One of my favorite activities is being outside in the snow with my kids. It’s even better when we’re skiing. Keeping our kids safe while enjoying the outdoor winter activities, especially skiing and snowboarding, is something all parents think about - we make sure they wear helmets, we teach them the skiers code of conduct, we make sure to bring plenty of snacks. But one thing that we tend to forget about is hypothermia. Children are even more susceptible to hypothermia than adults because of their larger skin surface area relative to their body weight. This makes hypothermia a very important safety factor when skiing and snowboarding with your kids.
Generally speaking, hypothermia is when your body temperature falls below 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit. A body temperature lower than 96.6 degrees Fahrenheit is classified as moderate hypothermia, while a body temperature lower than 89.6 degrees is classified as severe hypothermia. It’s possible to become hypothermic on a sunny day, a warmer but wet snow day, as well as on very frigid cold days. Arm yourself with the symptoms to watch for and the ways to prevent it to keep your child safe while skiing and snowboarding (and anytime you're outside enjoying the winter weather).
Signs of Hypothermia in Children
Very young children may not be able to communicate their discomfort, so it’s important to remain alert and recognize when your child is getting too cold. Besides a reduced temperature, the signs of hypothermia can include
an abnormally weak cry,
Shivering (this can stop as hypothermia progresses, so not shivering can be a sign as well),
red skin that’s cold to the touch, and
shallow or no breathing.
Older children may demonstrate some of these symptoms as well as some of the symptoms of hypothermia seen in adults. These symptoms include
slurred speech, and
Fortunately, older children and teens should be able to alert you to their discomfort and conditions.
Conditions that can lead to hypothermia
Because hypothermia is caused by the lowering of our body temperature, it’s important to know how we lose heat. The body loses heat in four different ways: evaporation, radiation, conduction, and convection.
When you sweat, water evaporates from your skin, which can cause you to lose heat – during intense exercise 85 percent of body heat is lost through sweat.
Wet clothes or heavy breathing can also cause the body to lose heat via evaporation.
The process of heat moving away from the body and typically occurs when temperatures drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit – 65 percent of body heat is lost via radiation.
Occurs when heat is lost from sleeping on a cold floor or from submersion in cold water; roughly 2 percent of body heat is lost as a result of air conduction.
Occurs in heavy winds, causing the body to lose 10-15 percent of its heat.
Preventing heat loss in your kids
Dress appropriately. Check the weather forecast for the whole day you plan to be on the ski slopes with your kids. Do your research ahead of time and prepare for the worst. A good rule of thumb for ski attire is having waterproof and windproof outer layers and warm base layers. Layers help you to add and remove as the weather changes to avoid sweating too much. It’s not uncommon to remove the outer layer while skiing since your child is working really hard and generating body heat, and then bundling back up at the base before riding the lift.
Most importantly, be sure and stay dry to avoid losing body heat. If you do get wet, change clothes immediately. Avoid cotton layers as it easily soaks up water and takes a long time to dry – wool, silk, and polypropylene are better options. Check out our blog on dressing kids for winter fun outdoors for suggestions on how to layer and what to look for.
Avoid exposing skin to the elements, even if it feels warm. The wind will take a lot of your child’s body heat, very quickly.
Take breaks in the lodge or car to get warm if your child expresses being cold. When taking your break, dry all of their gear- everything from gloves to socks. Don’t head back out until they have dry gear. If you see any of the early signs of hypothermia, immediately go to where you can have them get warm and dry. Remove wet clothes, wrap them in a blanket or warm coat and check to see if their symptoms improve. If not or if the symptoms are severe, call 911 immediately, while still continuing to warm them up and keep them dry.
With the right gear and clothing, and a watchful eye, hypothermia isn’t something to be scared of, but it’s important to be ready and alert for it. Skiing and snowboarding safely with kids is all about knowing the dangers and being on the lookout for them. So layer up, watch the weather and have fun on the slopes!