Winter sports safety

Don’t stay out too long. Watch for hypothermia symptoms: drowsiness, uncoordination, confusion, irritability, vigorous shivering or cold face, hands and feet. Also watch for numb or tingling skin that may look pale or blue — signs of frostbite. If you have little ones with you, check them more often as they may get it before you do.

Whether cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding or sledding, make sure you know where the hazards are: ice patches, open water, big rocks, trees, fences. Use protective gear appropriate to the sport, like padding or goggles. Helmets are always a good idea for adults and especially children, for sledding, skiing and snowboarding, as recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Even though it’s not hot summer you still need sunscreen — sunlight reflects off snow — and plenty of hydrating fluids.

Kids love sledding but there are some ways to minimize the risk of them hurting themselves. Check the slope carefully. It should be snowy rather than icy, not too steep and free of large rocks, fences, bushes, trees or tree stumps. Sled only in the daytime so you can see the obstacles. There should be no nearby traffic.

Sturdy sleds with secure handholds and that can steer are safer than disks or snow tubes, which can become airborne. A kid in the air is not controlling where they are going. Kids should sit rather than lie down on sleds, because it’s easier to control them and the kids are less likely to injure the head or face. If they must lie down on the sled it should be feet first, not head first. Boots and mittens protect the hands and feet from impact, not just cold. Kids should be supervised and take regular breaks indoors.

This should be a no-brainer, but sleds should never be attached to moving snowmobiles or cars. A snowmobile is a high-speed motor vehicle that should only be driven by those over 16, and anyone on one as a passenger needs a special helmet for high-speed motor sports, not a bike helmet.

Skiing and snowboarding deaths aren’t as common as it might seem, averaging less than 40 per year in the U.S. Numbers are low, making some say the sport is safer than swimming or bicycling. But things can still happen.

Dangers kids face when skiing include getting lost on crowded slopes and using ill-fitting equipment that is hard to control. Beginning skiers should take lessons, which will include safety skills like learning how to fall properly. Trying to stay upright when gravity is pushing you down can really hurt ligaments in the knees.

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