Opinion

An open letter to those who want to ban tobogganing

Some Canadian municipalities are banning sledding. Ian Mendes thinks it’s a slippery slope.

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Illustration by Rachel Idzerda

Over the past few years, municipal governments across the country have considered restricting or even banning the practice of sledding and tobogganing. The following is an open letter to the geniuses behind this idea.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing this letter as a survivor of sledding in the 1980s.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I used to go sledding for hours at a time with my neighbourhood friends—and I’m still here to tell the tale. Almost every weekend, we’d go flying down the local hills on our Krazy Karpets. (Yes, the misspelling of the product was intentional, so as to imply a little bit of zaniness. You remember zaniness, right? Or was it slashed from the budget back in 2011?)

We stayed outside for so long that the sleeves on our winter jackets would become encrusted with snot from the constant nose wiping. And we only went back home if one of the following things happened:

1. Somebody’s mom yelled that it was supper time.

2. We lost feeling in more than one extremity because of the cold.

3. Somebody got hurt.

Wait, what? Yep, that’s right: We used to get hurt playing outside in the 1980s. Inevitably, someone would use his feet as the brakes—trying to control the sled Flintstones style—and end up with a twisted ankle. Or we would test the limits of how many kids could fit onto a flying saucer, with disastrous consequences. And the odd kid would even go down the hill face first.

But we survived. Turns out hot cocoa with marshmallows pretty much cures all.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been serious injuries from sledding and tobogganing over the years. But parents have compensated by becoming more safety-conscious. We don’t jam six kids into the back of a station wagon with only four seat belts. We don’t send our kids out for bike rides without a helmet. So why don’t you trust that we will keep our kids safe when sledding on city property?

I see what happened. A couple of people slapped lawsuits on municipalities after sledding injuries occurred on public land, and now you’re running for the hills. But you’ve got it all wrong.

We can’t be fighting a war on obesity and inactive kids while simultaneously putting up red tape to prevent one of our country’s most beloved activities. We need to get kids outside and active in the winter months instead of giving them another reason to stay inside and watch stupid (albeit hilarious) cat videos on YouTube.

Because if you tell kids it’s not safe to go sledding in the winter, then what’s next? You should probably ban hockey on city ice rinks because of the growing number of concussions we’re seeing. And while we’re at it, why don’t we say goodbye to any winter sport that doesn’t bubble-wrap kids to prevent injuries? I’m sure somebody at city hall could find a reason to classify curling as a high-risk sport.

As parents, we need to make sure the conditions are safe for our kids. And this is where we need to have a partnership with municipalities: You provide the hills, and we’ll provide the safety for the kids. It’s on us to make sure that our children are wearing helmets and are protected in every possible way when they are engaging in a potentially dangerous activity. Parents should do a test run on the hill before their kids go down. (I, for one, promise I won’t sue my municipality for the lower-back pain I will experience for the following two weeks.)

Taking away sledding would make us a laughingstock around the world. We’re known as the country that embraces winter. Think about how much we’d make fun of a tropical country like Barbados if it banned swimming for being too dangerous.

Please, don’t make us a global punchline. Keep sledding in Canada. It’s in our DNA.

A version of this article appeared in our January 2016 issue with the headline, “All downhill from here,” p. 43.

Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about parenting and raising two girls with his wife, Sonia, on his blog, The Good Sport

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