Winter has arrived and those beautiful snowy hills look perfect…to sled down as fast as you can!

Along with skis and snowshoes, sleds come out of storage at the very first snowfall of winter. And why not? Sledding is fun for all ages and requires no skill or talent, you need only a hill with snow. But could this seemingly harmless wintertime tradition be dangerous?

There are approximately 20,000 injuries related to sledding each year. That’s certainly less than other snow sports, but most sledding injuries occur in children, with the highest risks for the youngest sledders. Young children have a proportionately larger head and a higher center of gravity which puts them at risk for more serious injuries related to sledding.

Last year, the Telluride Medical Center saw numerous injuries in children and adults related to sledding. Those injuries included lacerations, fractures (extremities, tailbone, collarbone, and even spine fractures), sprains/strains and head injuries.

Some injuries like sprains or fractures are simply painful and inconvenient, but more serious injuries related to head or spine injuries can be serious or life threatening.

Most injuries occur during collisions with stationary objects (like trees or rocks), but collisions with other people can also have serious outcomes.

Here are tips for making your sledding fun and safe:

Children under the age of 12 should wear a helmetwhile sledding! Head injuries are the most common injury in our younger population, and a helmet can help minimize that risk.

Adult supervision is imperative. More than 40% of children’s injuries occur when there is no supervision. Adults should scout out the area and make sure that the hill is clear of obstacles and that the end of the run is safe and far from water, rocks, trees or automobiles. Adults can also help ensure that other children won’t walk in the path of those sledding.

Sled with your feet first. Head and neck injuries are more common when kids go down the hill head first. Be sure to sled sitting in a forward facing position, using feet to help steer.

One person per sled! More than one child or person on a sled increases the risk of injury.

Choose a hill that isn’t so steep and has a long, flat run out at the bottom.

The best sleds can be steered and have a braking mechanism. Avoid sledding tubes that are inflatable (sledding on a tube increases the risk of traumatic head injury) or saucers that can’t be steered.

Never ride a sled that is pulled by a moving vehicle.

If you lose control and have no way to stop, roll out of the sled! It’s usually a better option than running into an object.

I hope to see you all on the hill and not in the Emergency Department. Have a great and safe winter!

Have a question you’d like answered? Send questions here!