Break Point!

Volume 2, Issue 2 View the Archives February, 1999
BreakPoint's Big Winter Sports Issue
Sledding is not Just Child's Play
Snowmobiles - High Speed Danger Zone
Beware of Dangers on the Slopes
Don't Be on Thin Ice this Winter
Prevention Web Sites of the Month
Next Month in Injury Prevention

BreakPoint Prepares for a Long Cold Winter

Kathy O'Day
Loyola University Burn and Shock Trauma Institute, Injury Prevention Program

Having fun in the snow is better than sitting indoors and it also helps make the winter seem to go by faster. The large amounts of snow we have received means that there will be many days to enjoy all of the activities winter has to offer. This issue of BreakPoint will cover the popular winter sports such as sledding, skiing/snowboarding, ice skating, and snowmobiling. As with any sport, preparation and common sense will help promote fun and prevent injuries.

Break Point is produced by Loyola University, Burn and Shock Trauma Institute Injury Prevention Program. Please call us at (708) 327-2455 with any comments or questions.

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Sledding is not Just Child's Play

There are few things that bring a smile to a child's face like that of sledding. Sitting on their sled, a smile from ear to ear as they move smoothly and quickly down the hill with giggles and laughter. Sledding can be a fun activity for children if done properly. Fifteen percent of serious head injuries that occur among children playing winter sports are related to inner tubes, sleds, toboggans or snow disks. Other less serious injuries including fractures are even more common.

Shoveling snow is extremely hard work; especially if you lift large loads and throw the snow some distance away from your body. You should not shovel snow unless you are in good physical condition. Cold weather itself, without any physical exertion, puts an extra strain on your heart. Even the use of a snowblower can be strenuous.

Choosing a safe sled should include looking for the following features:

  • Secure handholds and easy steering
  • Bumper or guard over the metal front bar
  • No split or splintered wood or bent metal parts
  • Sled runners that curve around to the top and connect with the side rails
  • Sharp runners that are free of rust

For safety when sledding follow these simple rules:

  • Inspect the area where you will be sledding. Remove any debris from the slope, and note the locations of any bumps.
  • Teach children not to roughhouse, push or shove others.
  • Before starting down a slope, make sure the person sledding ahead of you are clear from your path to avoid any crashes. When you reach the bottom of the hill, quickly move out of the way
  • Sled only in designated areas free of fixed objects such as trees, posts or fences.
  • Parents or a responsible adult must supervise children.
  • Do not sled on slopes that end in a street, drop off, parking lot or water.
  • Sledders should wear a helmet when sledding.
  • Wear layers of clothing to protect from injury and the cold.

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Snowmobiles-High Speed Danger Zone

Snowmobiles can be a fun and important mode of transportation especially in rural areas. Snowmobiling is also a fun winter sport. However, snowmobiles are powerful machines with the potential to injure and kill, and they do. Some snowmobiles can reach speeds of 90mph.

The major risk factors for injury when riding snowmobiles are careless snowmobile operation, use of alcohol, excessive speed and suboptimal lighting, drowning and lack of protection of head and limbs. Most common injuries are caused from falls off the machine and collisions.

As snowmobiling grows in popularity, it is important to keep these safety factors in mind when riding:

Before leaving

  • Check fluid levels and oil levels. Keep in mind your return trip.
  • Make sure the headlights and taillights work.
  • Test the emergency stop switch.
  • Move the throttle to make sure it is not frozen in the "on" position, and check the steering system to make sure it moves freely.
  • Dress appropriately for winter. Wear a certified helmet with face protection at all times. Scarves are not recommended because they may get caught in the machinery.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Never sled alone.

Once you start to ride, remember these safety rules:

  • Ride sober-A high percentage of snowmobile fatalities and injuries are the direct result of someone's irresponsible use of alcohol. Do not drink and drive. Do not let anyone in the group drink and drive. Individuals suspected of operating snowmobiles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are required to undergo chemical testing. The law is similar to those covering automobile and watercraft operation. An individual convicted of operating a snowmobile while under the influence can face a jail term, fine and suspension of his or her driving privileges.
  • Ride to the right even on straightaways.
  • Be prepared for changing weather. Know the weather forecast and call ahead to check on the conditions of the trails that you will be traveling.
  • Ride at reasonable speed. If you cannot control your sled safely at the speed that you are traveling in the current conditions- you are speeding.
  • Use of hand signals - the consistent use of a simple set of standardized hand signals on the trails keeps movement orderly and predictable.
  • Ride defensively - you and your group can do everything right, and still encounter a sledder who is doing everything wrong. Always expect the unexpected from the other snowmobile coming toward you.
  • Be careful on ice - Do not travel on lakes or rivers without knowing the ice conditions. To be safe, there should be 8 inches of clear ice. It is best however, to avoid snowmobiling on waterways all together. If you travel onto ice that breaks, reach forward to the edge of the ice and pull yourself forward. Do not stand; roll yourself to firm ground.
  • Do not stop the snowmobile when it is pointing uphill because it may become stuck.
  • Be cautious going downhill. Keep the snowmobile under control and be prepared to stop.
  • Snowmobiles are not built to carry passengers. If you do have a passenger, both persons' feet should be kept on the runningboard. The person should lean with you when you turn.
  • Travel on groomed trails when possible. Do not travel on unfamiliar ground and carry a flashlight or fares for emergencies.
  • Day or night be alert for hidden wires.

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Beware of Dangers on the Slopes

Skiing and snowboarding are two of the area's most popular winter sports. Both require a high level of skill and agility. Skiing and snowboarding carry a high risk of injury, especially for those who are not in good shape or don't take time to learn about proper techniques and equipment. Whether you ski or snowboard, injuries are likely to occur if you are over tired.

With the increase in the popularity of snowboarding comes the increased risk of serious injury. Orthopedic injuries are the most common injuries for skiers and snowboarders. Skiing and snowboarding injuries occur at a similar rate. of 3-4 injuries per thousand exposure days. However, the rate of fractures is markedly higher in snowboarders at 38 percent compared to 15 percent (11th International Congress of Ski Trauma and Skiing Safety. April 1995). There is also a risk of abdominal injuries when snowboarding. When the snowboarders fall, many times the board will bounce up and hit the rider in the abdomen causing internal injuries.

Following these safety tips will help to increase the fun on the slopes and decrease the rate of injuries.

  • Prepare for tackling the slopes- Aerobic exercises are recommended for getting in shape prior to and during the ski season. If you are in good overall condition you will not fatigue as quickly and will be less at risk for injury.
  • Stretching exercises strengthen the thighs, hamstrings, calves, hip and groin. - Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and do not bounce while stretching.
  • For beginners- take a few lessons from a ski or snowboard instructor to learn proper techniques and minimize injury. Learn how to properly fit boots and bindings and the proper way to break a fall.
  • Check all ski or snowboard equipment, especially bindings. Boots and their bindings should fit snugly and securely to protect the ankle from moving inside the boot.
  • Dress properly for the winter weather. Change clothing that has become wet.
  • Make sure your head and face are protected by wearing helmets and goggles.

When on the slopes observe these rules of safety:

  • Never ski alone.
  • Give skiers or snowboarders below you the right of way.
  • Stop on the side of the run and not in the middle. Stay out of the way of others coming down behind you.
  • Wear brightly colored clothing so other skiers can spot you easily.
  • Before passing another skier or snowboarders, shout, "On your left" or "On your right".
  • Only ski or snowboard on an approved course. These trails are specially groomed for the sport.
  • On a lift or tow, carry your poles by the shafts.
  • If you fall getting off a lift or tow, get out of the way of other skiers exiting behind you as soon as possible.
  • When getting off a tow, let go of the T-bar gently so it does not swing back and hit another skier.
  • Snowboarders are encouraged to wear wrist supports, helmets and goggles
  • Ski or snowboard responsibly. Do not play games or roughhouse on the slopes.
  • Do not drink and ski or snowboard. Save the alcohol for the end of the day's activities when you are safely in the lodge and have no plans to drive home.

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Don't Be on Thin Ice this Winter

Olympic skaters make ice skating look simple, gliding along the ice so gracefully. Anyone who has worn a pair of ice skates knows it is not as simple as it looks. Just staying upright takes work and practice. Once you are able to skate, moving along the ice and the chill of winter air create an invigorating feeling. Whether you plan to skate in a rink or on a frozen lake or pond there are several steps you should take to stay safe. Check the skates you will be using make sure they fit well. Ice skates that are too loose can make it difficult to keep your balance and skates that are too tight can interfere with circulation. Make sure the blades are clean and sharpened. If you plan to ice skate on a lake or a pond, there are additional safety precautions:

  • Don't skate unless the ice has a uniform thickness of at lease 4 inches. If you are unsure of the ice do not skate.
  • Don't skate alone.
  • Don't try to rescue someone who has fallen through thin ice-call 911.

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Prevention Web Sites of the Month

American Academy of Pediatrics
Children's Safety Network
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Emergency Medical Services for Children
Illinois Emergency Medical Services for Children

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Coming Next Month in Injury Prevention

  • National Poison Prevention Week (3/21-27)
  • Children and Healthcare Week (3/14-20)
  • Red Cross Month

The information on the Loyola University Health System (LUHS) Web site is for educational purposes only. It is presented in summary form in order to impart general information relating to certain diseases, ailments, physical conditions and their treatments. The information provided through the LUHS Web site should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease, nor is it a substitute for professional care. Should you have any health-care related questions or suspect you have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

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