Winter sports are lots of fun — just ask any kid who's just scored the winning goal during an ice-hockey game or finished sledding to the bottom of a giant hill.
But when you're sitting on that sled, getting ready to ski, or doing a figure-eight on the pond in your skates, you have to know how to be safe. Otherwise, you could get injured and be stuck inside while everyone else is enjoying the snow.
No matter which winter sport you choose, staying warm is important. The right clothing and equipment will help you do that. Dress in layers, people often say. This is true, but some of the newer fabrics for cold weather give you the warmth of layers without all the bulk. Ask an adult if you're not sure what to wear outside.
Sometimes kids say, "I don't mind being cold." The tough guy (or girl) approach isn't a good idea. Staying warm isn't just about feeling comfortable. Your body needs to stay warm to work properly. And when your body is at the right temperature, it won't need to spend as much energy getting warm. That will give you maximum energy for winter fun. Also, if you're dressed properly, it means you can stay outside longer without worrying about frostbite.
Fun in the Sun
Even though it might seem odd in winter, don't forget to put on sunscreen (with a minimum SPF of 15) when you're skiing, sledding, skating, or snowboarding. Sunlight reflects off all that bright white snow and ice and back onto your face — so cover up with sunscreen, and put some lip balm that contains sunscreen on your lips (even when it's cloudy outside).
Zipping down a hill at what feels like a million miles an hour can be a great time — as long as you're sledding safely. When you grab your sled, make sure it's sturdy and that it's one you can really steer. The handholds should be easy to grab, and the seat of the sled should be padded. Never use homemade sleds like garbage-can lids, plastic bags, or pool floats — these are dangerous and you may lose control while you're sledding. Also, never use a sled that has any sharp, jagged edges or broken parts (this might happen if you're using an old sled).
It's especially important to wear gloves or mittens and boots while you're on the sled because in addition to keeping you warm, they can help prevent you from injuring your hands and feet. Wearing a bike helmet is also a good habit to get into — doctors say it's a great way to protect your head while you're sledding.
When you're picking your sledding spot, it's best to have an adult check it first to make sure it's OK. Hills designated for sledding are always a good bet — they can be safer than private areas like backyards. (Having an adult around while everyone is sledding is a good idea, too.)
Make sure the hill isn't too steep and that it's covered with packed snow, not ice. The hill must not end anywhere near cars on the road. This is important. If it's a new hill you're trying out and you've never been to the bottom, you might want to walk it first just to be sure. Also, look for obstacles like trees, bushes, and rocks that are covered in snow. Sled only in daylight or in well-lit areas.
If you're sledding with a friend, make sure that you don't go over the weight limit — look at the label on the sled for the number of pounds it will hold. If everybody has his or her own sled and is taking turns sledding down the hill, make sure the person sledding before you is well out of the way before you take off.
And whether you're on the sled by yourself or with pals, you always want to be sitting up, not lying down. Lying flat puts your body at greater risk for injuries if you lose control and flip out. Finally, there is only one kind of energy that's right for moving a sled: kid power! Never ride on a sled that's being pulled by a car, truck, or snowmobile.
Whether you're tending goal or going for a triple-spin in the air, it's cool to glide across the ice. Whichever ice sport you like, one rule is always the same: only skate on approved ice. In places where it gets really cold, you might be able to skate outdoors on frozen ponds and lakes. But these spots must be approved for skating. You'll know because they'll be marked by one or more signs from the police or recreation department saying that skating is OK. If the safe area is blocked off, be sure to stay within that area.
Never try skating on ice that hasn't been approved, even for a second. Ice that looks and seems strong may not be able to hold a kid's weight. And just like with swimming, never skate alone.
Once you have a safe skating spot, you need safe skates. Ice skates need to fit you properly. Don't try to fit into skates that are too small, or put on lots of socks to fit into an older brother's or sister's pair. Skates should be snug but not too tight, laced up to the top.
If you play ice hockey, take a tip from the pros: don't step out onto the ice without all the proper gear. This means padding, and most important, the right helmet. An ice-hockey helmet is the only kind you can wear — not a football helmet or a bike helmet. If you're ever in doubt about what makes up the right ice-hockey gear, ask an ice-hockey coach or a professional at a sporting-goods store.
When you're out skating around for fun, skate in the same direction as the rest of the crowd. Don't dart across the ice — you might smack into someone who doesn't have time to get out of the way. The same goes for trying out new skating moves — be sure to watch where you're going and make sure that you have lots of room.
Finally, throw out any gum or candy you have in your mouth before going onto the ice — you don't want to choke on it or have it fall out of your mouth onto the ice and cause someone to trip.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Before you hit the slopes to ski or snowboard, make sure you have the right equipment — and that it fits you correctly. Many kids have problems because the equipment they use is too big for them. It may have belonged to an older brother or sister and they're hoping that they can "grow into it." Equipment that is too big will make it hard for you to keep control.
The same goes for boots and bindings — make sure these are the right size for your feet before getting on the slopes. Ski boots that are designed just for kids are a good bet because they're more flexible than boots for adults, and they have buckles that are easier to manage, too — making it quicker for you to get skiing!
Helmets are a must for skiing and snowboarding. Goggles will protect your eyes from bright sunlight and objects that could get in the way and poke you in the eye (like tree branches). Just like with inline skating, snowboarders need kneepads and elbow pads. Some snowboarders who are just learning wear specially padded pants to cushion their falls!
Speaking of learning, it's a good idea to take at least one skiing or snowboarding lesson before you take off. This can keep you from getting frustrated or getting hurt before you have a chance to enjoy this new sport. For instance, your instructor can teach you how to stop! Even after a lesson, it's good to have an adult nearby in case you need help. Grownups can help you choose the right trails and hills. If you're in doubt, it's always safer to start with easier slopes and move on to harder ones later.
Skiing and snowboarding can be a little like driving a car. You have to learn to share the road or, in this case, the trail! It also means watching out for others to avoid collisions, so keep your eye on the other snowboarders and skiers.
Anything else you need to know? Yep — go out and enjoy the snow!
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2013