El Dorado Hills resident Dylan Ridolfi, 15, had traveled to Tahoe for a weekend trip with family and friends. After skiing the day before, the group decided to go sledding north of Incline Village on Feb. 19, according to a Sacramento Bee article.
The hill was icy, and Ridolfi was traveling quickly on an inner tube when he hit two trees. He was pronounced dead on the scene less than an hour after the collision, according to a Sierra Sun article.
Lake Valley Fire Protection District spokeswoman Leona Allen said she’s seen sledding-related injuries in the South Shore rise. While more people don helmets when they ski and snowboard, sledders have been slow to follow suit.
“We’re seeing more and more sledding accidents, especially in these conditions when it’s just ice. You get going really fast,” Allen said. “People wear helmets when they ski, they don’t wear helmets when they sled.”
Many winter enthusiasts don’t realize that under certain conditions, a sled can go just as fast as a pair of skis, Allen said. And unlike skis or snowboards that are designed to turn quickly, hopping on a sled without steering capabilities typically means a fast, straight run to the bottom.
Yet sledding only accounts for a fraction of South Shore emergency room visits.
About 20 percent of the 19,000 patients who visit Barton Memorial Hospital’s emergency department each year come because of injuries, Director of Emergency Services Dr. Warren Withers said.
Only a small percentage of those are due to sledding, he said.
“The number of sledding injuries we see a month varies widely, mostly due to the various snow conditions. While sledding is fun, it’s important for people to understand that when snow conditions are hard and icy, it’s more risky. In addition, sledding in unmanaged areas, like free unmanaged roadside-areas, the likelihood of running into obstacles like rocks, trees and metal objects is higher,” Withers wrote in an email.
One of the South Shore’s popular managed sledding areas is Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe near Echo Summit. The center’s 325-car lot usually fills up every Saturday, Adventure Mountain employee and kitchen manager Chris Korves said. And since the sledding hills are located above 7,000 feet, the snow conditions are generally better than at lake level, he said.
Yet even with groomed runs, Adventure Mountain warns of the activity’s inherent dangers. Two large signs at the bottom of the beginner and more advanced areas caution riders that they’re using the hills at their own risk.
Lake Valley Fire Protection District personnel have responded to seven medical aids at Adventure Mountain since the start of December, and Korves said some of the injuries can go unnoticed by staff.
“It’s sledding. It’s not the safest thing you can do,” Korves said.
For Darlene Kittleson, who visited Adventure Mountain Thursday with her two daughters, sledding is a fun, inexpensive alternative to skiing. The facility’s $20 parking fee was a “good family price,” she said. While her girls, ages 5 and 8, wear helmets on the ski slopes, they were bareheaded on the sledding run.
If you are going to sled, Allen recommended avoiding noncommercial areas in favor of places like Adventure Mountain, which has a emergency medical protocol in place if anyone gets hurt.
Allen said sledders should also wear protective gear — she joked that her grandson looks like Ralphie’s brother, Randy, from “The Christmas Story” whenever he jumps on a sled — and that people with prior traumatic injuries should avoid the activity all together.
“For me, it’s all about the helmet. You get going so fast, you’re just ripping, and then you hit a rock or a bump. There’s going to be some traumatic injuries … There’s no control,” Allen said.
Sierra Sun editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report. Axie Navas is a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, as sister publication of The Union based in South Lake Tahoe.