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Injuries can freeze winter fun

While winter allows for us to share in Utah’s famous snow and give us access to so many picturesque locations for winter activities, it’s important to keep in mind the risks for injury prior to participating. (U.S. Air Force graphic by David Perry)

While winter allows for us to share in Utah’s famous snow and give us access to so many picturesque locations for winter activities, it’s important to keep in mind the risks for injury prior to participating. (U.S. Air Force graphic by David Perry)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --

(This article is part of HillAFB’s Winter Safety series. Prepare for the winter season with these helpful tips.)

Cooling temperatures and early snow means it’s time to prepare for the winter sports season.  While winter allows for us to share in Utah’s famous snow and give us access to so many picturesque locations for winter activities, it’s important to keep in mind the risks for injury prior to participating. 

Approximately 3.8 million people are treated from winter sports injuries in the United States each year.  Sledding mishaps lead with 700,000 cases, followed by skiing and snowboarding with a combined 123,000 cases, while ice skating accounts for 52,000 injuries each year. Many of these mishaps could have been prevented by implementing basic risk management principles and following a the following safety tips:

Take regular breaks:  While you’re out enjoying some winter fun, take frequent breaks to hydrate, refuel and recover. This will give overworked muscles a break and allow them to keep going. 

Be prepared: Having on hand emergency supplies, such as extra water, fire starter, emergency blanket, and signaling devices, can make the difference between life and death.     

Keep an eye on the weather: Utah winter weather can be quite unpredictable and often the mountains create their own harsher weather while the valley is clear and calm.  If you have a day of outdoor winter fun planned, check the forecast before you head out. Inclement conditions increase the likelihood of an injury.

Don’t go alone: When participating in winter sports, the most dangerous thing you can do is to go alone.  Have someone with you so they can provide immediate care and go get help if there’s an accident. If you do venture out alone, be sure to leave a note in your vehicle and with close friends in case you don’t return on schedule.

Do warmup exercises: Your muscles and heart need to be in good shape before any type of physical activity. Muscles get tighter when the temperature drops, and your blood vessels contract. As a result, you’re more likely to get exhausted or develop a muscle cramp, and that raises the risk of a more serious injury. That’s why warmups should play a big role in your skiing, skating or snowboarding injury prevention plan.

Use protective equipment:  Most common winter sports injuries can be minimized – or prevented altogether – by wearing reliable protective equipment. The most essential piece is a helmet. More than 23,500 concussions result from winter sports and numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of helmets in preventing head injuries, which are more likely to be fatal than other types of injuries. Choose a helmet with a strong outer shell and shock absorption layer, one that is specifically designed for the activity you’re engaging in, and one that fits properly, as an ill-fitting one will be ineffective.

Check your gear: It’s not just your protective equipment that needs to be properly maintained.  No matter what activity you or your family is participating in, make sure all of your equipment is in good condition without any obvious defects.

Don’t push beyond your experience level: Whether attempting a new slope or trying out a winter sport you’re not familiar with, it’s important to recognize your own limitations. Make sure you stay on runs that are appropriate for your level. Many injuries occur because people were unable to control their speed or when something was just beyond their abilities.  Going out of established boundaries in ski areas results in avalanches and fatalities every year.  Those warning lines are there for a reason.

Wear appropriate clothing: In the wintertime, we wear heavy coats and other winter apparel to stay warm. When playing winter sports, clothing does more than just keep you warm. It has to protect you from sunburn, windburn and frostbite, while being flexible enough to allow you to move freely, because constrictive clothing can actually increase the risk of injury.

Be familiar with your surroundings: If you’re in an unfamiliar environment, it could take you by surprise. Many winter sports injuries occur because someone didn’t anticipate a big tree or rock on the ski slope, or didn’t notice a thin patch of ice. Pick a familiar spot where you know what the landscape looks like. If this isn’t possible, scan the area beforehand so you know what’s safe and what isn’t.