The snow is falling and your kid can't wait to go flying down a hill on a sled. It is, after all, one of the great joys of winter—along with the hot cocoa that comes afterward. But a new study has found that too many kids are traveling a slippery slope: More than 20,000 are treated for sledding-related injuries each year, some of them serious. Remind your daredevil about these safety tips before he heads out:
Make sure the hill—and the space at the bottom of it—is completely clear of trees, fences, utility poles, and other obstacles. "The vast majority of injuries, we found, are caused by collisions," says Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, OH, who led the sledding study. In fact, she adds, fractures were twice as likely to result from banging into something than from falling off the sled.
Consider a helmet
The head was the most common area of the body to get hurt—accounting for 34 percent of all sledding injuries. A helmet is not a must, McKenzie says, but think about it: If your child wears one for snowboarding, biking, and skateboarding, why not sledding, too?
Only one person per sled, please
Unless the one you're riding on was actually designed for two, stick to one passenger per sled. If you've got a mass of kids clinging to one sled, the odds of someone getting thrown off, bumped, or worse go way up.
"The more people you have jetting down the same hill at once, the greater the chance of colliding with one of them—and that can be just as harmful as running into a tree," says McKenzie.
Get out of the way
Make sure your child knows that once his run is done, he should quickly move to the side, out of the other sledders' way. Ideally, there will be one side of the hill for sledding down and another side for trudging back up.
Don't rev up the experience
"It was pretty surprising how many kids were out on sleds being pulled by a snowmobile or ATV," says McKenzie. "And that scenario accounted for a lot of cases in the emergency room." It may sound fun, she adds, "but it's not something you want to do."