AT RANDOM: Sliding into winter

This week’s snow days were greeted with cheers by most of the kids I know, including my daughter, who was thrilled...

This week’s snow days were greeted with cheers by most of the kids I know, including my daughter, who was thrilled to have her Christmas holiday extended.

And in my neighbourhood, many of those same kids spent their extra free time on the hill at Vernon secondary school, flying down on magic carpets, sleds and toboggans.

Good thing they don’t live in Hamilton, Ont. or Des Moines, Iowa. Both of these cities have banned tobogganing, deeming it too risky.

To be sure, there are risks involved and injuries — minor and major — have resulted for both adults and kids who fly down hills on tiny pieces of plastic or wood.

We live in a litigious age, where people have been known to sue McDonald’s after getting scalded by their hot coffee or gaining weight from eating one too many Big Macs. So perhaps in an effort to cut down on lawsuits, municipalities are implementing an outright ban on a dangerous activity. Of course, two years ago it didn’t work out too well for Hamilton, where the city had to pay $900,000 to a man who was injured on a toboggan run, even though the city has a ban on the activity.

I’m all for keeping people safe. I definitely fall into the over-protective parent category, much to my daughter’s irritation, but tobogganing is one of the great thrills of childhood. And when I was a kid there wasn’t much of it in Vancouver unless we actually drove to the mountains. When it snowed enough for sledding, we were outside for hours. Of course, the year I got a bicycle for Christmas was the year Vancouver got a ridiculous amount of snow, preventing me from actually using the new bike. And Murphy’s Law being what it is, the year my daughter got a new sled for Christmas when she was about four was the year we had a green Christmas in Vernon.

Have we gone a little crazy in trying to ban anything that carries a risk? Most of us get behind the wheel of our vehicle every day, and frankly that’s far more terrifying most days than hopping on a sled.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information says skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling are more dangerous than sledding, with 171 hospitalizations for tobogganing crashes in the winter of 2010-11.

I missed most of the last ski season because of a knee injury but I couldn’t wait to get back on the slopes this year — albeit sporting a knee brace — because I love the thrill of flying down a hill. I know the risks, and I’m willing to take them.

And I’m willing to let my daughter take a few risks. Of course, we’re doing it as safely as we can and wearing helmets. We never wore helmets to ski when we were kids but I wouldn’t dream of wearing only a toque on my head these days. Come to think of it, maybe helmets aren’t a bad idea when kids are sledding as well.

As parents, aren’t we responsible for our kids’ safety? If we’re willing to let our kids get on a sled or toboggan, then don’t we understand the risks? Is it the city’s responsibility to ensure our children don’t get hurt?

On the second snow day, Tuesday, I drove to pick my daughter up at her friend’s house and was greeted by four kids in the front yard, all bundled up for the weather, begging me to take them sledding. It’s hard to argue with kids who want to be playing outside. There’s something wonderfully timeless about it. It’s just kids, sleds, snow, fresh air.

As I stood and took endless photos and videos of them, their squeals and laughter filled the air. There was the occasional tear from someone landing on top of another, but then they dusted themselves off, climbed back to the top of the hill and started again.

As a baby boomer, I had the kind of carefree childhood that was filled with the freedom my daughter doesn’t have. But the childhood thrill of tobogganing is one thing that hasn’t changed and for that I am grateful.


Vernon Morning Star

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