Keeping Kids Safe On The Mountain

November 28, 2011


Family on ski lift

Though it may not feel like winter here in Houston, chances are some of you will be venturing to colder climates for a ski vacation this winter.

As a lifelong skier, and instructor to the littlest skiers on Vail Mountain, I want to share some tips that I have picked up along the way in hopes that your family will have a safe and memorable vacation.

Before you go:

-Increase your water intake prior to travel. Altitude sickness can ruin the first day or two of a ski vacation for anyone, but it’s harder for children to articulate what they’re feeling. Many people may chalk up a child’s crankiness or tears to separation anxiety or fear when in reality, they could be suffering from symptoms of altitude sickness such as a headache, confusion or difficulty breathing. Dehydration decreases the body’s ability to acclimate, so be sure everyone is hydrated before you go.

Getting ready:

-Wear a helmet. I can’t stress this enough. Dr. Jasper Shealy, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, who has studied ski related injuries for more than 30 years, says recent research has shown that helmet use reduces the incidence of any head injury by 30 to 50 percent.
-Dress in layers. For base layers, stick to synthetic fabrics or wool, as these fabrics will wick away moisture if they get wet, unlike cotton. Layers also allow your child to change clothes with the rapidly changing climate. However, don’t layer socks. One well-insulated pair is enough – when multiple socks are worn they can bunch up in the boot and cause discomfort.
-Wear sunglasses or goggles. For every 1,000 feet you climb in elevation, the intensity of the sun increases about six percent and sunlight can reflect off the snow at nearly double the strength. Keep your little ones' eyes protected with something that has 100 percent UV protection.
-Apply and reapply sunscreen. It’s just as important to protect your child’s skin from the stronger rays as it is to protect their eyes.
-Wear mittens rather than gloves. Mittens are always warmer and often less frustrating for children to get on. Also, pack hand warmers in a pocket just in case.
-In a pocket, put all of your contact information. If your child is in ski school, it is an easy way for the instructor to get in touch with you should they need to. If your child is skiing with you and gets separated, it makes reconnecting easier. Write down your name, phone number and address, or the name of the hotel you’re staying at.
-Pack lip balm. The drastic drop in humidity from the Houston area to many resorts in the west is enough to leave lips miserably chapped. Encourage your children to apply it throughout the day.

On the mountain:

-Familiarize your children with the mountain. Point out mountain personnel so that your child recognizes their uniforms. Show them where the emergency phones are. Explain the different trail markings and what they mean (green vs. blue vs. black).
-Teach them ski etiquette. Ones that I emphasize to children in my lessons are: looking uphill when merging trails, not stopping where they can’t be seen, observing posted signs, skiing on terrain that matches their ability level and the importance of “space not speed”. However, this list is not all inclusive, familiarize yourself with the resort’s Responsibility Code and talk to your child about it.
-Beware of frostnip/frostbite. Be on the lookout for areas of the skin (most commonly the cheeks, nose, hands, feet or ears) that become white and tingly or numb. If this occurs, bring your child inside as soon as possible and warm the area. If symptoms do not improve, seek medical attention.
-Create a plan for separation. Be sure to designate a meeting location should your child get separated from you.

Many people discuss the importance of learning to ski young, and the conversation will almost always include the word “fearless”. While more inclined to try new things, children are often unaware of the dangers associated with the sport and therefore more likely to put themselves at risk. Although relatively few children will sustain a serious injury while skiing this season it’s important to take all possible precautions, as accidents do happen.

Happy (and safe) skiing!

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