Snow? Yippee! Get out those sleds, skates, snowboards, and skis! Here are some safety tips to keep these winter sports injury-free.
Know how to protect your little snow bunnies from both frostbite and winter sunburn. For information on skin protection, see Sun Safety for Children.
For safe sledding, pick snow-covered (as opposed to ice-covered) gentle slopes that are far from traffic and free of trees and fences. Also, check for snow-covered obstacles, such as large rocks or tree stumps.
The safest sleds and toboggans have steering mechanisms so kids can maintain some measure of control. Snow disks, which go very fast and can be steered only with weight shifts or dragging of feet, cause many injuries. The safest position on a sled is sitting upright rather than lying flat on the stomach, which increases the chance of head and abdominal injuries.
The primary risk in ice skating is falling through a break in the ice. This is an especially dangerous situation because hypothermia can keep an otherwise strong swimmer from saving himself. Let your child skate only at rinks or on lakes or ponds where local officials have determined that the ice is strong enough. Kids should skate with friends, never alone. That way, should there be an emergency, someone can go for help.
When there are lots of others on the ice, remind your kids to skate in the direction of the crowd and not dart across the ice.
Inflatable snow tubes are popular because they go fast and can become airborne when they hit a bump or small hill. For these reasons, they also cause more injuries than standard sleds. Kids should take care to use them only on wide slopes that have no obstructions.
Skaters who keep their blades sharp are less likely to fall than those with dull blades.
You can see kids as young as three on the ski slopes these days. This popular sport has become a real family affair.
When you take your child skiing, your first stop probably will be the ski rental shop where personnel should be able to help you find equipment to fit your child's size. This is important because kids sometimes get hurt using equipment that is too big for them and therefore harder to control. The skis, boots, and bindings all need to be the proper size.
Your child also should wear a helmet. More common in Europe, wearing helmets on the slopes is catching on here due in part to some high-profile skiing fatalities and because of a publicity campaign launched by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Ski helmets cost between $50 and $100 and have a rigid outer shell and a soft inner layer with thermal insulation to keep the head warm. The brow area is shaped to allow room for goggles. Helmets also can be rented. CPSC recommends them for all skiers and snowboarders, not just children. Set a good example for your kids by wearing one yourself.
Some ski areas are so crowded that it's hard for kids to find their parents for periodic check-ins. A few resorts rent cell phones and beepers to keep families in touch. At the least, you should pin your name and your hotel's phone number and address onto your child's jacket so you can be reached if there is a problem.
Not all helmets are right for all sports. This poses a dilemma for parents whose children engage in several. Although manufacturers have developed some multi-sport helmets, the designs are still evolving. When you buy a helmet for any of the activities described in this article , check the label to see whether it is suitable for the sport in which it is to be used.
If your child hasn't skied before, enroll him in a class. He'll probably learn more that way than if you try to teach him, and he'll enjoy being with other kids who also are learning. Classes for children are geared to their ages and attention spans. Instructors use techniques that make skill-building a game. Safety is an important part of the lessons.
You can reinforce the safety lessons by reminding your kids to:
- Stop only on the edges of the slope, not in the middle.
- Stay alert for other skiers, especially when crossing trails.
- Always ski with a buddy or a parent so one can go for help if the other is injured.
- Ski only in designated areas.
When your child is first learning, have him stick to the beginner trails. If he isn't skiing with you, require periodic check-ins. Kids don't always notice when they are getting too cold or too tired, so you need to monitor their condition. More are injured at the end of the day when fatigue affects their ability to stay in control.
An innovation of the 1970s, snowboarding has rapidly gained a large following. The board resembles a skateboard and the activity is similar to surfboarding. Participants don't use poles and their boot bindings don't release as with skis.
Snowboarding requires a fair amount of lower-leg control, and young children don't have the balance and muscular development to manage it safely. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents not let their children try snowboarding until they are at least age 7.
Play it safe and have your snowboarder wear a helmet. Lessons are important, especially in safe jumping since jumps are a key part of the sport and also a leading cause of injuries. Snowboarders should not be on the slopes alone.