Childwise: Down Hill, Down the Slopes – Keeping Your Children Safe

Kathleen GansterChildwise is a medical advice column for parents of children ages birth to 21. 

By Kathleen Ganster

It is winter in Western Pa. which usually means snow and what child doesn’t want to sled ride? Others will want to head to the slopes with their parents for skiing and snow boarding.

As fun as those outdoor, winter sports are, it is imperative to take safety measures because those same sports can also be very dangerous.

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Dr. S. Joshua Szabo is an orthopedic surgeon with Tri Rivers Surgical Associates and a physician for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and gave us some advice for keeping children safe this winter.

The first thing to keep in mind with children is to remember, no matter what their skill set, they are still children, said Dr. Szabo.


“They don’t have the attention span and focus of adults. And when they are done, they are done,” he said.

Dr. S. Joshua Szabo
Dr. S. Joshua Szabo

That means careful planning, he said. And planning means scoping out hills and sledding paths – before snow if possible – to make sure pathways are free of tree stumps, rocks and holes. It also means making sure children sled in safe, traffic- free and tree-free areas and using proper equipment for all sports.

In sledding, Dr. Szabo recommends sledding equipment that allows children to have some control over the sled. And always, supervision.

On the slopes, Dr. Szabo recommends using your child’s motor skills as the determinant as far as when they start skiing and how fast they progress. Dr. Szabo said his own children started skiing when they were only three and now at 9 and 11, competitive ski.

“It may mean starting to ski with children skiing between your legs and not letting them on their own. Their skills should be the guide,” he said.

And like all sports, the appropriate equipment is imperative.

“Snow sports are equipment intensive by their nature. They need to have the right size skis and boots. And helmets across the board,” he said.

According to Tri Rivers, statistics show that use of protective gear reduced head, neck and face injuries by 43 percent while only 48 percent of U.S. skiers and snowboarders wear helmets.

Dr. Szabo said that preparation and conditioning can help prevent injuries and that applies to children. Winter sports also add the element of cold temperatures and high elevation which can cause rapid fatigue and dehydration – again, conditions that can be accelerated in children.

“When your child gets tired, they are done,” said Dr. Szabo. That may mean carrying back a child from the slopes, so you want to keep that in mind when choosing routes and ski paths.

Taking breaks to avoid fatigue will help both children and adults avoid injury, Dr. Szabo said.

“Injuries most commonly occur when the snow sports enthusiast is fatigued,” he continued.  “I commonly hear people tell me their injuries happened on the last run of the day.”

Other tips Dr. Szabo shared include:

  • Know the condition of your body (and your child’s) before going on the slopes. If necessary, take part in conditioning (aerobic, resistance training, core strengthening, plyometrics and flexibility training) prior to ski season.
  • Keep your body hydrated throughout the day.
  • Stop skiing if you feel fatigued. Injuries are more likely to occur when a skier is tired. Watch your child for signs of fatigue. They may be having fun and not realize how tired they are.
  • Know the terrain (level of difficulty) and make sure it is consistent with your abilities. Know for you children as well. “Be realistic where you take your children,” said Dr. Szabo.
  • Wear protective equipment and make sure equipment is fitted properly.
  • Before hitting the slopes, warm up and stretch to prepare for the physical activity.

Questions or suggestions for future Childwise columns? Contact Kathleen Ganster at

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