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Tobogganing safety doesn't have to be an uphill battle, says nurse

Health unit official urges people to survey the hill and the area around it before sledding and stresses helmets are 'common sense' items on an icy hill

With more people trying to find ways to stay active and get outdoors, officials at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit are urging the young and young at heart to be cautious and keep safety in mind on local hills.

Tobogganing is a popular pastime in the cold Canadian winters, and Orillia is no slouch when it comes to hills that are used for the activity. 

This past weekend highlighted the importance of taking safety precautions as there was an injury sustained at the toboggan hill at the Couchiching Golf Course and there were two accidents in three days at the Sunnidale Park hill in Barrie.

Mary Kocher wasn’t able to speak to those incidents specifically, but as a public health nurse with the local health unit, she has seen her share of tobogganing injuries.

“There have definitely been some incidents and we as a region are actually higher than the provincial average for such events,” Kocher explained. 

Between 2015 and 2019, Kocher says there were an average of 30 incidents per year that resulted in an emergency-room visit. Seventy per cent of those happened to children between the ages of one and 14 years old. 

“A good sign is that there has been a significant decrease in our region (Simcoe-Muskoka) since 2003, but there still needs to be improvement,” Kocher said. “With the young age group being mostly affected, that improvement starts with awareness from the kids and families.”

Kocher suggests parents and kids check out a hill and the area before going down at fast speeds.

“What you’re looking for is any obstacles or icy spots. Obviously you can see trees from a distance, but take a closer look at the hill for any bumps that will cause a surprise jump, rocks embedded in the snow and even what is at the bottom of the hill,” she said.

“Make sure your ride down doesn’t result in ending up in a creek or parking lot or roadway," Kocher added. 

While it is unpopular with many kids and some adults, Kocher says the helmet conversation needs to happen, as one-third of injuries on toboggan hills are head- and/or neck-related

“I know how hard it is to get kids to want to wear one, and helmets are not mandatory, but they are a great common sense item,” Kocher said. “Some hills will give people the ability to travel at great speeds; it is just a good idea to get a helmet that fits and is regulated.”

Kocher reminds people to go down the middle of the hill, get out of the way once you stop and walk up the side to stay out of way of others.

Kocher also says many parks are seeing increased use and notes there's another safety issue to keep in mind. 

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone about social distancing and wearing your mask,” Kocher said. “Getting outdoors and getting fresh air is absolutely essential, but do so following the public health and safety guidelines regarding the COVID-19 virus.”

Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based in Barrie
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