As children get older, they tend to get more adventurous with their winter activities – sledding, skating, even snowmobiling – and thus increase their chance for injuries. Dr. Swanson recommends the same tips on staying warm and dry as for toddlers as well as these other ways to keep kids safe:
- While it’s tempting to let children use hand-me-down equipment, it’s crucial to make sure everything is well-fitted and age-appropriate.
- With virtually every winter sport, all children over 12 months absolutely need to wear a helmet. Helmets reduce life-threatening injuries by 50 percent, but make sure they fit properly: It should be one inch above the eyebrows, one inch above the neck, and be snug, moving with the head, not on the head. Snowboarders need wrist guards as well.
- All sporting equipment should be used properly, never towed behind a motorized vehicle.
- Start gradually, in stages, by first trying gear in the backyard rather than on the ski slope. Then plan short excursions to see what they can handle.
- Get an instructor. Trying to teach them yourself often leads to the development of bad habits, so you’re better off investing the money in a professional, if you can. A trained instructor will bring children on at the right pace and teach them important skills, like the best way to use the equipment and the safest way to fall.
- When packing for a day in the cold, always being at least an extra under layer for each child. Also make sure to pack water (we underestimate how much we sweat in the winter), snacks to keep energy up, sunscreen for the bright, reflective snow, and an extra hat and mittens. Use mittens as long as you can, as they keep little hands warmer than gloves.
- Talk to different people about their opinions, and, most importantly, use your judgment on your child’s readiness.
When to Start Winter Sports:
- Andrea Frangk, instructor at Gore Mountain in New York, said that their program starts at age 4. She said that while the Gore program used to include 3-year-olds, “In the last few years, we have noticed that generally 3-year-olds do not have developed-enough leg muscles or stamina to get through a 2-hour ski or snowboard lesson.” She adds that “Gore does offer [30-minute] private lessons to 3-year-olds because usually that is the time limit that they can stand – and it’s one-on-one help.” Frangk emphasizes that each parent knows his/her child best, so while age 3 might be good for one kid, another might not be ready until they’re 6 or 7.
- Gore’s Andrea Frangk said that more children learn to ski before snowboard because it’s easier to catch on, but it all depends on the child and their interest. For snowboarding, she recommends starting lessons at 4 or 5 years old if the child is able.
- Susie Wehrli-McLaughlin from U.S. Figure Skating recommends children start lessons at age 4, but notes that some of their programs offer classes for younger kids too.
- Lance Jaeger, hockey coach for Competitive Edge Hocky, LLC in Colorado, said that after kids are comfortable skating, many hockey instructors take kids as young as 5 years old for lessons based on their ability to focus and concentrate for 30-minute or 1-hour lessons.
- The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that children under 16 not operate a snowmobile and children under 6 not ride on one.
All experts emphasized the importance of well-fitting equipment from a reliable sporting or rental shop.
Find more recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatricians here.