Winter sports safety

After last year’s mild winter, this year so far has looked like the winters I remember as a kid. There has been plenty of snow recently — at least until the last few days — and cold to sustain it. It’s been great for those fun winter activities that used to make it such a wonderful season for my friends and me.

But with the weather comes risks beyond slippery roads on the way to the activity. Breathing in the crisp cold air as you glide over fluffy snow is exhilarating and exciting, but winter sports can be dangerous. High-profile skiing deaths like those of Natasha Richardson and Sonny Bono make us all too aware of the possibilities. My son got a concussion a few years ago when he sledded into the barn. Jennifer, a high-school classmate of mine, had torn up her face as a young child when she sledded into barbed wire. The scars were permanent.

Thousands of children are injured ice skating, playing ice hockey, sledding, snowboarding and skiing each year, while winter-sport-related injuries send hundreds of thousands of people of all ages to the emergency room every year. Falls, collisions and fatigue are contributing factors to injuries to bones, muscles, joints and the brain. Sprains, strains, dislocations, fractures, concussions, exposure and frostbite are some of the risks you face in the frosty winter air.

Don’t try anything beyond your ability. Stay on the bunny slope if that’s where you’re comfortable. Don’t snowboard over that giant jump if you haven’t jumped before. Start smaller.

Make sure you’ve gotten in shape before you run that half-marathon. In cold air the blood vessels contract to conserve the body’s heat and cut down on blood supply to arms and legs. Unstretched muscles, tendons and ligaments are more susceptible to injury. So warm up first.

Watch the weather before you venture out. Ward off hypothermia by wearing layers of light, dry clothing that wick away moisture. Wear polypropylene or wool, not cotton, which absorbs it and gets damp. Layering for a cold day could include thermal underwear, a shirt and pants in wicking material, and then a fleece jacket covered with a windproof, waterproof layer. Wear a warm hat and gloves. Keep scarves and drawstrings tucked in so they don’t catch on equipment.

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