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Darrell Oake

While a major snowfall means traffic jams and extra shovelling for adults, children see it as an opportunity to climb, build and slide on a mountain of white stuff.

But routine outdoor recreation turned tragic this week when a seven-year-old girl in Quebec suffocated while outside playing in a snow tunnel she made after last weekend's major storm.

Police said the girl, whose family lived in Lévis, Que., died after her head became stuck in a narrow part of a snow tunnel.

"It's very sad," said Dr. Lynne Warda, chairwoman of the injury prevention committee at the Canadian Paediatric Society. "Every year there are cases of children dying in snow forts, either suffocating or being the victim of a snowplow accident."

Winter can be a dangerous season for children, health officials say. There are no national statistics on the types and number of childhood injuries that occur annually in Canada, but health officials say at least one child suffocates each year after being trapped in a snow structure.

Health officials and child-safety organizations across the country are warning children and their families of the serious risks associated with playing in the snow.

"It's something parents don't often think about," said Shawna DiFilippo, program co-ordinator at Safe Kids Canada, the national injury-prevention program of the Hospital for Sick Children.

Cases of children who die while playing in snow forts and tunnels often fit a similar profile, according to Dr. Warda. The children are usually school-age and generally old enough to play outside by themselves. Kids who suffocate in the snow are also often playing by themselves when they become trapped in a snow structure, said Dr. Warda, who reviews all child deaths in Manitoba.

Child-safety experts urge parents to be vigilant about enforcing snow-safety rules in order to prevent other tragedies from occurring.

If children want to build snow structures in the yard, they should not be allowed to make roofs or form a tunnel that could collapse on them.

Children also should not be left alone while they're playing outside. Even if they're not being supervised by a parent, a child who is playing with a friend who can call for help could be the difference between life and death.

However, experts say suffocation in a snow structure is far from the most common cause of death or injury in kids during the winter season.

Sledding is the most common way for children to become injured while playing in the wintertime, according to Safe Kids Canada.

Those incidents can be extremely serious because kids can suffer major head or neck injuries when they're tobogganing.

"Winter is here, snow is here, and we want children to be out and active," Ms. DiFilippo said. "But it's also important to think about possible risks."