As the temperature dips and the first snowflakes dance in the air, children practically buzz with anticipation. We barely have time to zip their coats and adjust their mittens before they are bounding out the door, off to sled down the biggest hill or challenge their friends to the first snowball fight of the season.
Winter is also a joyful time for parents. But while we love to see our children having fun, we also want to keep them safe. Every year, thousands of children are hospitalized from injuries sustained while skiing, sledding, and participating in other winter activities. The good news is that with proper precautions, your children will have only positive winter memories to last them a lifetime.
Take one big hill, add a few inches of snow, and you’ve got a thrill ride that will keep your kids happily occupied for hours. When done right, sledding is a fun—and safe—activity. But with the wrong equipment and without the proper supervision, it can be downright dangerous. In 2002, more than 16,000 children ages 14 and under visited hospital emergency rooms with sledding-related injuries, according to a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) safety review.
To prevent injuries, choose a sled that has runners and a steering mechanism. Avoid plastic sheets, saucers, or inner tubes, which are tough to steer and can easily be pierced by objects on the ground.
Before your child takes off down the hill, check that her path is clear of obstructions such as posts, fences, trees, and other people. Also make sure that the hill does not end at a street or steep drop-off. Have your child sit on the sled upright and facing forward (lying on her tummy gives her no control over steering, and puts her in danger of plunging head-first into a solid object). Stay close by so that you can supervise at all times.
Ski resorts are becoming an increasingly popular family destination. Family members account for almost half of all skiers and snowboarders on the slopes, according to a National Ski Areas Association National Demographic Study.
But when kids ski beyond their ability or wear ill-fitting gear, the risk for injury increases. “You can’t have high expectations about them being able to get out and ski on their own right away—it takes a bit of time,” says Dave Holdcraft, Peak Eight Manager at the Breckenridge Ski & Ride School in Vail, Colorado. Holdcraft recommends that you first enroll your kids in a ski school program to help them get used to their equipment and the ski environment.
When choosing their children’s gear, some parents mistakenly buy skis and boots a size or two bigger, believing that their kids will “grow into them.” “It’s really important to have equipment that is fitted properly,” says Holdcraft. “If you get boots that are too big, your kids won’t be able to maneuver their skis. If you wind up with skis that are too long, it makes it harder for kids to learn the fundamentals of skiing.” Have your child measured in the store to ensure that his boots and skis fit now.
Before you hit the slopes, dress your children appropriately, keeping in mind that conditions on top of a mountain may be very different from those down below. Mountain winds can be fierce, and sun reflected off the snow is strong enough to leave a nasty burn. Sunscreen, lip balm, and sunglasses are essentials, even on cloudy days. Add a waterproof, insulated jacket and pants, a hat or helmet, gloves, and ski socks, and your kids will be ready for a safe and fun day of skiing.
Read more about Families That Ski here.