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Have fun but remember safety when enjoying winter sports       Send a link to a friend

[JAN. 13, 2005]  Winter sports are a lot of fun but, when combined with the cold outdoor weather, can put a great strain on the body. If you participate in winter sports, it is important to be in good physical condition and properly dressed for the weather. It also is important that your equipment is in good condition. Below are safety tips for your sledding, snowmobiling, skiing and ice skating.

Sledding  |  Snowmobiling  |  Skiing  |  Ice skating


A safe sled, especially one that children use, should have these features:

  • Secure handholds
  • Easy steering
  • No protruding rivets
  • No sharp edges
  • Bumper or guard over the metal front bar
  • No split or splintered wood
  • No bent metal parts
  • Sled runners that curve around to the top and connect with the side rails
  • Sharp runners that are free from rust

For safety when sledding, follow these simple rules:

  • Look over the area where you will be sledding. Remove any debris from the slope and note the locations of any bumps. Know how to steer clear of ditches and trees.
  • Teach children not to roughhouse, push or shove others.
  • Before starting down a slope, make sure the person sledding before you is clear from your path, to avoid accidents. And when you reach the bottom, move quickly out of the way.
  • When walking back up the slope, use a side path out of the way of other sledders coming down.
  • Know how to stop the sled and how to get off a moving sled safely in an emergency.
  • Avoid sledding on roads or anywhere near traffic. Do not sled on hills that end in a street.


As snowmobiling grows in popularity, it is important to keep these safety factors in mind when riding. Before leaving:

  • Check the fuel and oil levels. Keep in mind your return trip.
  • Make sure the headlights and taillights work.
  • Test the emergency stop switch.
  • Move the throttle to make sure it is not frozen in the "on" position, and check the steering system to make sure it moves freely.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather. Wear a helmet. Goggles are a must to protect eyes from branches, thorns, snow and cold. Scarves are not recommended because they may get caught in the machinery.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Never go alone.

Once you start to ride, remember these safety rules:

  • Generally, it is unlawful to drive or operate a snowmobile on Illinois roadways. Contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at (217) 782-6431 or by TTY, for hearing-impaired use only, at (217) 782-9175 for complete rules regarding where a snowmobile may be operated.
  • Do not drink and operate a snowmobile. Individuals suspected of operating snowmobiles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be required to undergo chemical testing. The law is similar to those covering automobile and watercraft operation. An individual convicted of operating a snowmobile while under the influence can face a jail term, fine and suspension of his or her operating privileges.
  • Driving a snowmobile is similar to riding a motorcycle or bicycle: Shift body weight to keep your balance. You can also use the throttle and brake to control the machine.
  • Be prepared for changing weather conditions.
  • Be careful on ice and travel at low speeds.
  • Do not travel on lakes or rivers without knowing the ice conditions. To be safe, there should be 8 inches of clear ice. It is best, however, to avoid snowmobiling on waterways altogether.
  • If you travel onto ice that breaks, reach forward to the edge of the ice and pull yourself forward. Do not stand; roll yourself to firm ground.

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  • Do not stop the snowmobile when it is pointing uphill because it may become stuck.
  • Be cautious going downhill. Keep the snowmobile under control and be prepared to stop.
  • Snowmobiles are not built to carry passengers. If you do have a passenger, both people's should be kept on the running board. The person should lean with you when you turn.
  • Use a rigid tow bar, never a rope or wire, to tow a person in a snowmobile sled. This will protect the sled from crashing into the snowmobile during a sudden stop or sharp turn.
  • Use the proper hand signals when turning left or right or when stopping.
  • When riding at night, make sure lights are working and carry a flashlight or flare for emergencies. Do not travel on unfamiliar ground
  • Day or night, be alert for hidden wires.


When you buy ski equipment, check for these safety factors:

  • Be certain the boots fit snugly but are not tight enough to interfere with circulation.
  • Purchase the ski bindings at the same time you buy the boots, to avoid a mismatch.
  • If you are a beginner, use short skis and take lessons from a qualified instructor.

Out on the slopes, observe the following rules of safety:

  • Never ski alone.
  • Give skiers below you the right of way.
  • Stop on the side of a ski run, not in the middle. Stay out of the way of skiers coming down behind you.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing so other skiers can spot you easily.
  • Before passing another skier, shout, "On your left" or "On your right."
  • On a lift or tow, carry your poles by the shafts.
  • If you fall getting off a lift or tow, get out of the way of skiers exiting behind you as soon as possible.
  • When getting off a tow, let go of the T-bar gently so it does not swing back and hit another skier.

Ice skating

Whether you skate on an outdoor pond or at an indoor rink, keep safety in mind and use equipment that fits well. Skates that are too loose can make it difficult to keep your balance. If they are too tight, they can interfere with circulation. If you skate on a lake or pond, take these additional safety precautions:

  • Do not skate unless the ice has a uniform thickness of at least 4 inches.
  • Have rescue devices, such as a rope, ladder and blankets, handy.
  • Do not skate alone.

[Illinois Department of Public Health]

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