Family life

Toboggan bans slowly spreading across North America

Prohibiting sledding is yet one more restriction that's contributing to a risk-averse generation of kids.

Isaac sledding. Credit: Jennifer Pinarski

Isaac sledding in his backyard. Credit: Jennifer Pinarski

One of my favourite childhood memories is hurtling down a hill on a rickety wooden toboggan with my brother and sister. More often than not, one of us would fall off halfway down, and continue to roll until we reached the bottom of the field. When we outgrew the toboggan, we shared a GT SnowRacer and built moguls out of chunks of ice and snow. The brake on the SnowRacer snapped off so many times we just stopped trying to fix it. The hill was steep, and hauling the sleds up was exhausting, but the adrenaline rush was worth it.

This past weekend, my kids got their own adrenaline fix: A mixture of freezing rain and snow turned the hill in our backyard into a mini luge run. For a couple of children born on the Prairies, the hill might as well have been Everest. We spent the entire day outside instead of on the couch—which is where brain surgeon Charles Tator predicts we’ll end up if toboggan bans, like the most recent one in Dubuque, Iowa, are implemented across Canada and the US.

Citing the legal liability of sledders injuring themselves on city-owned property, Dubuque’s leisure services manager Marie Ware, defended the ban. “We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them. We can’t manage the risk at all of those places,” she says.

Toboggan bans are not new: Hamilton has had a ban on the activity on city hills for more than 15 years and offenders are faced with a fine. In 2011, Peterborough considered a similar ban, but opted to post signs with safety tips instead.

Unfortunately, injuries and fatalities from tobogganing are not uncommon. “From an injury prevention perspective, tobogganing turns out to be a very high-risk activity,” Tator said in an interview with the National Post. Referencing a 2008 study he oversaw that looked at catastrophic injuries from those participating in recreational sports, tobogganing was only moderately safer than parachuting, snowmobiling and diving. Injuries were typically caused by collisions with trees, rocks and poles—injuries that could have been avoided by wearing helmets or choosing a safer sledding area.

To me, that’s the main problem with the toboggan ban debate: By banning a winter activity like sledding, it takes away from a parent‘s ability to teach kids to assess and manage potential safety risks. The hill in our backyard is short and tree-free, but I’d absolutely put helmets on my kids on a steeper slope, and hills with obstacles are out of the question. In my opinion, bans like these are a slippery slope to an already risk-averse generation of kids—and that could also be catastrophic.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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