ALTERNATE ENDINGS - Many will set out for a fun day of sledding, tobogganing or tubing this winter, but end up in an emergency room. Discover what could save you time, money and ... pain

  • Published
  • By Timothy Barela
  • Torch Magazine
Sledding, tobogganing and tubing down a snow-covered hill is supposed to be fun, and in most cases, it is. But for some people, who add more risk to the activity than they should, the pleasure can quickly turn to pain.

In January a 46-year-old man from Staten Island, N.Y., decided to celebrate a New York Jets victory over the archrival New England Patriots by sledding down his steep driveway. But a sport utility vehicle struck and killed him as he slid onto the street directly in the vehicle's path. Then in February, a 20-year-old mom from Moore, Okla., died from injuries she received after being thrown from a sled that was being pulled by a pickup truck.

According the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 160,000 sledding, tubing and tobogganing-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices and clinics nationwide in 2007 (the most recent statistics available). That's up from 74,000 in 2004. Sledding injuries often include facial lacerations or skull fractures; tobogganing injuries almost always involve the lower half of the body, the commission reported. While children under 14 are most at-risk for these injuries, adults also take a beating.

"A lot of people just don't view sledding as a dangerous activity so they let their guard down," said Dave Etrheim, Air Education and Training Command Ground Safety Division. "They know they can break a leg or crash into a tree while skiing or snowboarding, but they feel relatively safe sledding and tobogganing. The reality is it can be very dangerous when people don't respect the risks the activity presents."

Below are examples of some Airmen who found this out the hard way:

CRASHING INTO CONCRETE BARRIER: While vacationing at a ski resort in La Plagne, France, a 20-year-old airman first class and three of his friends went out for a few drinks at a local club. On the way to another club at 1 a.m., they decided it would be a good idea to sled down a beginners' ski slope adjacent to their hotel. The surface of this slope had become icy because the nighttime temperature had decreased.

Since they didn't have a sled, they commandeered a 3-by-6-foot protective padding from a ski lift support pole. They laid the 4-inch thick pad flat on the snow-covered slope and jumped onto it. The pad quickly picked up speed because of the icy conditions. The four men traveled about 100 feet when they hit a service road that sent them airborne for about 10 feet. When they hit the ground, the Airman's friends jumped off the pad because it was moving too fast. The Airman, however, hung on and continued down the slope.

The pad hit a patch of grass and slush that caused it to quickly decelerate, and the Airman was ejected from it. He tumbled and slid another 75 feet before hitting a concrete retaining wall, knocking him unconscious. He suffered a serious head/brain injury, as well as a fractured pelvis, jaw and hand. He spent the next 40 days in the hospital, and the injury cost $18,640.

COLLIDING WITH A TELEPHONE POLE: A 23-year-old airman first class and several friends from work were snow tubing down a hill on the west side of Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The hill had not been established as an authorized hill to tube down. At the bottom of the hill was a telephone pole. Halfway down the hill, the Airman started to veer in the direction of the pole. He struck the pole, fracturing his upper right arm and ribs. He spent six days in the hospital, 24 days on quarters and racked up $11,796 in medical bills.

HITTING A ROCK: A 20-year-old airman first class decided to go tobogganing at a gravel pit on the north side of Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. On his last trip down the hill, he struck a large snow-covered rock that launched him nearly 4 feet into the air and shattered the sled. He landed hard on his upper leg and hip, fracturing the upper left femur near the hip joint. He spent 17 days in the hospital and 49 days on quarters. His injuries cost a whopping $26,297.

STRIKING A TREE: A 21-year-old senior airman was sledding down a hill on a tube near Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base in Oregon. He lost control and struck a tree with his left leg, resulting in a fracture of his left femur. He spent five days in the hospital and 20 days on quarters. The injury cost $9,830.

COMING FACE-TO-FACE WITH A THORN BUSH: A 23-year-old senior airman joined some friends on a sledding trip at a ski resort near Kirtland AFB, N.M. During one run, the Airman lay flat on his stomach on the sled, taking him downhill headfirst. As he picked up speed, he began to veer off course and crashed into a thorn bush halfway down the slope. The right side of his face struck the bush, causing cuts and scratches to his head, face and neck, and lodging a thorn into his tear duct. Fortunately, his prescription glasses deflected the sharp thorns away from the center of his eye. He spent two days in the hospital to surgically repair the duct, then another 10 days on quarters. The injury cost $3,750.

ENDURING A STUMP TO THE RUMP: A 21-year-old airman first class from Charleston AFB, S.C., was on leave in Massachusetts when he went to a park with his family to go sledding. On his way down a 40-foot hill, the Airman hit a tree stump that was about 6 inches high and 2 inches wide and covered by snow. The stump tore through the plastic sled, and made contact with the Airman's posterior, causing a deep laceration. He was hospitalized for four days, and the injury ran up a tab of $1,864.

TAKING A SLED TO THE HEAD: A 20-year-old airman first class went to a frozen lake near Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, to ride sleds pulled by snowmobiles. The plastic sleds were designed to be towed at speeds from 10 to 15 mph. The driver, however, sped up to approximately 35 mph with three sleds in tow. The Airman was on the first sled. When the driver made a sharp turn, it caused the sleds to flip over. The Airman got her shoulder tangled with the sled and was dragged several feet before coming to a stop. When the driver stopped the snowmobile, one of the riderless sleds continued sliding and struck the Airman in the back of the head. Initially the Airman could not get up and lay face-down in the snow. Later she lost feeling in her arm and could not hold her head up because of severe pain in her neck. She had suffered a concussion and a strained neck, was placed on quarters for two days and given restricted duty for seven days. The injuries cost $1,590.