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Winter Sports Safety: How to Prevent Injuries While Enjoying Outdoor Activities

A sports medicine specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester offers tips on how kids and adults can stay safe while doing winter sports.

Whether it’s skiing down snow-packed slopes or strapping on ice skates, the winter season offers a variety of fun, family-friendly activities for people of all skill levels. But winter sports also come with unique safety risks due to bulky equipment, slippery surfaces, and frigid environments.

“Staying warm, staying loose, staying conditioned, and knowing your limits are all great ways to reduce the risk of injury while enjoying winter sports,” says Dr. Elan Goldwaser, a pediatric and adult sports medicine physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester.

Here, Dr. Goldwaser, who is also the team physician for U.S. Ski & Snowboard, shares some tips to help kids and adults stay safe while enjoying winter sports and activities.

Bundle Up

Dress in layers that you can adjust as necessary. Start with a thermal base layer of moisture-wicking material to keep you warm and dry. Add a middle layer of thicker cotton or polyester to keep the heat in. Finally, an outer shell layer will shield you from the wind and cold air.

Stretch Before and After

When you’re in cold weather, your muscles can tighten up, so the best way to combat that is by staying loose. Touching your toes and leaning side to side are simple stretches that can loosen your muscles and help you avoid sprains and strains. Stretch before you put on your ice skates, skis, snowboard or hockey pads, but also make sure to stretch after the activity too.

Strengthen your Hips, Ankles and Feet

A strong core and good hip strength helps lower your risk of falling, especially in sports like ice skating or skiing, which require a lot of balance. Do exercises to strengthen your core and glute muscles, such as hamstring stretches and variations of planks. Yoga is excellent for practicing balance.

Ankle and foot strength are also critical. Using resistance bands to pull your foot in all directions can help build stability and strength in the ankle and wearing a lace-up ankle brace or extra-thick socks while you’re skating or skiing can prevent you from rolling your ankle.

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Fall Safely

Don’t place your arms out in front of you to stop yourself from falling because that can lead to fractures in the bones of your wrist and arm. Instead, try to fall on your shoulder, knees, or butt if you are snowboarding, or on your side if you are skiing, so your body can more safely absorb the impact.

If you fall while ice skating, be aware of your surroundings, and make sure no one skates into or over you. If you fall while skiing or snow tubing, try to hurry off to the side of the slope, and look uphill to make sure there’s no one coming directly at you.

Don’t Ignore Pain

Bumps and bruises are common after falling, but you can also develop stress fractures in a bone. A bruise typically happens from banging a body part into something, whereas a stress fracture is a gradual, deep ache directly on a bone that sharply hurts when pressed on and may or may not have a small bruise associated with it. If you have a stress fracture and continue the activity, the added stress to those little microfractures can lead to a large break. The best thing to do for a stress fracture is to reduce activity to the point where you don’t feel pain and rest the bone.

Wear Equipment Correctly

Wearing protective equipment like a helmet and wrist guards is important, but it’s also important to wear winter gear correctly. Ice skates or ski boots should be a little larger than your regular shoes to give your toes room to move around. If you have flat feet and don’t wear the right support to hold up your arch, the ankle can roll inward. This instability can start to strain your bones and muscles, putting you at risk for more injury. Kids and adults with flat feet can purchase over-the-counter inserts to provide extra arch support in their gear.

Know Your Limits

Whether you’re a novice or experienced in the sport, you should know your limits. Stop when you’re tired and don’t try to push yourself if you’re not ready for it because that’s when you can really hurt yourself.

To make an appointment with a physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester, visit or call 914-787-1000.

Subscribe to NewYork-Presbyterian’s monthly patient newsletter for the latest health and wellness tips and science news delivered straight to your inbox.

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