Unless you plan to hibernate all winter long, at some point you’re going to brave the elements and step outside into the cold. And, typically, most people don’t bundle up just for an evening stroll. Chances are, you’re either out to have some fun — skiing, sledding, building a snowman — or you’re going to do something necessary such as shoveling snow.
Fun or chore, there’s one thing all winter activities have in common: They require you to take proper precautions. Failure to take safety measures before doing anything in the cold could lead to serious injury or even death (20 to 30 Americans die while skiing every year, Intermountain Healthcare notes).
But injury prevention during the winter is often just a matter of dressing properly, knowing your body, and using a little bit of common sense. So, don’t get hurt out in the cold this winter. Follow these safety tips to increase your chance of having a fun and safe time in the snow.
Dressing for the Season
Staying safe in the winter months starts with staying warm. This is especially important for children. When you’re sending the little ones out to play, make sure they’re dressed warmly. The recipe for coziness is simple:
- several thin layers
- warm boots
- gloves and a hat
Children should wear one layer more than an adult would wear in similar conditions, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.
After you’ve bundled up the kids, make sure you’re covered up, too. Exposed skin is a frostbite risk. Wear layers, but be alert once you start to sweat; the perspiration could lead to a dangerous drop in your body temperature. The Smart911 blog recommends moisture-wicking long underwear rather than cotton.
Safety When Playing Sports
Getting outside and playing sports is a great way to help pass the long winter months. Not only that, but taking part in winter sports will keep you fit for whatever physical activities you plan to resume when the weather gets warm. Just remember to take the proper precautions to avoid injury while you’re out there having fun.
Skiing and Snowboarding
If you’re brand new to either sport, take a lesson to at least learn how to stop, slow down and execute a clean turn.
The National Ski Area Association has a seven-point responsibility code that sums up they key steps any skiers (or snowboarders) should take to ensure their safety and the safety of anyone else on the slope:
- Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid people or objects.
- People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
- You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or you are not visible from above.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield to others.
- Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
- Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
- Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
Additionally, Killington Resort in Vermont has a handful of other important safety tips worth pointing out:
- Assume an approaching object is coming at your faster than you think.
- Report any collisions (it’s the law in Vermont, by the way).
- Always wear a helmet.
And if you plan to take young children with you to the slopes, the Out and About Mom blog has an excellent post about specific precautions and concerns to keep in mind, including how to acclimate your child to the ski/snowboarding area and whether it’s best to teach the child how to ski or snowboard yourself.
Outdoor Rinks: Ice Skating and Hockey
If you didn’t grow up ice skating, your first experiences on the ice can be a little nerve-wracking because you don’t yet know how much you can trust the ice. State Farm actually has some great tips to help beginners get used to the ice and make safe decisions:
- Stay on ice that is at least six inches thick and doesn’t have any ice fishing holes.
- Stay off ice that has formed over a body of running water such as a river.
- Hockey players, always wear proper equipment, including helmets, gloves and pads.
Michigan State University has a nice resource for snowmobile safety basics. These include:
- Dressing the part: Wear a helmet that meets the Depart of Transportation certification standards, a buoyant snowmobile suit in case you fall into water, and gloves.
- Go snowmobiling with a group of people, and let someone at home know where you’re headed for good measure.
- If you have to drive over ice, check to see that it’s at least 5 inches thick and not over running water. New, clear, hard ice is the safest, the school says.
If you do fall through the ice, the MSU page has some potentially life-saving tips:
- Try to remain calm, even though your body’s initial response will be shock.
- Face the direction you came from because you know there was stronger ice back that way.
- Don’t try to pull yourself up on the ice. Instead, “position your body horizontal to the ice, kick your legs and use your arms and upper body to shimmy forward on the ice. Try to distribute your body weight over as large an area as possible.”
- Don’t stand up as soon as you’re on firmer ice. It might not be strong enough to support your full weight. Instead, roll until you’ve found ice you’re comfortable standing on.
- Seek shelter, warmth and dryness immediately.
Along with wearing the appropriate safety gear for your respective activity, listen to your body. More than 290,000 people were treated at some sort of medical facility for winter sports-related injuries in 2014, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.
To avoid being one of these statistics, warm up and stretch properly before you get going. If you’re feeling tired or like you’re in pain, call it a day. That one last run isn’t worth it.
When the weather is bad, the best driving safety tip is to not get on the road. However, sometimes there’s somewhere you have to be. If you have to drive, abide by these suggestions offered by AAA:
- Have at least a half tank of gas in your car at all times.
- Make sure your tires are properly inflated.
- Leave cruise control off any time you’re driving on a slippery surface.
- Never run your vehicle in an enclosed area.
For Long-Distance Trips
- Ensure your car is in optimal operating condition.
- Be prepared: Pack your car with blankets, food, water, extra gloves and hats.
- Keep your exhaust pipe clean; any type of obstruction (snow, ice, mud) could lead to lethal carbon monoxide leaking into your vehicle when the engine is running.
- If you get stuck in the snow, stay in your car for shelter rather than try to get out and walk around. It will be much easier for rescuers to find you.
Driving in the Snow
- Take it slow: Push down on the gas slowly to avoid skidding and regain traction faster. And remember, it takes longer to do just about everything when the roads are covered with snow — stopping, turning, accelerating, etc. Take your time. You’ll get to where you need to go.
- If you can avoid stopping, do so. It’s easier to get going again when your vehicle is rolling rather than from a full stop. If you’re able, slow down just enough to keep rolling until the light changes.
- Make sure you know what kind of brakes you have. If your car is equipped with anti-lock brakes, press down hard on the pedal if you need to slow down quickly. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, you’ll want to apply the ball of your foot to the brake and put firm, steady pressure on it.
It’s also important to remember that even if you have four- or all-wheel drive, you’re not invincible out there. It only means you’ll have extra traction when you accelerate; it won’t help much when you’re stopping, as the Consumerist’s Ashlee Kieler suggests.
One of the most strenuous activities you’ll encounter during the winter is shoveling snow. It has to be done, but it can wreak havoc on your body, especially your back. While it’s hard to guarantee you can finish shoveling pain-free, the Colorado Comprehensive Spine Institute has some suggestions to minimize your discomfort.
First, remember to stop immediately if you feel any kind of pain.
Also, use a shovel that’s the right fit for you. That means a shovel with a curved handle (it keeps your back straighter) and is the proper length. To determine the right shovel length, make sure you can bend your knees, flex your back 10 degrees or less and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands when you start shoveling. Consider using a plastic handle; it’ll be lighter than a metal one and will put less stress on your back.
Push the snow rather than lift it. You’ll put less stress on your back. Make sure your muscles are warm and stretched out before your start, just as you would if you were about to play a sport. If you have to lift the snow, do so with your legs and not your back, and never throw snow over your shoulder.
Finally, pace yourself and take frequent breaks — 15 to 20 minutes, says Today Show health and wellness writer Brooke Sassman.
Using a Snow Blower
A surefire way to avoid back pain while removing snow is to use a snow blower instead of shoveling. This method is faster, but is not without risks. For example, if your snow blower is jammed, do not try to clear it with your hands. Instead, turn off the engine, disengage the clutch, and use a long object such as a broom handle to clear the jam, says Bob Vila.
If you’re using an electric snow blower, make sure the cord is long enough that you can cover the area you are clearing, but not longer than 150 feet from your power source.