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Safety Tips: Sledding

Sledding with friends and family members has been a winter ritual for generations. Anywhere there's snow and a hillside, you can find people sledding. You probably went sledding as a kid, and you'll want to share this fun activity with your kids.

But sledding can also cause injuries, some of them pretty serious. To keep your kids safe while sledding, make sure they follow these safety tips.

Why Sledding Safety Is Important

Though it may seem like harmless fun, sledding injuries send thousands of kids and teens to hospital emergency rooms each year. Head injuries, which can be very serious and even deadly, are the most common sledding injuries seen in emergency rooms. Sledders are most likely to be injured in collisions with objects or people.

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.

Here are a few guidelines to follow when it comes to picking the right spot to sled:

  • 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.
  • Choose hills that are snowy rather than icy. Icy slopes make for hard landings if kids fall off a sled.
  • Always have your kids sled during the daytime, when visibility is better. If they do go sledding at night, make sure the hillside is well lit and all potential hazards are visible.

Dress for Cold Temperatures

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. Make sure your kids wear the proper clothing to stay warm and safe.

  • Kids should 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 their clothes get wet.
  • Don't let kids wear scarves or any clothing that can get caught in a sled and pose a risk of strangulation.
  • Make your kids wear helmets, particularly if they're 12 or younger. Helmets designed for winter sports work best, but if you don't have one, make sure they at least wear a bike helmet or something similar.

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 tubes, saucers, or toboggans, and never use a sled substitute like a lunch tray or cardboard box. Good sleds are relatively cheap to buy and are well worth the extra money.

Some Simple Safety Rules

Your kids have the right kind of sled and properly fitted helmets, they're dressed warmly, and you've picked out a perfect hill for them to sled down. They're ready to go.

There are still a few rules they need to follow, though, to keep themselves and other sledders safe:

  • Be sure a responsible adult is present to supervise. In the event someone does get injured, there should always be an adult on hand to administer first aid and, if necessary, take the injured sledder to the emergency room. Call 911 for serious injuries, including neck or head injuries.
  • Young kids (5 and under) should sled with an adult, and kids under 12 should be actively watched at all times.
  • Children should always sit face-forward on their sleds. Never let them sled down a hill backwards or while standing, and make sure they don't go down the hill face-first, as this greatly increases the risk of a head injury.
  • Insist that kids go down the hill one at a time and with only one person per sled (except for adults with young kids).
  • Don't let kids build an artificial jump or obstacle on a sledding hill.
  • Remind kids to keep their arms and legs within the sled at all times. If they fall off the sled, tell them to move out of the way. Teach them that if they're on a sled that won't stop, to roll off it and get away from it.
  • Make kids walk up the side of the hill and leave the middle open for other sledders.
  • Never allow a child to ride a sled that is being pulled by a moving vehicle.

While it's unlikely that kids will be injured while sledding, the possibility definitely exists. Just take a little extra time to dress them properly and make sure they follow these safety guidelines. They'll have a better time, and you'll rest easier knowing you have less to worry about. Sledding is supposed to be fun; keep your kids safe and warm, and you'll ensure that it is!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014