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

Winter-safety-sportsWinter school vacation week is officially here. If you aren’t traveling to a warmer climate, outdoor winter activities — sledding, skiing, snowboarding and more, are likely part of your family’s vacation plans.

Dr. Michael O’Brien, director of 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.

So what is a parent to do?

Sledding safety

In Boston, we’ve seen a lot of snow over the past week, so sledding may be a great option.

Helmets are recommended for any winter sport, says O’Brien. Snowboarding or skiing helmets, which offer wide coverage at the base of your child’s skull, are best. However, a bike helmet will provide adequate protection, says O’Brien.

“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.
  • Have organization to the group, so that toddlers aren’t sledding at the base of the hill where larger, faster kids are speeding down.
  • Make sure there is 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

Sick of the snow and want to try heading to an ice rink? Professional figure skaters can glide around without helmets, but recreational ice skaters should wear a helmet, even a bike helmet, to protect their heads, 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,” O’Brien says. “Look at the environment. Are there rocks exposed? Busy streets?”

  • Be sure to 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 that is fast-moving like skiing, or involves a machine like snowmobiling, be sure she has 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,” 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 while snowshoeing or hiking, but take care with any exposed or lightly covered skin.

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,” O’Brien says.

Injured? Call for an appointment at Boston Children’s Orthopedic Urgent Care Clinic in Boston, Peabody, Waltham, and Weymouth — a same-day specialty clinic for orthopedic injuries not serious enough for the emergency room.