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Health Stories

Down the Hill We Go…

Did you know that children could reach speeds of up to 50 km/hour when sledding? Every year, CHEO’s Emergency department staff see hundreds of children who had been injured while sledding. Injuries range from scrapes and bruises to broken bones (arms, legs, wrists, ankles, pelvic and facial bones), concussions and more serious head injuries.

Almost 1 out of every 5 children seen for a sledding injury suffered a head injury of some kind. That being said, tobogganing is a great way to get some fresh air, enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise. We’ve already received record amounts of snow, so a quick run through these tips can help you make sure everyone has a fun time on the hills this winter.

Use the right gear

  • Choose sleds that you can steer and stop.
  • A certified helmet that fits correctly can reduce the risk of a head injury. Ski or hockey helmets are the best choices, but a bicycle helmet can be used as well.
  • Dress everyone warmly, keeping heads, ears and hands covered. Avoid scarves or drawstrings that could get snagged or caught.

Choose the right hill

  • If possible, pick a hill that is used just for tobogganing. It should have a gentle slope, proper lighting and no hazards like roads, rocks, water or trees! If you live in the Ottawa region, contact the National Capital Commission (NCC) (613-239-5000) or the City of Ottawa (311) for more information.
  • Stay away from roads, rivers, railways and parking lots.


  • Adults should supervise children of all ages until they are able to prove that they can steer, stop and avoid obstacles.
  • An adult should ride on the toboggan with younger children.

Check out sledding styles

  • Be sure the path is clear of obstacles and other people.
  • Make sure you and your children go down the hill sitting up or kneeling on the sled. This allows better control, a better view of any hazards, and makes it easier to roll off to avoid hitting something. Head and spinal injuries happen more often if people sled headfirst or are lying on their backs.
  • Make sure everyone keeps arms and legs tucked in at all times.
  • Teach children to sled or toboggan down the middle of the hill, and to walk back up on the sides, away from other sledders.
  • Teach children to quickly move out of the way if they fall off the sled or suddenly stop.
  • Make sure your children rest if they are tired and go inside if they are cold.

And remember — don’t just stand on the sidelines! Get out with your children, get on the sled with them or grab your own sleigh and have a great time together!


CHEO CHIRPP database
SMARTRISK – Managing the risks while sledding and tobogganing (January 28, 2005)
KIDSSAFE Connection – Get the Facts… Sledding Safety (November 2005)
Child Safety Link – Heads up. Helmets on.


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