Winter Activities Can Be Fun but Remember To Keep Safety in Mind

two children pull a third child in a tube when partaking in winter activities on a snowy day

As Canadians, we are accustomed to adapting to the challenges our changing seasons bring and making the most of our time outdoors.

Many Canadians even say they prefer the summer months, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its drawbacks. A survey of 2,000 Canadians by a leisure travel website found 55 per cent said cold was the thing they hate most about winter, followed by snow at 25 per cent. Of course, driving in the winter was the most reviled aspect of this time of year followed closely by scraping ice of the windshield, slush and grey skies.

But while winter may bring bitter cold, snow and ice that doesn’t mean people in this country go into hibernation. Canadians are a hardy bunch, always willing to embrace the elements. In fact, Statistics Canada reported nearly eight in 10 Canadian households participated in outdoor activities close to home in 2021. That is an increase of three percent over 10 years.

In its most recent look at winter activities, StatsCan found Canadians loved their winter activities in 2021 which included:

  • Skating: This was the most commonly reported outdoor winter activity, with 13 per cent of Canadian households strapping on the blades.
  • Tobogganing, sliding: One in 10 households across Canada took to a nearby hill for this pastime.
  • Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing: Nearly one in 10 Canadian households said they cross-country skied or snowshoed.
  • Ice hockey, broomball, curling: About six per cent of households in the country participated in these sports.
  • Skiing, snowboarding, telemark: Six per cent of Canadian households hit the slopes for these sports.

While there are many other ways to enjoy winter, and practice winter safety, the Government of Canada warns people to beware of weather conditions that can quickly become dangerous with little or no warning. Winter storms and excessive cold claim more than 100 lives each year, more than the combined number of deaths caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, extreme heat and lightning. That is why it is important to be prepared and properly equipped when heading outside.

A Time for Fun but Also Accidents.

Thousands of people go to the hospital after being seriously injured while enjoying the winter weather.

"Every year, more than 5,000 Canadians get seriously injured – requiring at least one night's hospital stay – due to a winter sport or recreational activity,” the Canadian Institute for Health Information states. “These numbers do not include visits that involve only the emergency department or a doctor's office, or deaths at the scene, so the total number of injuries is actually much higher."

While some activities may seem safe, the injuries that may result can be serious. According to a Health Canada report, the three most common types of tobogganing injuries, representing nearly 70 percent of all cases, were bone fractures, head trauma such as concussion and other superficial wounds. Typically, people are hurt falling from a toboggan, hitting a stationary object or crashing into another person.

Tragically, some winter accidents have led to deaths recently. In late December, police in Quebec suspended their search for a four-year-old girl who fell into a river in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region. The child was sledding with her mother on Dec. 22 when she passed through a safety barrier and fell into the Mistassibi River.

On Dec. 27, four teenagers fell into the Rideau River in Ottawa after reportedly going for a skate. Two youths were rescued by first responders and transported to hospital. However, two 17-year-olds died in the accident.

Take Precautions.

Accidents happen but you can help reduce your risk of harm by planning ahead. Parachute, a national charity dedicated to injury prevention, offers these tips before heading out the door:

  • Dress against frostbite, ensure boots are not too tight and wear sunglasses or goggles with UV protection to guard against the reflection of the sun off the snow.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • A certified helmet is recommended for children, snowboarders, racers and high-risk environments such as back-country skiing, to prevent head injury.
  • Check children’s equipment to ensure it is in good condition and fits properly. Bindings should be checked at least once a year by a qualified technician or ski shop. Bindings, boots and skis that don’t fit properly or are not properly adjusted are a significant risk factor for young skiers.

When skiing or snowboarding:

  • Never ski or snowboard alone.
  • Warm up and stretch before going out on the slopes.
  • Stay on marked trails and follow the rules of the slopes.
  • Be especially careful on the first and last few runs of the day when injuries are most common.
  • High-speed and aerial manoeuvres carry a high risk of injury.
  • Stop before you get tired and before it gets dark since fatigue and poor visibility can lead to injuries.
  • Before you start skiing or snowboarding, understand the signs used to indicate the level of difficulty.
  • Choose runs or trails that best suit your ability.
  • Stay alert to hazards such as rocks, trees or ice patches and pay attention to changes in weather and visibility.

If you are planning to skate on a frozen lake, river or pond, inspect the ice first. According to Parachute, the ice’s colour may indicate its strength. Clear blue ice is strongest, while white opaque or snow ice is half as strong. Grey ice indicates the presence of water and is unsafe.

Many factors affect ice thickness including the type of water, time of year, water depth, currents and changing air temperature. Never skate near pockets of open water on a frozen lake. This is an indication that the ice is thin.

Parachute offers these tips to keep children safe while skating:

  • ensure they wear a helmet since slick ice makes it easy to slip and fall;
  • skate in the same direction as everyone else on the ice;
  • children who are slower skaters should stay to the sides of the rink and with an adult to guide them; and
  • ensure that novice learners have access to proper support by holding someone’s hand or the railing around the rink.

Who Is Liable for a Winter Activity Accident?

Depending on the accident and where it took place, seeking compensation for injuries suffered can be challenging, no matter the time of year. It is up to the injured person to prove negligence resulted in their harm.

Skiers taking to the slopes do so at their own risk and are expected to sign a waiver freeing the resort or ski hill from liability for injuries. However, the resort or ski hill has a duty to ensure its facilities are safe for guests. Failing to fulfill that responsibility could render them liable for damages.


Can You Seek Damages if You Are Injured While Tobogganing on Municipal Property?

That will also depend on the circumstances. For example, a man who suffered a spinal injury after hitting a snow-covered drainage ditch on a City of Hamilton property was awarded $900,000.

However, courts are not always sympathetic to those who suffer injuries. In De Cou v. Leamington, the Ontario Court of Justice was told a woman was injured while tobogganing on a hill at a Leamington, Ont., park. The town admitted they knew tobogganing took place, but they did not maintain the park in the winter and took no steps to prohibit the activity.

Despite this admission, the judge stated he did “not find that the hill was dangerous for public use.”

“There is no doubt that sledding/tobogganing brings with it a foreseeable risk of falls, tumbles and detachment from one’s sled. The sled used by the plaintiff was a very light piece of Styrofoam with minimum steering ability,” the judge continued.

“Going down a snow-covered hill in February on a light piece of material (be it plastic, cardboard, Styrofoam or wood) is a typical Canadian winter experience. Falling off a sled is also part of that experience.” The woman’s claim was dismissed.

Every case will be decided on its facts, which is why it is important to seek advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer.

We Are Here to Help.

A serious injury can have a significant impact on your life. You may not be able to work and may need long-term treatment to get your life back on track. Don’t take a chance with your future.

If you believe you have a claim, contact us at Gluckstein Lawyers for a free consultation. Our trusted team of slip, trip and fall lawyers has extensive experience at trial and the negotiating table. Our support staff also includes people who have personal experiences with life-changing personal injury claims and former medical personnel who have a detailed understanding of the workings of the healthcare systems.

Your initial meeting is a free consultation and without obligation on your part. Our personal injury lawyers will only charge legal fees once your claim is settled.


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