Downhill from Here

Are we protecting our kids, or just covering our asses?
January 13, 2015

Seriously? Communities are now outlawing tobogganing? The funnest of kid outdoor winter activities – ever – is being turned into a felony? Has it really come to this? Are we honestly that insane?

Oh, sure, I get it. Some opportunistic parent sued a municipality claiming its negligence contributed to their child being injured on a municipally-owned hill. Maybe they had a legitimate claim. Maybe not. In any case, the court sided with the parent, forcing the city to cough up millions to cover the child’s medical bills. In fact, this sort of thing is probably happening with increasing frequency. As a result, following the advice of their lawyers, cities are now trying to cover their asses and prevent future lawsuits by keeping kids off their snowy hills altogether, branding them criminals if they violate these laws. It all makes sense, really. But it’s all just so much BS.

First of all, unless a city has installed concrete posts on the hill, or has actively enticed the kids to slide down a dangerous hill that has rocks at the bottom, how is it the city’s fault if a child gets injured tobogganing down their hill?

Common sense has to be employed, and responsibility taken by kids and parents alike. That’s part of growing up… knowing what’s safe and what’s not, and acting accordingly. Trees on the hill? Not safe. Exposed patches of grass or outcrops of rocks? Also not safe. Too steep or bumpy? Not safe. Rolling slope? Maybe not safe. Wide open areas of soft, fresh snow. Safe, and no doubt a lot of fun.

Apparently, tobogganing/sledding is the number 2-ranked cause of winter kid injuries. Sounds outrageous, right. Something must be done about it! The solution seems simple. Close down the toboggan hills. But wait a second! What’s the number 1 cause of winter kid injuries? Turns out it’s the organized sports of skiing, snowboarding, and hockey. Yet I don’t hear anyone demanding that municipalities shut down our ski hills or hockey arenas. No, we can’t have that. They make money, you see.

But getting back to the issue at hand, let’s take a sober moment. I want those of you who grew up in the snowy parts of Canada to think back to when you were kids. Remember how fun those winter days spent on snowy hills were? If you were like the rest of us, you probably played on those hills till way past dark, till you couldn’t feel your toes, ears, or fingers any more (usually because you’d lost at least one snow-coated mitt in the dark), or till your snowsuit was so frozen stiff you could hardly bend your elbows or knees. The swooshing sounds of sleds and toboggans on packed snow, mixed with the snow-muted giggling of kid laughter, is a cherished childhood memory that I hope my kids and I will remember the rest of our days.

Now, let’s be honest, those safe wide-open areas of soft, fresh snow only held your attention for so long. Then you and your friends would start taking chances in an attempt to have even more fun. You tried going as fast as you could down the hill. That’s what those circular “flying saucers” were good for. And you would pack as many kids on a toboggan as you could, either clumped together like bobsled riders, or sometimes even lying down on top of each other. Spinning the whole thing round on the way down so that it eventually tumbled over in an explosion of snow, or – better yet – slid down the hill backwards, was so cool! It was even better if you latched onto a second or third toboggan and went down the hill side-by-side with everyone holding them together, only to spin around near the end of the run, ending up in a jumbled heap of laughing, snow-in-face, bodies at the bottom of the hill. That was almost as good as the game of Twister for getting some innocent body contact with that cute boy or girl you liked.

There was no end to the foolish things we would do. Standing up on a toboggan (alone, of course) while holding onto the rope and careening down the hill was always a show stopper. And recall how you would aim your faster sled across the slope at some slower toboggan, hoping to knock off a kid or two. Or, better yet, slide across the empty part at the rear. Or you would aim your toboggan directly at some hapless kid standing on the slope, with the intention of hilariously upending him tail-over-head. And trees were only fun if you could speed past them as close as possible without actually colliding. And those dangerous bumps and artificially-made “jumps” attracted sleds and toboggans like honey attracts flies. Those were good times. Risky, yes, but good. And we survived.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that many tragic accidents have happened on toboggan hills. My heart goes out to those individuals and families who’ve had to deal with such injuries. As I said, we took chances. But I point out that none of this obviously dangerous and foolhardy behaviour was in any way the blame or responsibility of the owners of the hill. We weren’t lured into it. No one either deliberately, or through inaction or negligence, hid the dangers from us. We knew we were taking risks. That’s what made it fun. We were just stupid, suicidal, fun-loving kids who chose to make our day on the slopes as exciting and thrilling as we could. It was simple human nature. Sure, we took chances. We knew it even then. But it was up to us to stop ourselves when things got too dangerous. At least that was what our parents had taught us. We didn’t need a municipal law. It was simply common sense – with the emphases on “common” and “sense”.

But, apparently, that’s not the way it is in today’s litigious, overly-protective, quick-to-assign-blame society. These days, if you or your kids err in judgement, you just put the blame on someone else. Today, no accident goes unblamed. Someone has to pay, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be you, right? No way it could have been your kid’s fault that he got two teeth knocked out when he chose to ride his sled over Dead-man’s-drop in order to show off to that cute girl he has a crush on. Or that he tauntingly stood in front of a barreling toboggan carrying three kids at full tilt, willingly let it knock his feet out from under him, causing him to land on his neck, incurring a spinal injury. No, the blame for those injuries must be laid on the doorstep of someone with deep pockets… the municipality who owns the hill. What an example to set for your kids. Make a mistake? Blame someone else (preferably someone with money) for it.

And so we are creating a society where innocent fun is being outlawed. Where will it end? Will we eventually close all municipal pools? Or keep kids out of parks because climbing trees is dangerous, or where they might get hit by a frisbee. And those duck ponds are drowning hazards, you know. How about outlawing playgrounds and water parks? Maybe we should consider shutting down those deadly skateboard parks? Or stopping kids from riding their bikes on our roads and sidewalks? And what about sports facilities… my god, your kid might suffer a concussion if they get hit by a baseball or puck, or incur a groin injury if they get gonked by a soccer ball. Yup. Baseball, skiing, soccer, and hockey all have to go because our kids might get injured. In fact, let’s face it, our cities are battle zones, out to destroy our children. I say we launch a full-scale counter attack, shut the cities down, and keep our kids locked up at home altogether!

Stupid, right? But then again, we seem to be on that track.

How about, instead of outlawing tobogganing, we employ the same strategy used in other public places and sports facilities where fun and potential danger share the same venue. Let’s remind the users of those snowy hills about the dangers and their safety responsibilities with clear signage. Maybe fence off the dangerous sections. And assign first-aid-trained attendants (something like life guards) to supervise popular tobogganing hills. These attendants could then enforce the rules against overloaded toboggans, or banging into each other, whatever. Hey, if kids want to continue tobogganing they’ll probably have to make some concessions, right?

But, then again, maybe signs, fences, and attendants are too expensive, and it’s just cheaper to shut down the hills and make criminals of our kids for being kids and wanting to have some good-old fashioned Canadian winter fun. If so, that makes me very sad.

I’m just sayin’

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