Blanket bans on tobogganing sweeping North America

Family tobogganing on a snowy day.

First it was skating on city ponds. Then it was Canada’s unofficial sport, road hockey.

Now cities are cracking down on another of winter’s beloved pastimes: tobogganing.

Much to the dismay of children and fun-lovin’ adults, some cities across Canada and the United States are banning or restricting tobogganing in city parks. These blanket bans arrive in the wake of threats of potential lawsuits from injuries due to sledding, and cities declaring that the activity is just too dangerous.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health and Information, in the winter of 2010-2011, there were 171 hospitalizations from tobogganing accidents. And while that’s fewer than skiing/snowboarding and snowmobiling (2,329 and 1,126, respectively), about one third of those hospitalizations involved children under the age of 10.

So far in Ontario, Hamilton is the only city to ban tobogganing on all civic hills. In Ottawa, city hall has designated 57 approved tobogganing hills, weather permitting. And in Orangeville, the city posted a No Tobogganing sign on a hill that was built specifically for the activity.

In Toronto, sledding was banned on the infamous Centennial Park hill in Etobicoke, one of the city’s most popular slopes, after too many residents were getting injured. The city attempted to quash the hill’s appeal by directing sledders to the safer, city-sanctioned Designated Toboggan Area on the other side of the park. Not surprisingly, sledders preferred the faster, steeper hill and police officers now patrol the outlawed hill, handing out tickets to any unruly sliders.

The City of Calgary has sanctioned 18 sites for tobogganing, but if you’re caught on any city hills not approved, you could be fined $100.

Although the pastime is dangerous—most sledders have had falling outs with crazy carpets or been the victim of a GT brake malfunction—pro-tobogganing enthusiasts say the thrill of zooming down a snowy hill outweigh the risks.

For those thrill-seekers, physicians recommend that you wear a helmet.

“You can’t stop anyone from going tobogganing; people have been doing it for years and years and years” said Dr. Vikram Ralhan, an emergency room physician at Georgian Bay General Hospital, in an interview with CTV Barrie. “But at least you can try to protect yourself to reduce your chance of head injuries, specially.”

“Making sure you’re wearing the basic protective head gear, that’s probably the one thing you can do.”