According to a 2013 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, snowboarding accounts for one-quarter of all sports injury-related emergency department visits in the winter. Sledding may seem tame by comparison, but it is also dangerous, causing more than 700,000 injuries a year.

For snowboarding, the most common injuries are broken bones and sprains, often to the wrist and elbow, due to athletes falling on outstretched hands as they try to catch themselves. As for sledding, 30 percent of injuries in this sport are caused by head collisions.

Five steps to winter sports injury prevention

Many winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and hockey rely on ice and snow to determine how fast an athlete is going, and this heightened speed is what makes them so dangerous. However, there are a few ways to prepare your young athlete and avoid injury:

  1. Wear layers. If you’re going to be sweating, make sure to wear layers that wick away sweat, or include a change of dry clothes.
  2. Follow the rules of the sport.
  3. Have appropriate equipment for the sport. Make sure equipment is not loose and that it fits you.
  4. Make sure the arena, slopes, etc., are checked for safety.
  5. Know your limits. Be sure your child does not do more than he or she is comfortable with, like attempting to snowboard a black diamond run, when they should stick to the bunny hills.

Know the signs of frostbite

Winter sports also offer other challenges besides the heightened risk of injury. While playing outside in the cold for long hours, it’s important to know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Before frostbite begins, athletes may experience frostnip. This is when the outer extremities feel cold, but don’t hurt. Once inside in the warmth, this cold feeling goes away in 10 or 15 minutes.

Frostbite is much more serious because the tissue is frozen. Signs of frostbite include:

  1. Frozen tissue at extremities, fingers, toes, ears and nose.
  2. Skin appears pale.
  3. Unable to feel in affected area.
  4. Tissue may appear gray or blistered.

One way to prevent frostbite is to be wary of shoes that are too small, because you will not have proper blood flow to your feet. If you suspect your child has frostbite, it’s important to seek treatment at the emergency department immediately.

Beware of hypothermia

Another cold weather risk is hypothermia, which occurs when a child’s temperature falls below normal due to exposure to cold temperatures. Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Feel hands and feet get cold.
  • More and more coldness all around you.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Shivering.
  • Confusion.
  • Lethargy.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • In some cases, people become so disoriented they begin to undress.

One more tip to keep in mind when enjoying winter sports is sun protection. Just because it’s cold, does not mean you can’t get burned. The sun can actually reflect off of snow, so make sure skin is covered or sunscreen is used. The same goes for hydration. The cold can make it difficult for children to tell when they’re thirsty or sweating, so it’s important for them to drink plenty of water before, during, and after going outside.


Nailah Coleman Nailah Coleman, MD, FAAP, is a sports medicine pediatrician in the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. She is board certified in both pediatrics and sports medicine. During her training, she worked in four different hospital environments and had the opportunity to see children at different life stages and assess their growth and wellness.

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