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December 10, 2007

Preventing winter sports injuries: 7 tips to safely play in the snow

Ann Arbor, MI – As the snow begins to fall, it is time to dust off your skis and take out your sleds.  While winter sports may be especially fun for kids, serious injury can happen quickly if proper precaution is not used, say pediatric trauma experts at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

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“We see a startling number of injuries among children, from sledding accidents to snowmobile crashes and beyond,” says Amy Teddy, manager of the pediatric injury prevention program at Mott. “That’s why it’s so important for parents to make sure their children have taken the proper safety precautions before heading out into the snow.”  

To keep kids safe in the snow this season, Teddy and Cindy Wegryn, R.N. B.S.N, pediatric trauma coordinator at Mott, offer the following seven tips to help prevent winter sports injuries.



7 snow sports safety tips

  1. Helmets are not only for bikes. Helmets should be worn when snowboarding, sledding, snowmobiling and skiing, especially by children under the age of 12.  “So many of the injuries we see could have been prevented had the child been wearing a helmet. Often, the most common denominator for how serious an injury is whether or not a helmet was worn,” Wegryn says. More than 70,000 head injuries occur from sledding and other similar activities each year, according to a study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  2. helmetDress for safety. “Dressing in layers can prevent a whole range of injuries,” says Teddy. As the temperatures drop, make sure you and your little ones have on enough layers of clothing. Proper clothing can prevent hyperthermia, and even protect against superficial cuts and scrapes. If snowmobiling, make sure that scarves and any loose fabric are tucked in. Teddy also recommends buying coats with outer layers that are wind and water resistant. And, make sure young children, in particular, always have on a hat to stay warm. 
  3. Always have a companion. “Supervision is a key to preventing injuries or responding to them quickly if they occur,” Wegryn says.  If the child is old enough and the parent is not around to supervise, make sure they have a companion. Traveling in pairs ensures that there is an extra set of eyes to help watch out for danger, and a person to run for help in case of injury.
  4. Don’t play on the ice. “We see a large number of injuries from falls,” Wegryn says. Ice is dangerous not only when walking, but also when sledding, snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding. If the path is icy, regardless of how you plan on crossing it, avoid that route. That’s why it’s important to teach kids how to avoid ice patches. For ice skating, only use ice in areas designated for skating, and be sure to check for cracks and debris on the ice.
  5. Make sure the path is clear. “Many preventable injuries are caused by collisions with various obstacles,” Teddy says. Whether skiing or sledding, only travel down hills with no obstructions, including trees or people.
  6. Play only in the light.  Whether light is from the sun or an artificial source, only take part in winter sports in well-lit areas.
  7. Safety is the first priority, and it can start with you.  While fun in the snow is for everyone, parents must exercise their own judgment. Never pull your child in a sled while you are driving a snowmobile or other motorized vehicles, Wegryn says. Also, keep sight of your little ones when skiing and snowboarding with them. “Playing in the snow is fun for all ages, but make sure to keep sight of common sense. Many of these injuries are entirely preventable,” Teddy adds. 

Before heading out into the snow, here are a few more items to consider:

  • Wear sun block and goggles when staying outside for long periods of time. UV rays reflect off the snow and can cause significant skin damage if proper protection is not used. 
  • Use only sleds that are may be steered, and never head down a slope head first.
  • Follow all posted signs and warnings at all outdoor areas including ski slopes, sledding hills and ice skating areas.

Both Teddy and Wegryn also serve as coordinators for SAFE Kids Washtenaw County. SAFE Kids is a national organization working to reduce preventable injuries for children and has more than 300 state and local coalitions.  To learn more about the Washtenaw Co. branch, call (734) 615-3301.

For more information about winter sports safety, visit the UMHS Your Child Web site.

Written by: Milly Dick


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