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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eager to get on the slopes this weekend? Remember these safety tips while sledding, skiing or snowboarding

Kathryn Robertson and her daughter Cora, foreground, along with Rachel Thomson and daughter Zo, launch their sleds from atop a hill in Grant Park on Thursday. Heavy snow blanketed the area on Wednesday, making for great sledding days.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Families and winter enthusiasts may be heading out to the slopes for some fun this weekend after a much-needed snowstorm hit the Spokane area. But it’s important to stay safe while you do so.

Here are some tips to keep in mind from MultiCare Integrated Sports Medicine orthopedic surgeon Dr. Allison Blumenthal.

  • Know your limits. Given how late the snow is coming in this season, you may want to go all out this weekend. But your body might not be ready.
  • Stay hydrated. Playing in the snow makes you sweat like any other kind of exercise, and drinking water or sports drinks will keep you safe.
  • Warm up your body beforehand. Stretching may be difficult in all that gear, but try to get some blood flowing through your muscles before going down a slope.
  • Wear layers. You need to stay warm out there but also have layers you can take off if you get overheated.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Look for rocks and tree branches that may or may not be exposed.
  • Wear a helmet. Arms and legs can often be healed easily, but a head injury can be much more serious.
  • Stop and go in to get warm if you get wet. Being wet and cold can lead to hypothermia quickly.

Asked for the most important advice to keep in mind while sledding or skiing this weekend, Blumenthal said outdoor enthusiasts should be aware they may be out of practice this year compared to others.

“Getting our good snowfall relatively late into the season, most of us are eager to get out on the slopes and really maximize our time out there. However, it is important to be cautious and take frequent breaks,” she said. “Pay attention to when your body becomes fatigued. The more bodies become fatigued, the more injury-prone we are.”

When fatigued, muscles are unable to fire appropriately, and they cannot protect the body by keeping arms and legs stable and ensuring balance. According to Blumenthal, the best long-term way to protect against snow sports injury is to stay well-conditioned throughout the year.

What injuries?

Skiing injuries generally occur along the knee and lower leg – making skiers more prone to tearing their ACL. In contrast, snowboarders more typically have wrist or shoulder injuries.

The difference is where the feet are planted. In snowboarding, the feet are connected on a single board, so individuals brace with their hands when falling. In skiing, a leg can slip out of the equipment and twist the ankle or have the knee take the brunt of a fall.

In comparison to these sports, sledding often has lower stakes but can be much more unpredictable, according to Blumenthal.

Ski slopes are generally well-groomed and maintained by a staff, while sledding can happen on any hill a child might find.

“You find any hill, and your kid is going to want to make the most of it,” Blumenthal said. “So as a parent, you need to be aware of the surroundings and if there are any hazards.”

Safety tips for kids in particular include trying your hardest to get them to wear a helmet and paying attention if your child gets wet. Children may not know their own limits the way an adult can.

If you are injured while on the slopes, call for help and try to get to a warm and dry place.

“If you do happen to have an injury, try not to panic. Stay calm as much as you can, call for help or wait for help,” Blumenthal said.

The impact of a sports injury is not always obvious right away. If swelling persists for more than a day, seek medical attention. If you cannot put any weight on the injury or pain is not controlled by over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, that is another reason to be seen for an injury.

Blumenthal also stressed that as a sports injury specialist, she often sees patients for injuries unrelated to stressful physical activity.

“A lot of the injuries that we see are not from a high-energy kind of extreme sport. It’s from doing daily activities like taking out the trash, going to get your mail or shoveling the driveway,” she said.

During inclement weather, winter sports safety tips may be helpful even when not getting out on the slopes for some fun.