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Tobogganing in Ontario: What’s the risk?


I Introduction: Physical Activity and Injury Risk
II Tobogganing in the Media
III Tobogganing Injuries in Ontario
IV Key Prevention Messages
V Conclusion
VI References

--submitted by Stephanie Cowle, Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre (OIPRC)

I Introduction: Physical Activity and Injury Risk

Exploring the relationship between physical activity and injury can send you in a bit of a circle. A physically active lifestyle is crucial for preventing many chronic diseases – and possibly injury. Physical activity has become an integral component of many fall prevention programs. At the same time, participating in physical activity also exposes individuals to a certain level of injury risk. Almost worse than the injury itself is the fact that once an injury is sustained, a person might be sidelined from sport and recreation for months, years or even the rest of their life. This is one of the reasons sport injury prevention is a necessary component of the movement to get Ontarians active.

Some sports are inherently riskier than others based on the nature of the activity (such as contact versus non-contact) and the environment in which the activity takes place. For downhill winter sports – skiing, snowboarding and sledding – a certain level of injury risk is involved. Here are the main reasons why: participants travel at high speeds, have the potential to hit objects or other people, and function in an environment that is highly variable (Scanlan & MacKay, 2001).

Tobogganing has been receiving much media attention lately, raising questions about helmets, by-laws and bans. This feature highlights what recent data says about tobogganing injuries in Ontario and what can be done to reduce the risk of this winter activity. 

II Tobogganing in the Media

In early January 2015, tobogganing has emerged as a hot topic in the media. As some cities in the United States are introducing tobogganing bans, conversation has swirled around whether the same will happen in Canada. Some municipalities in Ontario, such as Hamilton, already ban the activity completely; in others, tobogganing is prohibited on certain hills.

Calls for tobogganing bans have not originated from the injury prevention field or from injury surveillance data. An editorial article from The Globe and Mail’s André Picard (2015) explains the issue well – bans are less about preventing injury and more about municipal liability.

However, the questions raised in this media storm about tobogganing risk have provided a platform to discuss how this risk can be managed (see: CBC News, 2015; Gerson, J., 2015). Practitioners may be able to take this opportunity to join or lead the conversation in their own communities.

III Tobogganing Injuries in Ontario

Tobogganing does result in some injuries each year in Ontario. Based on 2011/12* data, the majority of injuries happen when a tobogganer hits an object or runs into another person. Most emergency department visits related to tobogganing are for an injury to the head, face or neck. It is no surprise that the vast majority of these injuries are to children.  

Knowing these details enables practitioners to better focus prevention efforts on how these injuries happen and to whom. Based on the data, injury risk reduction for tobogganing should primarily target:

  • preventing collisions – with objects or with other people
  • preventing or reducing the potential severity of head injuries
  • engaging the younger demographic (5-14), who participate most in this activity and are at highest risk

*Data will be released in the OIPRC’s upcoming Ontario Injury Compass report on alpine sports (skiing, snowboarding and sledding) injuries in Ontario. Check the OIPRC website ( or subscribe to the Compass by emailing

IV Key Prevention Messages

Here are some key tips to share about staying safe on the hills (Parachute, n.d.):

Choose a tobogganing area with the following features:

  • The hill is free of obstacles (trees, poles, large rocks).
  • The hill has a long, clear run at the bottom.
  • The hill is located a safe distance from roads, parking lots, fences and bodies of water.

Consider the conditions:

  • Avoid tobogganing in icy conditions.
  • If tobogganing in the evening, choose a hill that has sufficient lighting.

Stay clear of the traffic:

  • Move away quickly after reaching the bottom of the hill.
  • Walk up the sides of the hills, not the middle. Watch for people sliding down as you climb.

Wear a helmet

  • Helmets have been shown to reduce head injury in skiing and snowboarding (Haider et al., 2012), and are recommended for tobogganing by organizations such as Parachute and Health Canada.
  • There isn’t sufficient evidence at this time to say which type of helmet – skiing, snowboarding or hockey – is most effective for sledding.

For more information:

Parachute’s tip sheet, Preventing injuries for tobogganing & sledding

Health Canada, Winter Safety

V Conclusion

Winter activities like tobogganing may come with some risk of injury, but that risk can be mitigated. Preventing or reducing the potential severity of injury can help Ontarians continue participating in the activities they enjoy, and stay active for life.

VI References

CBC News, (2015, January 6). Tobogganing safety, not bans, suggested by expert doctor. Retrieved from:

Gerson, J. (2015, January 4). Tobogganing under threat in U.S. and Canada: Cities instituting bans after sledding injuries lead to lawsuits. National Post. Retrieved from:

Haider, A.H., et al. (2012). An Evidence Based Review: Efficacy of Safety Helmets in Reduction of Head Injuries in Recreational Skiers and Snowboarders. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, 73 (5), 1340-1347.

Parachute. (n.d.). Preventing injuries for tobogganing & sledding. Retrieved from:

Picard, A. (2015, January 13). Don’t make tobogganers pay for liability chill. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from:

Scanlan, A., & MacKay, M. (2001). Sports and Recreation Injury Prevention Strategies: Systematic Review and Best Practices. BC Injury Research & Prevention Unit, Plan-it Safe, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

The Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre, housed at Parachute, supports practitioners to reduce injury in Ontario.

The OIPRC is supported by Public Health Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and the Province of Ontario.

The views expressed in this article are the views of the OIPRC and do not necessarily reflect the views of Public Health Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or the Province of Ontario.