The news shocked skiers nationwide: Kelly Huber, 40, of San Antonio, Texas, and her two young daughters fell off their chairlift while at Ski Granby Ranch in Granby, Colorado, on Dec. 30. Huber was taken to Middle Park Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead about an hour later. One of her daughters was seriously injured; the other daughter’s condition was not released.
The reason for the accident was at first unclear, but witnesses later said the safety bar of the chairlift was not lowered as the chair ascended, and the three were ejected when the chair hit a sign or a pole.
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Just as with other seasonal sports, winter sports offer fun family times and healthy physical activity. Without the right precautions, though, they can be deadly. Take a minute to review safety protocols and proper gear — it could save your child’s life.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Andrew Bulczynski, from DISC Sports and Spine in Marina Del Ray, California, weighed in on the most common winter injuries, and what parents can do to prevent them.
Head Injuries and Concussion
For skiers and snowboarders, these injuries have risen in recent years. Although symptoms for concussions usually resolve in about six weeks, a few patients develop post-concussion syndrome, which can lead to long-term cognitive impairment.
Helmets cannot eliminate the risk of a concussion, but Bulczynski said they should still be required gear for all skiers and snowboarders. Helmets just might save both your head and your money: “Some insurance companies may invalidate an insurance claim if a skier or snowboarder was injured and not wearing a helmet,” Bulczynski told LifeZette.
The concussion symptoms to watch for include “blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, vomiting, and also swelling at the site of where the head was injured,” he noted. “If any of those symptoms present, it would be prudent to be evaluated by a medical professional.”
Back injuries run the gamut of severity. Bulczynski has worked with all sorts of back injuries, from a simple sprain of the back all the way to spinal cord injury and paralysis.
“The higher the speed, the higher the risk,” he said of skiing and snowboarding. Experienced skiers and boarders can take the slopes at higher speeds, but beginners should keep the pace slower for the first few years.
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Also, “body armor has been shown to reduce the risk of [back] injuries,” Bulczynski said. If you’re going to get serious about the sport and you’re willing to shell out a couple hundred bucks, buy body armor. For high-contact sports like hockey, body armor might be easier to get your child to wear — and might save his spine, too.
Lessons are always advisable for any winter sport that involves higher speeds.
“I taught each of my sons to ski when they were small, but when it came to my wife, I arranged ski lessons for her,” a husband and father of three from Boston, Massachusetts, told LifeZette. “She was mad — she just wanted to hit the bunny slope — but as an adult, lessons are the safest way to go. This is true for kids, too, if the parent is not skilled at the sport, or is impatient or not a good teacher.”
In all his work with athletes, Dr. Bulczynski comes across knee injuries most often. Skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, hockey — whatever the winter sport, it’s going to take a toll on the knees, unless people are careful. A torn meniscus, fractured kneecap, and total dislocation are all commonplace.
Kneepads are a must for snowboarders and hockey players, as a lot of falls in these sports happen on the knees. But ice skating and skiing are more likely to cause a twist of the knee. For these types of stress, pre-season conditioning cannot be neglected, Bulczynski says. If your muscles are unused to strain, they’re more likely to pop under stress. People who are “well-conditioned … are more likely to continue to perform without being fatigued. Being fatigued can increase the risk of injury,” he noted.
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Also, make sure your clothing is “flexible,” so it doesn’t impede movement and initiate an injury if you fall. Many companies now sell activewear geared toward individual sports that offer freedom of motion, moisture wicking, and warmth. This is a great investment for kids, if you’re logging lots of time on the ski slopes or ice rink.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
By the time hypothermia sets in, your decision-making skills will already be diminished. It’s best to prevent it altogether by wearing the right gear and keeping to marked slopes, so you don’t get lost on the mountain.
If you and your kids are going to be out for a while, you may even want to invest in HotHands toe and hand warmers — or at least keep a stash in your car for emergencies. When you’re out on the mountains or skating on a frozen pond, make sure you and/or your kids buddy up with a friend — one can call for help if the other gets lost or any emergency arises.
Windburn and sunburn are minor when compared to a serious spine injury or head injury, but they can still cause discomfort, so make sure you bring along enough sunscreen and chap stick.
Scared yet? You shouldn’t be. Sports in both summer and winter all carry their own risks, and there’s no reason to be wary of letting your kids blow off some steam in the winter. It will definitely do them a lot more good than video games and couch time.