Winter Sports Safety and Injury Prevention Tips

Father and Son Skiing

Winter sports are a great way for kids and parents to get outside and be active together. Sledding, skiing, snowboarding and skating are ideas for winter sports that can involve the whole family during the winter months.

However, it is important to remember to stay safe while having fun. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, snowboarding accounts for one-quarter of all sports injury related emergency department visits in the winter. Sledding is equally as dangerous, causing more than 52,000 injuries a year. The majority of injuries occur to youths age 14 and younger, especially in the run outs at the end of the sledding path.

Winter sports rely on ice, snow and hills to determine the speed of activity. This heightened speed is what causes many of the injuries. Christine Boyd, MD is a Pediatric Sports Medicine Physician at Stanford Children’s Health and has some important recommendations for parents to keep in mind this winter season.

Snowboarding / Skiing Specifics

  • Make sure your child is in good physical condition. Take frequent breaks to hydrate, refuel and recover. Muscle fatigue after several hours of skiing can increase the risk of injury.
  • Ensure your child’s ski/snowboard equipment is in good condition and fits properly
  • Always have your child wear a helmet specifically designed for skiing or snowboarding.   Bicycle helmets do not provide adequate protection.   The helmet must fit properly to be effective. Replace any helmet that has taken a significant blow.
  • Know your child’s limits and reinforce the importance of them staying on appropriate level runs. Many skiing and snowboarding injuries occur due to loss of control, when the person is moving too fast, or on a slope that is beyond their ability.
  • Never let children ski/snowboard alone
  • Consider professional lessons to teach proper technique, rules, and use of the lift.

Sledding

  • Children under 12 years old should always wear a helmet while sledding
  • A steerable sled is recommended for children. Inner tubes, saucers and snow disks are significantly more dangerous because of their fast speed and lack of steering capability.
  • Teach children to roll off a sled that won’t stop.
  • Always sit in a forward facing position – no head-first sliding
  • Find a safe environment to sled. Avoid steep hills, the street, driveways, icy surfaces and areas with trees, walls or cars. Do not sled in the dark or poorly lit areas. Ensure the end of the sledding path is in a safe area to prevent collisions in the run outs.

General Safety Tips

  • Winter weather can be unpredictable. Be aware of weather conditions before you head out.
  • Early signs of cold injury (called frostnip) can occur when temperatures fall below freezing. The skin typically appears white and numb. This is best treated by moving to a warm indoor location, removing any wet clothing and submerging the area in warm (not hot) water.
  • Progression to frostbite, where the skin appears white, hard and waxy – is a medical emergency and requires evaluation by a medical professional.
  • Multiple layers of clothing works best to avoid frostbite injury. The first layer should keep moisture away from the skin, such as thermal underwear. The top layer should be wind and water proof.
  • Bring children in at regular intervals to check fingers and noses for signs of frostnip or frostbite. Replace any wet clothing.
  • Sunburns occur much easier on a ski trip than a beach vacation. Being on top of a mountain puts you closer to the sun and the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. Light is also reflected off of the snow which makes it twice as dangerous.   Use sunblock before going outside, and cover-up when possible.

It is not just your skin that can get burned. Always wear sunglasses or goggles and lip balm when heading out, as the sun can also burn your eyes and lips.

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