Gear Up Properly For Safe Winter Sports

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

In 2007, an estimated 74,000 kids were injured or killed while participating in winter sporting activities in the United States. Safe Kids Kansas offers a few simple precautions: Kids need to be dressed appropriately, take lessons, be actively supervised and stick to safe terrain. For many winter activities, protective headgear is recommended.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, ski helmets could prevent or reduce the effects of 50 percent of the head injuries suffered by children under 15 while skiing or snowboarding. "Kids should always wear helmets when they ski, sled, snowboard, and play ice hockey," says Jan Stegelman, Safe Kids Kansas coordinator. "There are different helmets for different activities. Use a helmet that meets federal safety standards and have an expert make sure it fits correctly so it won't come loose at a critical moment." "Caregivers should wear helmets too — remember, your children learn safety habits by watching you," says Stegelman.

Kids can suffer serious head injuries from sledding. "Kids should wear a helmet while sledding," says Stegelman, citing a position statement by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. "Don't go down a hill headfirst — sit up and face forward. Make sure there is adult supervision and a clear, safe path." A good sledding hill does not lead to a street, a body of water or a crowded gathering place. In addition, remember to inspect sleds regularly for worn, damaged or loose parts that could break or snag at high speed.

"Children under 6 should not be riding a snowmobile and nobody under 16 should be driving one," says Stegelman. "All snowmobile drivers and passengers should be wearing helmets designed for high-speed motor sports — a bike helmet isn't sufficient for a four-wheeled motorcycle that can go up to 90 miles per hour."

There is no consensus among experts about the need for helmets while ice skating, but parents should keep in mind that beginners are likely to fall down a lot. Helmets are a must for ice hockey, along with mouth guards, knee pads and elbow, shoulder and shin protection. "Skate only on ice that's approved for skating by local authorities," says Stegelman. "Teach kids how to protect themselves if they do fall through the ice: stretch their arms out wide and kick as if swimming, shout for help, and try to crawl backward onto solid ice."

"Basic health and comfort precautions can go a long way in preventing injury," says Stegelman. Along with wearing a helmet, here are other useful tips for staying safe when doing outdoor activities this winter season:


* Always wear sport-specific, properly fitting safety gear when participating in winter sports activities.

* Proper equipment fit and maintenance is important for safety, so bring your child along when shopping for skates, helmets, boots, etc.

* Dress in layers and wear warm, close-fitting clothes. Make sure that long scarves are tucked in so they don't get entangled in lifts, ski poles or other equipment.

* Stay hydrated.

* Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.

* Kids — or caregivers — who become distracted or irritable, or begin to hyperventilate, may be suffering from hypothermia or altitude sickness, or they may be too tired to participate safely in winter sports. They need to go indoors, rest and warm up.

Children ages 14 and under are at a higher risk of winter sports injuries. In 2007, there were 17,000 estimated injuries among children from skiing and snowboarding; 24,500 estimated injuries from sledding; and 1,500 estimated injuries from snowmobiles and equipment.