Winter Safety Tips for Tweens & Teens

Snow-boarding, skiing, ice-hockey, sledding, ice-skating… Winter is the best time of the year for outdoorsy and active tweens and teens, free spirits who are afraid of nothing.

To prevent injuries and accidents, I contacted the Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue Team, an all-volunteer rescue team that has rescued over 500 lost, injured, or missing people in Northern California. Without the expert help of the 150+ members of TNSAR, many of the people who went off-trail, or got injured while skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or biking, would have perished. They were kind enough to share their winter safety tips for tweens and teens.

#1 Learn the 3-W’s

Mark, the webmaster for TNSAR, noted that before even getting to safety tips on the slopes, teens should learn the 3-W’s as described here. They are to tell someone Where you are going, Who you are going with, and When you will return. This information informs the actions once it looks like something is wrong; for example:

1. Did they say they would be home by this time?
2. Let me check with the family of who they went with.
3. Let’s start looking where they said they would be going.

If they do this (the 3-W’s), *and* they stop once they suspect they are lost (as well as leave some signals), an extremely high percentage of time, they will be found safe and quickly.

#2 Check the Weather Forecast

Mountains often have specific microclimates that evolve very fast and can severely affect anybody outside. Before heading out, preferably in the morning, your family should check the most reliable local weather and snow report for the slopes and agree on a contingency plan if the weather changes abruptly. If your kids are extreme skiers and go into the backcountry, check the Sierra Avalanche Center forecast at www.sierraavalanchecenter.org or the call the hotline at (530) 587-2158.

#3  Check Your Winter Gear

Your winter gear should be in perfect condition to operate before your kids head outside. Have they checked their skies and snowboards for loose screws? Does the ski helmet fit snuggly? Do they have a survival kit, hat, gloves, sunglasses, goggles, sunscreen, energy bars and water?

If you expect your kids to go in the backcountry, they absolutely should carry an avalanche transceiver and know emergency procedures.

#4 Dress in Layers

This is true of all outdoor activities–dressing in layers can literally save someone’s life, as layers keep you warm and dry in harsh environments. The most important rule is to wear the right materials. No cotton! Remember: cotton kills. Wool, fleece and synthetic are great choices.

The layers should include:

  • Wicking Layer: This layer should pass moisture away from your skin. Synthetic or wool undergarments give you a dry layer next to your skin for more warmth. Don’t wear cotton. Cotton is cold when wet and very slow to dry.
  • Insulating Layer (middle layer): Polyester pile, fiberfill, wool, thinsulate, etc. are materials that will keep you warm and dry quickly. Down is a good insulator, but unprotected down will get wet quickly and is slow to dry.
  • Protective Layer: Keeps wind, rain and snow out. Raingear should be large enough to fit over all your clothes and should have a hood.
  • A Wool or Polarfleece Hat is a Must! 20 to 40 percent of your body heat is lost through the head.
  • Gloves: To keep your hands warm and dry, wear polypropylene liners underneath mittens. Carry a pair of waterproof overmitts. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Bring an extra pair.
  • Feet: Dress in layers here, too! A liner, then wool or polypropylene socks and correctly fitted boots keep your feet warm and comfortable and prevent friction. Also, wear gaitors to keep the snow from seeping in to the tops of boots.

#5 Hydrate Often

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 114,000 snow skiing-related injuries treated in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and emergency rooms in 2014, with an additional 79,000 injuries associated with snowboarding. Even mild levels of dehydration can affect your teen’s body, leading to fatigue and resulting in physical injuries. Make sure that they drink plenty of water before, during and after doing winter sports. The TNSAR recommends up to 4 to 5 liters of water per person per day. It may sound like a lot, but it purely replaces water lost with strenuous exercise.

#6 Don’t Eat Snow, Crust or Ice

This is going to be very hard to resist, as all kids love to suck on ice or snow, but especially if they are cold, tired or injured, they should not eat snow, crust or ice. If their body isn’t already performing at 100%, it’s going to use too much energy to convert snow to water and will cool the body internally, increasing risks of hypothermia.

#7 Be Well-Fed

Eat before you go out and frequently during your outing to replace expended energy. Bring a lunch with a variety of long-lasting foods such as breads, bagels, jerky, nuts, peanut butter, cheese, energy bars, and dried fruit. Go easy on high sugar snacks like candy. Stopping for snack breaks lets you take the time to enjoy the winter environment, the reason you’re there in the first place.

Last but not least, please do check the TNSAR’s Winter Wilderness Survival Program for 4th Graders and their guidelines to STOP, build shelters and make signals. It features valuable no-nonsense information on what to do if kids get lost.

I would like to thank the TNSAR team for being so helpful when I queried them on winter safety and for sharing their expertise. They are awesome and if you ever run into them, please thank them for their hard work and efforts. You can support their wonderful work by donating on the home page of TNSAR here.

Have fun this winter and stay safe!

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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