raising little ones in the great outdoors

Rules for…Sledding?

What could be more exciting to a kid than fresh snow and a sled? Skiing has been around for 7000 years, so sledding must be even older. I wouldn’t be surprised if archaeologists find a painting of a kid on a big piece of bark next to the horses in one of those French caves.

I love taking our kids sledding, but alas, as with so many other things, People seem to mar the experience. Basically, it comes down to Steve’s First Rule of Sledding – DON’T WALK ON THE SLED RUNS!!!! It creates a bunch of icy, bumpy, speed-sapping holes in the run; it delays the person waiting at the top for his turn; and it will eventually lead to a high-speed collision. Instead, uphill traffic should create and follow their own uptrack. It’s faster, safer, and more fun for everyone. Why can’t people see that?

Almost as irritating are the “jumps” people make. If you’re going to build that kicker, make an effort to do it right. We’ve all been entertained by videos of sledders getting flipped onto their heads. Watching someone else suffer a possible life-long spinal injury is hilarious. It’s not so funny when it’s you or one of your kids. Avoid the giant speed bump shape. Instead, follow Steve’s Second Rule: Use an actual shovel to build a gradual incline that drops steeply on the downhill side. And make sure the landing site is still on the hill, not on the flats. The kiddos will still get some nice air without the flips.

At first, I thought I was being a Scrooge, taking a simple, carefree childhood activity and burdening it with rules. Then on a whim, I Googled “sledding rules”. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the number of hits of actual regulations and guidelines for sledding on municipal hills around the country. For example:

  • Sled in a SITTING position only
  • Building jumps or ramps is not allowed
  • Sledding is allowed in designated area only, and only during daylight hours.  If the hill is posted as CLOSED, then sledding is prohibited due to weather / surface conditions
  • No “surfing”, skiing, or snowboarding
  • Choose a hill that has a gentle slope and that is free of obstacles such as trees, signs, fences, rocks, river, parked or moving vehicles, railway track, and holes or jumps
  • Tuck in any scarves, strings, or long hats that could potentially catch on a rock or tree and cause strangulation or other serious inures
  • Wear a properly fitted ski or hockey helmet to protect against brain injuries
  • Avoid inner tubes, crazy carpets, flying saucers, garbage bags and cardboard boxes- they are difficult to control

My first thought was to credit these rules to a lawsuit or the fear of a lawsuit. On the other hand, there’s no question that sledding is an inherently hazardous activity. I’ve seen serious injuries occur during sledding activities over the years, many which could have been avoided through the application of a little common sense. As they say, though, common sense isn’t all that common. If posting rules results in fewer injuries is that such a bad thing? I can understand the desire to lower the risk through the use of rules, but what does that do to the adventurous spirit of the rising generation?

The issues behind these questions run much deeper in our society than simply sliding down a snowy hill. My kids don’t care about issues, they just want to go sledding. I say, have a good time and use your head. And if you want some rules to follow, you can’t go wrong with mine.

Steve Bohrer

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4 Responses to “Rules for…Sledding?”

  1. Justin Rains says:

    Great list! they might have trouble enforcing the helmet rule.

  2. Kevin says:

    Did anyone see the Banff Mountain F.F. movie about the big wall soloist teenager?

    I was most moved and inpressed by the interview with his knowing, laid back mom. She clearly understood that ‘rules’ are not the way to teach responsibility.
    She knows she has taught her son values and he knows the risks at stake in his passion and that she can do no more than that.

    I am reminded too of attitudes to risk in Europe- climbing gyms for example- no waiver B.S. (or even questions about if you know what you are doing). If you don’t know to be careful at high heights (or take your own responsibility for asking) then fate will take care of you – and yes, fingers have been lost in draws, deaths even – but very rarely considering how common the sport is there.

    Don’t get me wrong- I understand that people …incl kids- die sledding (and I have broken bones) but these types of pastimes are also where we learn judgement, responsibility and reasons not to do some silly things. As a parent, I strive to explain why one action is better than another rather than issue dogma. It is how I learn best as well.

    Sometimes those lessons involve exploring the limits and can be painful and/or bloody, I’ll admit.

    My boys are still young and I anticipate my attiude will change somewhat but through free play and simple outdoor pleasures I feel like I have lived, failed, crashed and learned and still have the judgement to make good decisions without rules. I aim to give them the same opportunities to crash and burn … and learn.

    some thought provoking links:

    Oh the places you’ll go – must read!

  3. Heidi Ahrens says:

    If your kid always wears a helmet and you do to it is much easier to reinforce. I wear my bike helmet on trails that are flat and not near any cars to make a point. Yeah, I know I am a dork, but hey my daughter should do it.

    Also, I am one of those kids that hit a tree while sledding. It is no fun. Bloody nose, bloody snow, bloody clothing.

    Heidi Ahrens http://outdoorbaby.net

  4. Steve says:

    It was kind of funny, out of literally hundreds of kids and adults we saw sledding on those days our kids were the only ones wearing helmets.

    My favorite list item was the one about the scarves. If you’re sledding close enough to obstacles that your loose clothing could get caught then strangulation probably isn’t the main hazard.

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