Winter Sports Safety
The snow has fallen, beckoning you to the slopes and hills, lakes, and ponds. Winter sports are a blast. But before you scoop up your gear and head out the door, make sure you arm yourself with some important safety tips.
Regardless of your sport of choice, some tips are universal. These include:
- If you have not been training, slowly ease back into your winter sports. Make sure you are in good physical condition. Consider having a physical exam, especially if you are over the age of 35.
- Stretch and warm up before all sports.
- Make sure your equipment (skates, skis, snowmobiles, snowboards, hockey sticks, etc) and protective gear is in good condition and fits well.
- Always wear the appropriate protective gear for your sport, even if it’s not “popular.”
- Dress properly for the cold. Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia. Wear several layers of tops and pants under warm jackets. Wear hats and water-resistant gloves. Face masks may be necessary for very cold weather. Shatter-proof sunglasses with UV protection or dark goggles are best for protecting your eyes from glare.
- If you are new to a sport or advancing to a higher level, take some lessons from a qualified instructor.
Most skiing injuries occur when bindings don’t release, or when skiers are going too fast, lose control, or hit a mogul. Recommendations to skiers include:
- Take lessons from an expert. Studies show that beginners are hurt more frequently, so the quicker you improve, the safer you'll be on the slopes.
- Use good quality equipment that fits well. Get advice from an expert.
- Be sure that equipment is clean—no dirt or salt between boots, bindings, and the binding mechanism.
- Proper adjustment of bindings could lessen the likelihood of leg injuries. Beginners might test abilities to get out of bindings with muscle power. To do this, stand in the skis, twist and pull to release the toe and heel pieces.
- Approach tow lifts with caution. Beware of long scarves that could become entangled in the tow rope.
- Consider wearing a helmet.
- Never ski alone.
- Never tackle a slope that is beyond your personal skiing abilities. Ski marked trails and observe ski trail signs. Rest when you get tired.
- Wear sunscreen.
- Know and observe all the rules about crossing a trail, passing, stopping, etc.
- Wear bright colors.
- If you are cross-country skiing for long distances, take snacks, water, and first aid supplies with you.
Skating injuries often result from tripping on bumps in the ice, colliding with other skaters, and falling through the ice. Recommendations to skaters include:
- Never skate alone.
- Stick to shallow flooded fields and supervised areas. Never skate on lakes, ponds, or rivers until the ice has been tested by a local official. Never skate close to open bodies of water.
- Keep small children off the ice except when closely supervised by adults.
- Never build fires on ice.
- Avoid driving cars on ice.
In case of a fall into icy water, the National Safety Council suggests:
- Try to keep calm. Do not thrash around. Extend arms over edge of ice and kick vigorously to propel yourself onto the ice. A pocket knife, belt buckle, or keys might help to get a grasp. Once onto the ice, roll gently away from the break. Do not stand up until on a firm surface.
- To rescue others: Do not walk up to the break. Move slowly and carefully; lie down flat on the ice to distribute weight. Use a reaching aid, such as a rope, board, blanket, sled, or jacket. If possible, form a human chain, each person holding onto the heels of the next person.
Hockey-related injuries can occur on the ice, street, field, or in the gym. Recommendations for hockey players include:
- Always wear protective equipment—helmets, pads, facemasks, and gloves—and make sure they fit properly.
- Show good sportsmanship. Do not hit other players and bystanders who happen to get in the way.
Sledding and Tobogganing
Sledding is fun at all ages, as long as you are safe. Follow these tips:
- Make sure your sled is in good condition. Repair any broken parts, split wood, or sharp edges. If you can’t get your sled repaired, get a new one.
- Never sled on the street or on hills that lead directly into the street.
- Never hook rides on the bumpers of cars.
- Make sure that slopes do not have bumps, big rocks, trees, or tree stumps.
- Avoid steep hills where you could gain too much speed and may not be able to stop.
- Do not go sledding on frozen lakes or ponds unless the ice has been tested by a local official and declared safe.
- Keep hands, arms, and legs inside to avoid limb injuries.
As stated previously, wear protective equipment. Organizations, like the Children's Hospital of Pittsburg and the Univeristy of Michigan Health System, recommend the use of helmets when sledding and tobogganing, especially for children.
The majority of snowmobile accidents involve collisions with fixed or moving objects such as fence posts, barbed wire, trees, cars, and other snowmobiles. Fatalities have resulted from riding on thin ice, freezing when stranded after a breakdown, and decapitation by running through a barbed wire fence. Contributing factors in accidents include excessive speed, alcohol, product failure, darkness, bad weather, and overzealous drivers.
Here are some tips for snowmobilers:
- Follow local regulations and operation instructions.
- Become familiar with the particular model of snowmobile before driving. A number of accidents involved veteran drivers accustomed to a different make or model.
- Wear goggles, helmets with chin straps, and protective clothing.
- Inspect the entire machine—brakes, throttle control, lights, and emergency shut-off switch before departing. Never start without a full tank of gas.
- Take extra spark plugs, tools, a first aid kit, and other repair and survival supplies, such as flares and matches.
- Know the terrain. Know where fences, gullies, branches, fallen logs, barbed wire, and rocks may be hidden. Beware of open bodies of water and thin ice.
- Avoid driving at night and in bad weather. A single strand of barbed wire is hard to see.
- Remember that the loud noise generated by the snowmobile may prevent hearing approaching trains and cars. Be alert.
- On long trips, travel in groups. In case of emergencies, someone can go for help.
- Never drink alcoholic beverages and drive at the same time.
Before you hit the slopes with your board, be aware of these safety tips:
- Check bindings to make sure they release easily during falls.
- Wear a helmet, wrist guards, and kneepads.
- Do not go alone.
- Take lessons.
- Look for resorts that have separate areas for snowboarding.
National Safety Council
US Consumer Product Safety Commission
Canada Safety Council
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
Ducharme MB. Winter activities and sports. Fit Society Page. Winter 2001. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search§ion=20015&template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentFileID=39. Accessed March 1, 2007.
Snowmobile safety. American Council of Snowmobile Associations. Accessed on March 1, 2007 at: http://www.snowmobilers.org/facts_safety.html.
Sledding. Children's Hopsital of Pittsburg website. Available at: http://www.chp.edu/besafe/kids/01sledding.php?base=hs. Accessed March 7, 2007.
Winter sports safety. University of Michigan Health Systems website. Available at: http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/wintsafe.htm. Accessed March 7, 2007.
Last reviewed February 2007 by Janet H. Greenhut, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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