It’s National Ski Safety Awareness Week, so let me glide through a few safety tips on ski and snowboard safety.

More than 20,000 children each year are treated for ski and snowboard injuries. These aren’t just the beginners, but those who are into risk-taking on the hills. If you want to reduce your child’s risk of becoming a ski- or snowboard-injury statistic, try the following:

Use proper equipment. Buy or rent skis or snowboards that are appropriate for your child’s skiing ability. The larger or longer the ski or snowboard, the faster it goes, and the harder it is to control. Have a trained professional fit your children’s skis, bindings, poles, and boots at a ski shop. Don’t just give your child hand-me-downs that they will grow into. Also, snowboarders should have kneepads, wrist, and elbow pads to cushion falls.

Proper equipment for skiers and snowboarders includes a properly fitted helmet.  Helmet use can reduce head injuries in children by more than 50 percent each year.

What if your child will not wear a helmet? The best way to get your children to wear a helmet is for parents to wear one as well. If your children think helmets are uncool, have them customize theirs with stickers. Also, remember this: a bike helmet is not a substitute for a ski helmet.

Now if you or your child are new to a winter sport, take at least one lesson. In your child’s case, consider taking lessons from a certified ski or snowboard instructor. In addition to learning the fundamentals of skiing safely, an instructor will also teach your child how to check the fit of their equipment and how to get on and off the lifts. Most ski schools teach from age 4 upward, although often snowboarding lessons begin around age 7.

If your children are more experienced, remind them of the rules of the slopes. This includes stopping only in places where children can be seen and are not blocking a trail. If a child is getting onto a trail, make sure they look uphill first. They should always give those coming down past them the right of way. Older children who know how to ski should never ride the lift alone. They should always ski or ride with a friend or parent.

Finally, dress your child in layers to deal with the changes in temperature. Don’t forget to use sun protection, even on cloudy days. Protection also includes goggles to filter out the sun rays that can be quite bright as they reflect off the snow.

Hopefully, tips like these will slide down easily the next time you are concerned about ski or snowboard safety.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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