It's been a great winter for sledding.

So great, in fact, that the number of serious sledding injuries is way up at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).

The hospital has seen more than twice as many serious injuries from sledding accidents this winter as it saw in all of 2007, officials said Tuesday. Thirteen patients have been admitted for sledding injuries, mostly spinal damage, compared to six in all of 2007. That doesn't include the head bumps, bruises and scrapes that are not serious enough for admittance.

Tynisha Webber, 23, of Hutchinson is a classic example of how fast things can go wrong on an icy hill.

Last week she went sliding with her two sons, aged 4 and 5, at Rocket Hill, the local sledding spot in Hutchinson.

"Come on, Mom," her younger son begged after she'd been standing on top of the hill for 20 minutes.

She got on a saucer. Her youngest son climbed on a double-wide sled with a friend's daughter, who is 13, and they headed down the hill with Webber trailing behind the sled.

She saw the jump coming when it was too late. Later, people who witnessed the crash told her she and the children caught at least three feet of air beneath them before they landed.

"My son flew off and bruised his cheek," Webber said. "My friend's daughter, she was fine. I hit solid ice on my bottom. I felt crunch, crunch. I laid there and thought, 'I have to call 911.'"

Today she's in a body cast in a hospital bed at HCMC. She'll have to wear the cast for at least three months while the smashed vertebra in her lower back heals.

"I was close to being paralyzed," she said. "It's not what you expect when you go out to have fun with your kids."

HCMC officials said they expect to see more sledding injuries because the ice under the snow makes the hills especially slick. In hopes of heading off some injuries, hospital officials issued this list of safety tips:

•Choose designated sledding hills with a gentle slope and long run-off area.

•Avoid ice-covered hills.

•Stay away from roads, lakes, rivers, heavily wooded areas, parking lots, etc.

•Dress appropriately. Layers of clothing can help cushion the bumps. Wear a helmet.

•Always ride on the sled facing forward.

•Children under 5 should be accompanied by an adult on the sled.

•Don't drink and sled.

Webber has some ideas as well. For one, she'd like the city of Hutchinson to mark the jumps with colored spray paint. As she discovered, they can't always be seen from the top of the hill.

Josephine Marcotty • 612 673 7394