Skiing Safety for Children

Skiing is a great sport for kids but there are equipment considerations and safety rules that must be observed. Let’s start with equipment:
  • Helmet. There is no argument, no debate here. A helmet is mandatory. Make sure the helmet fits properly and remind your children that wearing a helmet does NOT give them a license to ski recklessly.
  • Use Protective Equipment and dress your children in layers. Most people only think of helmets when they think of ski safety equipment for children. In fact, protective equipment includes; hats, headbands, gloves, goggles with built-in sunglasses, hand warmers and boot warmers too. Absolutely think of hand and foot warmers as protective equipment. Why? Because you are protecting your child from frostbite.
  • When you dress your child in layers you can always add or subtract depending on the weather. Be sure your children wear sun protection, even on cloudy days. The sun reflects off the snow and is stronger than you think, especially in late winter. A ski vacation with a sun burn is no fun
  • Make sure you buy or rent skis for your children that are appropriate for their skiing ability. Generally, the larger a ski is, the faster it goes and the harder it is to control. Have them fitted and tuned by a trained professional at a ski shop. This is the one time it’s OK to underestimate your child’s ability. Remember, safety is always priority number one.
  • Bindings should only be adjusted by a trained professional at a ski shop. It’s very important for bindings to be able to release in the event of a fall. This will prevent leg injuries. On the other hand, bindings that release too easily can cause falls. Make sure you get your children boots that fit properly. The boots need to keep their feet comfortable and warm and provide optimal control over their skis. Boots should always be buckled up snugly to give feet and ankles the proper support.
  • Poles should always be the right length and have looped straps that go around the wrists. To check if poles are the right length, turn one upside down and have your child hold it by the tip, with a hand resting on the basket. The child’s elbow should be at a right angle with the handle of the pole touching the ground.
And now for some rules of the road, or ski trails:
  • If you have a child that is a beginner then put them in ski school so they get it right from day one. Children’s instructors know how to teach kids, it’s their business. Then everyone will enjoy the experience.
  • Make sure your children understand the rules and follows them. Insist that your children knows they are not to never venture past the ski area boundary or ski into a closed area. These areas are off-limits for a reason and they’re not patrolled by the ski patrol. In many cases those areas contain hazards that children don’t need to deal with. Remind them to pay attention to any warning signs they might see. If a sign says, “Slow skiing area,” they’ll want to go slow to avoid other skiers. If a sign says, “Cliff,” they’ll want to go another way or stop before they go over the edge.
  • Always ski with a friend. I don’t care how talented a skier a child is they can take a bad fall and possibly could become unable to continue skiing. If the child is alone this could become an extremely serious issue, even if they have a phone. By skiing together each child can look out for each other (it’s called teamwork) and if necessary summon the ski patrol. You know this is much safer than skiing alone. BTW, make sure at least one child has a cell phone with them and absolutely make sure they have an emergency number to call in their phonebook. Also put contact information in a secure zippered pocket inside their jacket.
Teach your children to practice skier etiquette:
  1. Skiers in front of them or below them on the trail have the right of way.
  2. Never stop in the middle of a trail or anywhere where they can’t be seen from above, such as below a dropoff.
  3. Look uphill to make sure no one is coming toward them before they start down a trail or merge onto a new trail.
  4. If they’re passing another skier on a catwalk or narrow trail, have them call out “On your right” or “On your left” to let people know they’re approaching.
Make sure your children are aware of and honest about their skiing ability. If they’re beginners, have them stick to the beginner slopes until they feel comfortable enough to move up to something steeper. Most ski trails are clearly marked as green circles (beginner terrain), blue squares (intermediate terrain), or black diamonds (advanced terrain). If a trail says it’s for experts only, believe the sign, they are serious. Skiing terrain that is beyond a child’s ability is no fun and a really good way to hurt themselves. Help them understand that it is OK to stop when they get tired.
Impress upon your children the importance and value of taking breaks. The probability of injury increases when a child is over-tired. Also, make sure you provide them with healthy snacks and water. Skiing is a physical activity and they will need to replenish energy and hydrate.
Follow these suggestions and rules on safe skiing and you and your children will have a great time enjoying a terrific activity.
Reviewed by: Kathleen B. O’Brien, MD
Date reviewed: February 2010
National Ski Areas Association
Frostbite is always a potential danger with outdoor wintertime activities. Download this outstanding guide on Frostbite from Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Columbus Ohio.
To learn more about skiing safety please click the “Video” tab at the top of the page.