Sledding, ice skating and more: Top tips for winter sports safety

Winter-safety-sportsIf you aren’t traveling to a warmer climate this season, outdoor winter activities — sledding, skiing, snowboarding and more, are likely part of your family’s plans.

Dr. Michael O’Brien, director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Concussion Clinic, says when it comes to winter sports, fun and exercise outweigh the risk. But you do need to be careful.

As a doctor in Boston Children’s Sports Medicine Division, O’Brien can rattle off the many injuries possible during winter sports activities. However, if you’re taking care with a few precautions, the fun well outweighs the risk.

“Yes, there are concerns about injury, but we shouldn’t stop from going out doing fun stuff as a group,” Dr. O’Brien says.

Sledding safety

Sledding is always an easy option for outdoor fun, just don’t forget a helmet. “Helmets are recommended for any winter sport,” says Dr. O’Brien. He says snowboarding or skiing helmets, which offer wide coverage at the base of your child’s skull, are best, but bike helmets provide adequate protection.

“We recommend helmets for sledding. Skiing or snowboarding helmets are preferable. A bike helmet will do; if it’s in good condition and it fits well, it will suffice.”

There are ways to help keep kids safe when they are sledding. Here’s how:

  • Enjoy sledding in a group.
  • Choose a path with the fewest number of obstructions. This lessens the number of possible collisions with a stationary object like a pole or a tree.
  • Pick a sledding path with no road at the bottom.
  • Organize the group, so toddlers aren’t sledding at the base of the hill where larger, faster kids are speeding down.
  • Make sure there’s a safe path to get back up the hill that is not in the way of fast-moving sleds.

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Figure skating, ice hockey and skiing safety

Helmets are also a must for other winter sports. While professional figure skaters glide around without helmets, recreational ice skaters should wear a helmet, even a bike helmet, to protect their heads, Dr. O’Brien says.

If kids are joining a pond hockey game or another winter sport — snowboarding or skiing, for example — think about outside forces. “For any sport, there should be general principles you’re following,” Dr. O’Brien says. “Look at the environment. Are there rocks exposed? Busy streets?”

Here’s how to keep your kids safe:

  • Outfit your child with equipment that fits well and is in good condition.
  • If it is your child’s first time with a new sport like skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling, be sure they have good instructions before beginning.
  • Stay hydrated and bring snacks if you’ll be out for a while. “It’s easy to neglect hydration during a fun activity,” Dr O’Brien cautions.
  • Apply sunblock. You can have a lot of exposure to the sun while out on the slopes, and glare off the snow will add to that exposure. Use caution just like you would during a summer outing.
  • Beware of skin exposure to extreme cold. While you’re having fun in the snow, your body temperature can rise, but take care with any exposed or lightly covered skin.

Get more winter health and safety tips for families.

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