The city of Ottawa sees an average snowfall of just over 200 centimetres a year, according to The Weather Network. While it might hurt your back just thinking of shoveling that, lots of snow plus a hilly landscape sets the scene for much winter fun.
Spending an afternoon outdoors, running up and zipping down hills, maybe with a winter picnic or some hot cocoa, is an activity the whole family can enjoy.
And you’re never far from a sledding hill in Ottawa. There are 63 identified across the city, and a map at ottawa.ca contains information about each hill and conditions.
“Our sledding hills are a great opportunity for outdoor fun,” says Sue Chiumera, portfolio manager of the Aquatics, Specialized, and City Wide Programs for Recreation, Cultural, and Facility Services.
The city inspects hills to assess risks and make sure they meet approval criteria: they do not cross roads or paths, open water, or obstacles like trees, and they must not be too steep.
When snow begins to fall, City of Ottawa operations workers set up by wrapping trees and installing hay bales to block unsafe areas. Although these hills are not supervised, many are near recreation centres and facility staff keeps an eye on them.
Also, the National Capital Commission maintains a list of sledding locations within the Greenbelt. Larger hills at Carlington Park, Bruce Pit, Experimental Farm Hill, Mooney’s Bay, Conroy Pit, and Walter Baker Park are some of the more popular spots for Ottawa families.
“Winter is a great season,” says Lydia Christ, Ottawa public health nurse. “We encourage parents and children to enjoy winter safely.”
Ottawa Public Health has some safety advice for families:
- Choose a safe area with no hazards and plenty of stopping distance, and well lit at night. Keep hands in the sled and wait until the path is clear.
- Wear an approved hockey or skiing helmet that fits properly and was purchased new.
- Sled using a toboggan or sled that is easy to control with brakes and steering. “We don’t recommend tubes, crazy carpets, saucers, or GTs because they can reach very dangerous speeds,” says Christ.
- Sit or kneel facing forward on the sled, as lying down can increase the risk of injury to the head, neck, and spine.
- Supervise children under 8 while playing outside, and encourage older children to play with at least one friend. Children under five years should ride with an adult, and pets should stay at home.
- Consider the temperature. “Children should play where there is a warm place to take a break,” adds Christ, and “dress in layers.” Follow published guidelines on cold weather safety, and remember that young children generate less heat than adults.
If conditions are right for sledding, turn it into an occasion. Insulated thermoses can keep drinks and soup warm while you play and make for a great winter picnic, and there’s little need to feel guilty about a few treats when you’re running uphill all day.
Bring warm blankets and a change of hat and mitts for everyone, and plan a restful indoor activity to round out the day.
And if you’re ready for more speed, consider snow tubing, offered at several Ottawa-area hills for a fee. Snow tubing can be a “gateway to skiing,” says Julie Clifford, marketing director at Mount Pakenham, where it is an option on weekends and school holidays as well as for parties and school visits.
Their Tube Land features three lanes of sledding, a fire pit and picnic area, helpful staff that will give the tube a spin, and mats at the bottom of the lanes to help tubes slow down.
“The tube doesn’t have brakes,” says Clifford, which makes snow tubing a bit of a thrill for kids who like speed. Sommet Edelweiss and Mont Tremblant also offer tubing within an easy drive of the city.
Sledding is just one of the many ways Ottawa families can get more out of winter. Find a hill near your home or farther afield, bring the right equipment, some warm clothes and a thermos of hot chocolate, and get out there.
Resources for sledding in Ottawa
- City of Ottawa Sledding Hills Map http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/parks-and-recreation/parks-and-sports-fields/sledding-hills
- Tobogganing in the Greenbelt http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/greenbelt/things-to-do/tobogganing-greenbelt
- Ottawa Public Health: Tobogganing and Sledding Safety http://ottawa.ca/cs/groups/content/@webottawa/documents/pdf/mdaw/mdu1/~edisp/con016259.pdf
- Cold Weather Guidelines http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/public-health/healthy-living/cold-weather