Tips for staying safe in winter sports

Winter is coming.
The rain is falling in town and we all know that means snow is falling in the mountains! Time to get ready for the snow season.

Take a moment to consider some basics of winter sports safety from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) before heading to the mountains this season.

1. Helmet use

Ski helmet with goggles

  •  The National Ski Patrol recommends wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding.
  • Safety and conscientious skiing and riding should be considered the most important factors to injury prevent, while helmets provide a second line of defense against head injuries.
  • Studies show that helmets offer considerably less protection for serious head injury to snow riders traveling more than 12-14 mph.


2. Sledding

  • All participants should sit in a forward-facing position, steering with their feet or a rope tied to the steering handles of the sled. No one should sled headfirst down a slope.
  • Do not sit/slide on plastic sheets or other materials that can be pierced by objects on the ground. Use a sled with runners and a steering mechanism, which is safer than toboggans or snow disks.
  • Avoid slopes that end in a street, gravel road, drop off, parking lot, river or pond. Make sure people at the bottom have cleared the slope path before allowing another sled to go down.

3. Snowboarding and skiing

  • Warm-up the muscles that will be used in skiing with exercise activities to help prevent injury such as knee lifts, heel raises, abdominal twists and squats. When done, take a few minutes to stretch out your muscles.
  • Use proper ski and snowboard equipment such as properly fitting boots and adjusted bindings that attach the boots to the skis/snowboard. Bindings should only be set by a certified technician to help prevent injuries during a fall.
  • Participants should ski on trails within his or her skill level.
  • Obey trail closure and other warning signs. Do not go off-trail.

4. Prepare in advance

  • Think ahead and participate in preseason conditioning activities.
  • Know your limits, terrain and conditions. Use well-lit areas when choosing evening activities.
  • Ski or ride with a partner.
  • Understand sport requirements and equipment maintenance.
  • Know the skill level required for your location.



5. Dress for Winter

  • Stay dry by using ‘wicking’ (polyester) materials against skin.
  • Layer clothing to increase warmth.
  • Use protective devices such as a helmet, wrist and knee braces, and poles.




6. Nutrition

  • Properly fuel before your activity.
  • Bring portable snacks like granola bars and apples.
  • Take breaks to eat and drink before hunger or thirst hits.





It’s important to stay safe and be prepared. Parents or adults should supervise young children during all winter downhill slope sports activities at all times. Individuals with pre-existing neurological problems may be at higher risk for injury. If you have pre-existing condition you should talk to your doctor before participating in these activities.

Learn more about how to prevent winter sports injuries from The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 



Ryan Petering. M.D. specializes in Sports Medicine and Family Medicine. He also has special interest in Pediatric Care, Primary Care Sports Medicine, Recreational Athletes, and Wilderness Medicine.