Safety is key to winter activities for children


The winter weather means the chance to sled, ski, and participate in other fun outdoor recreation, which also carry safety risks. A poll asked parents what safety measures their children practice when participating in winter activities.

With snow blanketing many places in the United States and the Omicron surge making the outdoors seem like the one safe place to be, children are turning to outdoor activities. Some of those activities carry a low risk for injury, like building snowmen, but other activities carry a higher risk, like sledding. A new C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital poll asked 1992 parents what they did to ensure their child’s safety when enjoying outdoor activities during the winter.1

Most of the parents said that their child gets to experience winter weather, with most living in an area with frequent (40%) or occasional (30%) periods of cold and snow. Six percent of parents said that their child would visit places where cold weather is common. Parents of both younger children, those aged 3 to 9 years, and older children, those aged 10 to 18 years, said that the most common winter activity they would participate in was sledding, with 62% of younger children and 46% of older children doing it. A smaller number of children participate in downhill skiing or snowboarding (11% younger, 17% older) or snowmobiling (5% younger, 4% older).

Most parents discuss safety rules with their child if that child was going to do snowmobiling (94%) or downhill skiing or snowboarding (90%). Discussions of safety rules for sledding were slightly less common, with 83% of parents having one with their child. No difference between the proportion of parents having a discussion was found between younger and older children. Helmets were commonly worn for snowboarding (83% at all times, 10% some of the time) and downhill skiing or snowboarding (73% at all times, 12% some of the time). However, it was much rarer for children to wear a helmet when sledding (17% at all times, 14% some of the time). As with safety discussions, no difference was seen in the proportion who said their older child wore a helmet versus a younger child for all of the activities.

Adult supervision for the entirety of the activity is common for all activities: snowmobiling (95%), downhill skiing or snowboarding (93%), and sledding (82%). There were some differences noted in supervision for older children, with snowmobiling the activity most commonly supervised (69% at all times, 14% some of the time, 16% none). Sledding was the least supervised activity (30% at all times, 52% some of the time, 18% none) and downhill skiing or snowboarding falling in the middle (42% at all times, 42% some of the time, 14% none).

The authors of the poll stressed that parents should not overlook safety concerns for sledding and that they should ensure that a child doesn’t use a hill near traffic or water sources, as well as choosing one that is free from obstacles on the trip down, such as trees or rocks. Before sledding, parents and children should also make sure that the hill isn’t icy because ice can make the sled difficult to control. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommend that children wear helmets when sledding, For all winter activities, parents should ensure that safety gear is in good shape, fits well, and their child is properly wearing it.


  1. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. National Poll on Children's Health: Keeping kids safe during outdoor winter activities. 2022;20(2). Available at: Published January 24, 2022. Accessed January 24, 2022.
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