Everyone likes sledding, right? It’s the most sedentary of the snow-based sports, and feels far safer than the ones that require you to actually stand up.
Unfortunately for the residents of a growing number of North American cities, however, sledding (or “tobogganing”, as our friends across the Atlantic would have it) is falling out of favour in the eyes of city authorities. Some have erected signs discouraging visitors to parks and public spaces from careering around on sleds, while others have banned it completely.
Yes, this sounds effectively synonymous with “a ban on fun”, but the cities have their reasons. Dubuque, Iowa, which announced a new ban on sledding in most of its parks this week, claims Iowa state law made the ban necessary. The state’s legislation protects municipalities from lawsuits relating to other sports, like cycling and ice skating, but not for snowsports like sledding or skiing. As a result, anyone injured while sledding in a publicly managed park could sue the city.
It’s a similar situation elsewhere in the US. A five-year-old girl was paralysed while sledding in Omaha, Nebraska, and the city was ordered to pay out $2m to her family. In Canada, even a ban on sledding hasn’t completely protected the city’s coffers: authorities in Hamilton were ordered to pay out $900,000 to a lawyer who injured his spine while sledding, despite a sledding ban which had been in place for 15 years.
No city, however, has gone further in its crusade to protect itself from sled-related liability than Paxton, Illinois. Paxton, in what sounds like a plotline from Parks and Recreation, paid a construction company to remove the city’s 20 foot high sledding hill altogether. According to the Paxton Record, the dirt was then donated back to government agencies, for construction work in the city and to improve the police department’s shooting range (!). The area is now used as a dog park.
Critics of the sledding bans argue that cities should just make sledding areas safer, by removing trees and marking areas out-of-bounds when they become too icy. But in cities with scores of parks and few resources to spare, this isn’t easy. And according to Dr Charles Tator, a Canadian brain surgeon who campaigns on injury prevention, sledding ranks “very highly” as a cause of catastrophic injury to children.
So until cities can invest in making sledding runs in parks safer, perhaps it’s best to steer clear of the slopes – or, at the risk of mockery, invest in a helmet.