Skiing and Snowboarding (Care of the Young Athlete)

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As winter sports are gaining in popularity,
young children are hitting the slopes to learn skiing and snowboarding. However,
not every young child may be prepared for the experience. Your child’s
age, strength, and ability to cooperate are a few factors to consider. Qualified
instructors can often help parents determine if their child is ready for these
sports. Most resorts begin ski school at 4 years old. Although snowboards are
made for children as young as 4 years, some resorts will not teach snowboarding
to children younger than 7 years.

With the growing popularity of skiing and
snowboarding comes a greater number of injuries. However, the risk of injury can
be reduced.

The following is information from the American
Academy of Pediatrics about how to prevent skiing and snowboarding injuries.
Also included is a list of common injuries.

Injury prevention and safety tips

  • Fitness. All athletes need
    to develop and maintain a good general fitness level. Being physically
    fit will make these sports more enjoyable and help avoid injury from
    fatigue. Specific exercises to build muscle, strength, and endurance
    will also help.

  • Technique. The key to
    successful skiing and snowboarding is control. To exercise control, one
    must learn proper skills, be aware of others on the slopes, and be able
    to adjust to changing snow conditions. It’s also important to
    learn how to fall safely. Qualified instructors can help children learn
    the proper skills to participate safely and avoid injury. Age-specific
    classes can enhance the child’s experience.

  • Skills. If a slope is too
    difficult for skiers or snow- boarders, they should remove their
    equipment and side-step down the slope.

  • Supervision. Children need
    to have adult supervision, and teens or young adults need to have a
    buddy.

  • Equipment. Practicing with
    the proper gear inside the home and in the backyard can make the
    transition to the slopes easier. Safety gear should fit properly and be
    well maintained.

    • Skis and
      snowboards.
      The binding setting should be properly
      adjusted. Rental or sales professionals can help choose
      equipment that is the proper size and fit.

    • Helmets. Use only
      helmets that are specifically designed for skiing or
      snowboarding. They should be professionally fitted to the
      child.

    • Protective eyewear.
      Eye protection is important to reduce glare from the reflection
      off the snow. Goggles should fit with the helmet being used.
      They should be made with polycarbonate or a similar material.
      The material should conform to the standards of the American
      Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

    • Wrist guards and knee
      pads.
      Snowboarders may also benefit from wrist guards
      and knee pads to prevent bruises and fractures.

    • Clothing. Winter
      clothing needs to be worn in layers with synthetic inner layers
      for wicking moisture and a waterproof outer layer, or shell.

    • Sun protection
      (sunscreen, lip balm with sunblock). Altitude and glare from
      snow make sun damage more likely.

  • Environment. Weather
    conditions can change rapidly. Bring extra clothing, and plan to quit
    early if conditions become hazardous.

  • Fatigue and nutrition.
    Skiing and snowboarding are hard work and require rest and adequate
    nourishment. Fatigue and dehydration can lead to poor control and
    injury.

Common injuries

Because skiing and snowboarding involve
rapid speeds, serious injuries can occur. Although rare, life-threatening
injuries are possible, sprains and broken bones are the most common types of
injuries from these downhill winter sports. The upper parts of the body are
more likely to get injured in snowboarding than in skiing because of how the
legs are attached to the snowboard.

Upper extremity injuries

Falling on an outstretched hand or shoulder
is common for a snowboarder. Acute, severe pain that limits the ability to
continue skiing or riding may be a sign of a broken bone. Treatment should
include rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). If pain does not go
away, or there is deformity or problems with circulation to the arm, see a
doctor right away.

Lower extremity injuries

Accidents when using the lift or collisions
with other skiers or objects can result in a sprain or a broken leg.
Injuries can also happen if bindings do not release when a skier falls. This
is why it is important that bindings be adjusted properly so that they
release in case of a fall. Anyone with severe pain or who cannot stand
should call the ski patrol for help.

Knee injuries

Twisting injuries to the knee can result
from skiing out of control or falling off the lift. Serious injuries, such
as a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament, usually require transport by
the ski patrol to a medical facility. More minor sprains, like the medial
collateral ligament, can be treated with RICE. Skiers or snowboarders with
severe swelling, persistent pain, and difficulty walking and moving the knee
should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Head injuries

Collisions at high speeds can cause serious
head injuries. While helmets are helpful at preventing head injuries, they
need to be the right size and properly fitted to be protective.

A concussion is any injury to the brain that
disrupts normal brain function on a temporary or permanent basis. The signs
and symptoms of a concussion range from subtle to obvious and usually happen
right after the injury but may take hours to days to show up. Athletes who
have had concussions may report feeling normal before their brain has fully
recovered. With most concussions, the athlete is not knocked out or
unconscious.

Prematurely returning to play after a
concussion can lead to another concussion or even death. An athlete with a
history of concussion is more susceptible to another injury than an athlete
with no history of concussion. Once a concussion has occurred, it is
important to make sure the helmet is fitted properly.

All concussions are serious, and all
athletes with suspected concussions should not return to play until they see
a doctor.

Rules of the slope

The National Ski Areas Association endorses a
responsibility code for skiers and snowboarders. Athletes should know the code
or “rules of the slope” to help prevent accidents and injury. The
code is prominently displayed at ski resorts. The 7 safety rules of the code
are

  • Always stay in control and be able to
    stop or avoid other 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 are not visible from above.

  • Whenever starting downhill or merging
    into a trail, 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.

Remember

Skiing and snowboarding injuries can be
prevented when athletes use the appropriate safety equipment and safety
guidelines are followed.