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Canadian tradition lives on at Cypress Hills

Posted on January 27, 2015 by 40 Mile Commentator

By Carlie Connolly
While some municipalities have put a restriction on tobogganing, others have not. Cypress Hills is one of the many that believe tobogganing should continue to be enjoyed while of course providing safety at all times.
Peter Swain, District manager for Cypress Hills said that taking away tobogganing or putting restrictions on it would not be the right answer.
“Our attitude is that we think tobogganing is a very enjoyable winter past time, it’s a Canadian tradition, and we think it’s our responsibility to support that by providing a safe area to toboggan,” he said.
Swain said that by providing maintained areas for tobogganing and crafting areas that are safe, free of obstacles, they are doing their job in making sure the winter activity is safe for all. He said there are also routes to walk back up a toboggan hill rather than one big open slope and said that they are taking steps to reduce the risk to people, but are very supportive of the pastime.
“We think it’s a great sport as long as people use their common sense and employ really simple safety measures. Wearing a helmet would be the most important.”
Instead of putting strict restrictions on the activity, Cypress Hills approached it from the point of view as to how they will make it safe. They encourage people to bring their own helmets, but provide a box of free ones for children to wear. They also made sure the slope they chose didn’t have trees at the bottom or obstacles in the way, monitoring the slopes every day.
Cypress Hills has a snow luge to attract many families and their children, having around 200 people in attendance just last week. It’s gone so well that Swain said they are building a second one.
“As Canadians, we’ve got to get outside in the winter, otherwise they’re going to hate it.
“Our job as Alberta Parks, our mandate is to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for people,” Swain said.
As Medicine Hat can be a hit or miss in terms of weather, the Cypress Hills have a consistently cooler and snowier environment.
“As long as you manage it properly, you can’t ignore tobogganing because people unfortunately might go and try and toboggan in places they shouldn’t.”
Most people wear helmets at the hill, and they make it easy for them to wear them, as they are free and accessible. Swain said that rules don’t make the difference, and that it’s when kids look around and see others that they will then want to wear one too. He said that creating the expectation and social norm is important.
Bumps and bruises are sure to occur, but it’s the whacking of the head or tailbone that can be the main issues for tobogganing. And so, with those areas in mind, they make sure that there aren’t too many drops on the luge.
“There is a tendency in our society right now to really over safety everything. It’s important that kids get outside, make mistakes but not serious ones.”
He said that bumps and bruises are what provide that knowledge for kids down the road to teach them that if they went too fast, they will know better for next time to prevent those more serious, catastrophic incidents.
They work closely with their risk management people to make sure that what they are providing is a safe enjoyable outdoor activity for all.
“Encourage safe use, don’t enforce safe use, and create that social norm that kids should wear helmets.”
Three years ago, Elkwater saw very few people in the wintertime, but now they are plowing more parking lots to accommodate cars for those to enjoy the Cypress Hills and winter activities.
“When you look at the slate of activities offered in parks, we also encourage people to go back country skiing where you could have avalanches. We don’t ban them from back country skiing, we teach them about avalanche safety.”

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