Hitting the slopes in Lawrence has an entirely different meaning than hitting the slopes in ski country.
There, hitting the slopes means strapping on unwieldy boots and long, skinny, expensive skis, then throwing yourself down a steep slope.
Here, it usually means grabbing any available flat object and hopping on it for a short scoot down one of the few local "slopes." Very little money, if any, is involved and few sledders stop to think about safety concerns, even though they sometimes do pop up.
According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 21,600 U.S. children younger than 14 were injured in sledding accidents in 1987.
At Lawrence Memorial Hospital, records show eight people were treated in the emergency room for sledding-related injuries between Friday and Wednesday.
"MOSTLY IT WAS bruises, sprains and cuts," said Janice Early-Weas, LMH director of community relations. "Most of the injuries were from hitting trees or poles. People might have been able to avoid them if they used a sled with a steering mechanism.
"Using trays or linoleum is like riding a missile. There's no control and the ice has made the sledding fast."
One man, Balin Brandt, 25, was seriously injured when the large inner tube he was riding hit a tree. His mother, Sandra Brandt, said her son fractured a wrist and ruptured his spleen when he hit the tree.
Early-Weas said most of the weekend's injuries probably could have been avoided if people would wear some safety equipment when sledding.
"We ask our children to wear padding and helmets when bicycling and skating, but we'll send them down an icy hill without them," Early-Weas said.
GWEN BOHLING, who took her 6-year-old son, Christopher, sledding Tuesday night, said she took safety precautions and made sure her son knew the rules before he hit the hill.
"I prefer to be sledding with him, or at least be around," she said. "I tell him to watch carefully."
She also taught him to bail out if the going got too rough. "I told him he could always get a new sled, but we couldn't get a new you."
Dr. Kenneth Wible, director of outpatient pediatrics at the KU Medical Center, said teaching children to roll off their sleds when in danger could be the most important sledding safety lesson.
"I've seen kids ride down a hill and straight into a wall. Parents don't tell them to roll off, so they don't," Wible said. "Parents should use common sense rules when their kids go sledding."
PARENTS SHOULD know where their kids are sledding and with whom, Wible added. "Supervision is the key, even if an adult isn't there for the whole time they should at least go and survey the area and show children where the risks are."
Wible said a lot of the sledding accident patients had head injuries from lying head first on the sled or from being thrown forward into an object.
"Head injuries are the most serious," he sad., "Although we see broken arms and legs, the head injuries can be the most difficult to mend."
Adults should try to steer their children away from crowded slopes and toward areas free of trees and other obstacles.
"If older kids are sharing the slopes, it's especially dangerous because they go at high rates of speed and little children can get in the way."
THE CITY OF Lawrence recommends that families sled at Centennial Park, south of Sixth Street at Iowa.
"It may not be the steepest hill in the area, but it certainly is one of the safest. The hill is well lit," said Fred DeVictor, director of parks and recreation for the city.
Another popular sledding area is Campanile Hill on the Kansas University campus.
"We don't encourage people to sled there," said Tom Hutton, spokesman for KU. "But it's inevitable that people will. We just urge people to exercise good sense and be as safe as possible. It can be dangerous out there when you get a bunch of people going in a hundred different directions."
Lt. John Mullens of the KU Police Department, said there were no rules or regulations regarding sledding on the hill.
"WE WOULD ADVISE caution," he said. "People do risk injuries, particularly when using sledding devices that are not easily controlled."
He said cafeteria trays and cardboard boxes were examples of makeshift sleds that were difficult to steer.
Mullens said the safest places to sled were wide-open areas such as Campanile Hill.
"If you're going to be doing 20, 30 40 mph down a hillside and hit some kind of obstruction . . . there's a likelihood of fairly serious injury coming out of that," he said.
Most campus sledding accidents occur when someone slams into a tree, a retaining wall, or another object, Mullens said. As people warm up to sledding, they take on runs that are more and more dangerous.
"It's like skiing," he said. "You look for runs that are more exciting. Unfortunately, the excitement comes from the fact that what you're doing is usually unsafe."
"There will always be sledding accidents," Wible said. "But if people are careful, there might not be as many and they might not be as serious."