Winter Activities: Safety Tips

Here in Minnesota, we have entered into the time of year that is either loved or hated by Minnesotans: winter. The weather has turned colder, and we’ve already had some snow. So, as I was digging through my closets trying to find my winter boots and coats, I thought it would be a good time to highlight a few safety considerations for some winter activities. I started looking through websites for safety tips and came up with lots of tips (I would refer to it as my laundry list, but that’s another blog topic). Some of my colleagues would say that there is a safety checklist for everything. Check out the suggested resources and keep winter safety in mind—it’s Winter Hazard Awareness Week, November 6–10.


  • Find gently sloping hills that are free of rocks and other obstacles and far from traffic.
  • Hills should be covered with packed snow (not ice).
  • Use sturdy and safe equipment, with no sharp or jagged edges.
  • Use energy-absorbing pads on sled seats.
  • Be alert to hidden hazards under mounds of snow.
  • Teach children it's better to sit up while riding downhill—lying flat increases the chance of head and abdominal injuries.
  • Roll off the sled if a collision with a tree or other large/hard object is imminent.
  • Never ride on a sled that is being pulled by a car, truck, or snowmobile.
  • MN Safety Council: Sledding Safety Tips.


  • Check trail availability before you go.
  • It is recommended that children younger than 6 not ride a snowmobile, and youth younger than 16 should use extreme caution if driving one. (The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends drivers be age 16 or older.)
  • All snowmobile drivers and passengers should wear helmets designed for high-speed motor sports.
  • Don’t drink alcohol and ride.
  • Slow down because excessive speed is a factor in many accidents particularly during low visibility.
  • Ride with someone on another snowmobile. That way, if one machine is disabled, you have a ride.
  • Like any vehicle, snowmobiles have the potential of turning into deadly machines if not handled properly. Minnesota law requires certification training in the proper use and handling of snowmobiles. For more information on state snowmobile regulations, visit Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
  • MN Safety Council: Snowmobile Safety.

Ice Skating

  • Skate only in posted or approved areas.
  • Learn how to stop and how to fall safely.
  • Don’t create a hazard—skate in the direction of the other skaters.
  • Check your blades before skating.
  • Watch the skating surface for cracks, holes, and other debris.
  • Safe Kids Worldwide: Skating and Skateboarding.

Skiing and Snowboarding

  • Wear a helmet.
  • If it’s been awhile since you last skied, try out the bunny hill or an easy run before you tackle the black diamonds.
  • Know your limits.
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen and wear sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes.
  • Be alert to the movement of others around you.
  • Stay in control.
  • If you’re tired, take a break.
  • Stop in a safe place.
  • Riding the ski lift, as well as getting on to and off of it, can be dangerous, so stay alert and avoid horseplay.
  • KidsHealth: Safety Tips: Skiing.
  • National Ski Areas Association: Skiing and Snowboarding Tips.

Ice Fishing

  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice.
  • Beware of moving water, especially around inlets and outlets.
  • Before you leave, tell someone your fishing plans—where you are going and what time you plan to return; notify them if plans change.
  • Fish with a buddy; never go alone.
  • Check with a local tackle shop to find out the current ice conditions (as well as how the fishing has been).
  • Stay in communication with your fishing buddies. Use cell phones or radios.
  • Carry at least one full set of dry clothing in a waterproof bag or container.
  • Carry a pair of ice picks and a throw rope.
  • Use a sled to carry your fishing gear rather than a backpack or duffel bag. It distributes the weight over a greater surface area of the ice.
  • Don’t go if you are unsure.
  • Don’t wear seat belts when driving on ice because they make it difficult to exit a vehicle quickly, and keeping the door slightly ajar while traveling will help you exit the vehicle quickly in an emergency.
  • Take Me Fishing: Ice Fishing Safety.
  • Minnesota DNR: Ice Fishing Safety.


  • Shoveling can be good weight-lifting exercise, but be sure to use caution and warm up your muscles and stretch before starting to shovel.
  • Don’t work to the point of exhaustion, so take frequent breaks.
  • Stop immediately if your chest feels tight.
  • Fresh snow is usually more powdery and lighter than snow that is wet and packed down.
  • Avoid shoveling after eating or while smoking.
  • Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Dress for success; keep your extremities warm.
  • MN Safety Council: Snow Shoveling: Get the Scoop.

Minimum Ice-Thickness Guidelines

  • 2″ or less—DON’T GO
  • 8″ to 12″—SAFE TO DRIVE CAR
  • 12″ to 15″—SAFE TO DRIVE TRUCK
  • Note: These guidelines are for new, clear, solid ice AND ARE SIMPLY GUIDELINES. If something feels unsafe, err on the side of caution. Besides thickness, there are several other factors that can affect your safety. Be careful walking on snowy ice and when ice is newly frozen (white ice). It is not at full strength.
  • Have a survival plan. Be prepared.
  • Minnesota DNR:

Staying Warm and Avoiding Frostbite

  • Dress children warmly in several layers of clothing—wear boots, gloves, or mittens and a hat.
  • Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play, and make sure children go into a warm place periodically to warm up.
  • Limit the amount of time that infants are outdoors when it is colder than 40 degrees F because they lose body heat quickly.
  • Kids—or caregivers—who become distracted or irritable, or begin to hyperventilate, may be suffering from hypothermia, or they may be too tired to participate safely in winter sports. They need to go indoors to warm up and rest.
  • Certain beverages (those that contain caffeine and alcohol) and medications can make you more sensitive to the cold.
  • Use the “buddy system” to monitor your physical reaction to the cold if you are going to be outdoors for an extended period of time.
  • MN Safety Council: Frostbite and Hypothermia.

Are You Ready for Winter?

Pat Hlavka

Pat Hlavka is a Safety Coordinator in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. She received a B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an M.S. degree in Safety from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Pat worked as a safety professional in the industrial setting (IBM and Benchmark Electronics) for over 15 years. Since joining the Mayo Clinic in 2008, her responsibilities have focused on laboratory safety including the safety audit program, developing and maintaining documentation, training, communications, awareness, incident investigation, laboratory safety committees, and emergency management.