Play It Safe with Winter Sports

No matter what type of sports activity you choose, safety should be a top priority. Before you enter the playing field, consider the following safety tips on these winter sports.

Skiing
During the ski season, more attention is paid to helmets. Experts agree that wearing helmets isn't a bad idea, however, head injuries account for only 2.6 percent of serious ski injuries. A far more serious problem is knee injuries: About 1 in 3 ski injuries are to the knee. In fact, in 1997, there were about 54 million skier visits to ski areas, and about 135,000 people suffered injuries. To avoid injury to your knee, know how to fall: Keep your arms forward, your skis together and your hands over your skis. Don't use your hands to break a fall, and wait until you've stopped sliding to get up. In addition to knowing how to fall properly, keep these tips in mind:

If you're a beginner, sign up for a group lesson.
Make sure your bindings aren't set too tight. You want the skis to release if you fall. Have a ski technician test your skis while you have your boots on, before you leave the ski shop.
If you feel you're skiing out of control, fall down on your rear end or on your side, the softest parts of your body.
Stay in shape all year. Stretch before you get on the chairlift.
Snowboarding
Snowboarding has become an increasingly popular sport. In 1997, about 2.5 million people snowboarded - almost double the 1988 total - and researchers are learning more about the sports' risks. Most snowboarding injuries result from jumping; and most injuries involve the wrist, forearm and ankles, since snowboarders are inclined to break their falls with their hands. Follow these guidelines to make snowboarding safer:
Take a lesson before you venture out for the first time.
If you do fall, wrist guards and kneepads can protect you.
When you feel tired, take a break.
Consider a helmet, especially if you're snowboarding in an area that has lots of rocks and trees.
Stay on groomed trails.
Don't start jumping until you're experienced and have had proper instruction; jumps are the most common cause of spinal injuries.
Sledding
The most common sledding injuries include fractured arms or legs, the result of sledders tumbling off their sleds. Here are some tips to avoid such mishaps:
Use a sled that you can steer.
Do not allow children to go sledding unsupervised. Kids should be at least 6 or 7 years old before they start; preschoolers don't have essential coordination.
Before your first trip, inspect the hill to make sure it isn't too steep for you.
Don't hang your arms or legs off the sled.
As with skiing and snowboarding, wear a helmet.
Face forward, and don't go down the hill headfirst.
Check the manufacturer's guidelines on the sled's maximum occupancy. Also, some sleds are age restrictive and only allow those aged 13 and older.