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No plans to join tobogganing bans, Edmonton officials say

Watch: A number of cities are cracking down on tobogganing because of safety issues. What about Edmonton? Michel Boyer finds out.

EDMONTON — City officials say they have no plans to follow the lead of cities across the continent and ban tobogganing.

Several cities, including Hamilton, Ont., outlawed the popular winter pursuit in the wake of some serious injuries and costly lawsuits.

One of the latest places, Dubuque, Iowa, plans to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks. Other U.S. cities have opted for less drastic measures than an all-out ban, including Des Moines, Iowa; Montville, New Jersey; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Columbia City, Indiana.

By banning sledding on certain slopes or posting signs warning people to sled at their own risk, cities lessen their liability if someone is seriously hurt. But they’re still more vulnerable to lawsuits than if they had adopted an outright ban.

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Hamilton recently ramped up its roughly 15-year siege on sledding. The city’s risk management manager, John McLennan, told Global News that Hamilton had to pay out more than a million dollars after a middle-aged man sued the city because he was injured while tobogganing in one of the city’s reservoirs.

Now, in addition to more, prominently placed signs, anyone caught sledding could face a fine from $105 to $5,000. The “astronomical” fine sparked a change.org petition, where creator Laura Cole wrote, “As proud Canadians we must embrace our right to toboggan.”

no-tobogganing

But when it comes to the number of tickets that have been issued in Hamilton, “I think the total number is zero,” McLennan admitted with a laugh.

“Personally, I don’t want to see people not be able to toboggan. It’s one of the few things you’re able to do in the winter; it’s inexpensive…. If we can make it reasonably safe for people… and it could be done in a financially reasonable manner, in terms of how much we’re spending on it, that would be the best outcome.”

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In Edmonton, officials say that city hills are checked once in the morning and once at night to make sure that they’re not too bumpy or icy for safe sledding.

“Generally every couple of years, we take a look at the risk, because potentially you could have a fairly serious injury while tobogganing,” said the city’s director of risk management, Don Marshall.

Don Voaklander, director of the Injury Prevention Centre in Alberta, said roughly 900 sledding-related injuries were reported in the province last year.

“The most serious consequences are head injuries. So if you do send your child out to the hill, they should be wearing a helmet. Just like when they’re skiing these days or when they’re riding a bicycle.

“If they’re under 12 years of age, there should be some adult supervision involved.”

Some other safety tips? Don’t sled on your stomach. Or at night. Voaklander said that’s when roughly 30 per cent of injuries occur, since the hills aren’t lit, so it’s easier to hit an icy patch or another obstacle, like a tree.

Half the injuries, though, happen on hills that aren’t designated for sledding.

“I think you have to use common sense,” said Marshall. “If you have no control of your speed whatsoever, and you know it’s a little bit hairy, then the obvious advice is not to toboggan in that particular area.”

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With files from Michel Boyer, Global News and Scott McFetridge, The Associated Press