear sunscreen, and stay hydrated.

Tips for sledding safety

Apart from the suggestions mentioned above, here are a few more ideas that can keep your kids safe on the sledding hills this season:

  • Invest in a quality sled. It may be tempting to save a little cash with a bargain piece of plastic, but if your child is going to be racing full speed down a mountain, there are much safer options out there. Sleds that can steer or brake are the safest. (Skip the homemade sled or using the garbage can lids.)
  • Make sure your sled is in good condition. Double check for cracks or sharp edges that could cause an accident if they were to snag on something.
  • Go where there’s plenty of light and space. You want to sled where there’s maximum visibility with as few obstacles as possible. (This includes people, so if your favorite sledding spot is looking crowded, go somewhere else.)
  • Avoid sledding by frozen bodies of water. It may look like fun, but sledding by frozen lakes, streams, or ponds can be potentially dangerous. 
  • Never sled head-first. Always make sure riders are sitting or lying down on sleds with their feet pointing downhill. 
  • Follow manufacturer recommendations. Never exceed the suggested weight/passenger capacity for your sled or toboggan. 
  • Make sure an adult is present. Don’t just drop the kids off at the park; make sure there’s a responsible adult present at all times.

Participating in winter sports always comes with risks. Following these safety guidelines and precautions may not prevent every injury, but they can significantly reduce the chances of something serious or life-threatening.  

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