Practicing safety while enjoying winter sports

BURLINGTON More than a quarter million children each year are injured while participating in winter sports in the United States. Safe Kids Vermont offers a few simple precautions: kids need to be dressed appropriately, take lessons, be actively supervised and stick to safe terrain. For many winter activities, protective headgear is also recommended. Kids should wear helmets when they ski, says Susan Victory, program manager, Vermont Childrens Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and Safe Kids Vermont Coalition coordinator. Buy or rent a ski helmet thats certified by the Snell Memorial Foundation or ASTM International, and have an expert make sure it fits correctly so it wont come loose at a critical moment. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, ski helmets could prevent or reduce the effects of 53 percent of the head injuries suffered by children under 15 while skiing or snowboarding. Caregivers should wear ski helmets too -- remember, your children learn safety habits by watching you, says Susan Victory. Each year, children ages 0-14 years sustain nearly 52,000 injuries involving snowmobiles, sleds, snow skis or snowboards. Kids under 12 should wear a helmet while sledding, says Susan Victory, citing a position statement by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Dont go down a hill headfirst -- sit up and face forward. Make sure theres adult supervision and a clear, safe path. A good sledding hill does not lead to a street, a body of water or a crowded gathering place. In addition, the CPSC reminds parents and kids to inspect sleds regularly for worn, damaged or loose parts that could break or snag at high speed. Children under 6 should not be riding a snowmobile, period, and nobody under 16 should be driving one, says Victory. All snowmobile drivers and passengers should be wearing helmets designed for high-speed motor sports -- a bike helmet isnt sufficient for a four-wheeled motorcycle that can go up to 90 miles per hour. There is no consensus among experts about the need for helmets while ice skating, but parents should keep in mind that beginners are likely to fall down a lot. Helmets are a must for ice hockey, along with mouth guards, knee pads and elbow, shoulder and shin protection. Skate only on ice thats approved for skating, says Victory Teach kids how to protect themselves if they do fall through the ice: stretch their arms out wide and kick as if swimming, shout for help and try to crawl backward onto solid ice. Basic health and comfort precautions can go a long way in preventing injury, says Victory Dress in layers. Wear sunscreen. Stay hydrated. Children -- or caregivers -- who become distracted or irritable, or begin to hyperventilate, may be suffering from hypothermia or altitude sickness, or they may be too tired to participate safely in winter sports. They need to go indoors, rest and warm up. In 2005, more than 49,000 children ages 5 to 14 were taken to emergency rooms for injuries resulting from winter sports, including approximately 29,000 from skiing and snowboarding, 20,000 from sledding, and 660 from snowmobile accidents. For more information about sports safety, call 802-847-7055 or visit www.usa.safekids.org . Safe Kids Vermont works to prevent accidental childhood injury, the leading killer of children 14 and under. Safe Kids Vermont is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing accidental injury. Safe Kids Vermont was founded in 1990 and Vermont Childrens Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care is the lead organization.

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