Heading into the back country, to your favorite national park or recreation area? Before you go, give your skills, gear and local intel a tune up. You’ll want to play it safe when heading into the great outdoors with your family.
Here are six ideas to consider:
Learn about Mountain Lions
Mountain lion attacks on people are rare. Yet, recently, interactions have increased. Experts believe the shift is due, in part, to humans moving closer to lion habitat, an increase in deer populations (their prey), and more hikers, bikers and runners sharing trails with lions.
If you venture into lion country, experts recommend exploring in groups and making plenty of noise to avoid a surprise. Carry a walking stick and keep children close at all times. Should an encounter occur, do not run. Stay calm. Pick up any children and talk firmly as you slowly back away. Do everything you can to loom large, raising your arms, opening a coat while not blocking a lion’s escape route. If the lion acts aggressively, fight back with rocks, sticks or what ever you can find without getting low or turning your back.
Hiking, climbing and camping in many parts of the country mean a snake encounter is possible. Make sure kids know to steer clear of anything that resembles a snake. According to the University of Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, more than half of those bitten intentionally provoked the snake in some way. Stay on hiking trails and keep hands and feet away from wood and rock piles, deep grass or crevices. Carry a flashlight and wear shoes after dark. "Time is tissue," experts say. So if a bite does occur, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
Be bear aware
Your goal during a hiking, fishing or camping experience is to avoid getting up close and personal with a bear. So while making plans, inquire about recent bear activity at your intended destination. Research shows that bear spray is effective, so have yours at the ready and know how to use it. Travel in groups of three or more and sing, tell stories, or take turns shouting “Hey, bear!” to let wild creature know you are in the area. Hike during daylight hours, stay on trails and avoid berry patches and animal carcasses. Look for signs of bear activity including scat, tracks or overturned rocks. When camping, keep your tent and spaces clean and free of odors. (Remind the kids that stashing candy bars in sleeping bags is not a good idea.) Don't sleep in clothes you cooked in. Be sure to hang food and trash away from sleeping areas or in bear-proof containers.
Don't let lightning strike
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 400 people are struck by lightning each year in the U.S. Teach the kids that "when thunder roars, go indoors." When planning an activity, have a safety plan and know where you will meet should a storm develop. Watch for darkening skies, flashes of lightning and shifting and strengthening wind patterns. If you hear thunder, even at a distance, it is time to move to a sturdy building or hard-topped metal vehicle with windows closed, advises NOAA. Stay away from tall, isolated trees, utility polls or open areas. Avoid wires and metal fencing. Wait for 30 minutes after the last thunderclap to move outside. If someone is struck by lightning, call 911 and get immediate medical attention.
Do the Stingray Shuffle
If you are headed to the beach, be sure the whole family practices the Stingray Shuffle before plunging into the sea. Stingrays bury themselves under a thin blanket of sand for protection. By shuffling into the water, you'll create a vibration and the creature will be alerted and will move off in a different direction. Stingrays are also most active at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., prime beach time, so ask the lifeguard or your resort's front desk about stingray activity before splashing into the surf. Should a sting occur, use hot water to clean the wound and seek medical attention. The Stingray City sandbar, home to the Southern Stingray, is a popular attraction in the Cayman Islands.
Stay warm and dry
Whether you get caught in a downpour, lost on the trail, or stay in the boat too long, getting too cold and too wet is something to avoid. It is helpful to remember the acronym COLD to avoid hypothermia: Cover, Overexertion, Layers and Dry. It's especially important to keep heads, hands and feet covered. Avoid overexertion that will cause sweating. The combination of wet clothes and cold temperatures will cause the loss of body heat. Dressing in loose fitting layers, with silk, wool or polypropylene closest to the body, is best for retaining body heat. And of course, stay dry whenever possible and remove wet clothing at the earliest opportunity. Know that children (and older adults) chill more quickly and need one more layer in the same conditions. Shivering, the body's natural attempt to warm itself, is a first sign of hypothermia. Bright red, cold skin and a weak cry are the first signs of hypothermia in an infant.
TIPS FROM THE NATIONAL SKI PATROL
Since 1938, the 501(c)3 non-profit, National Ski Patrol (NSP), has dedicated itself to providing service and safety to the outdoor community. As the preeminent authority for serving the outdoor recreation industry, NSP provides the highest quality Outdoor Emergency Care education and credentialing care to safety services providers. Ski and Snowboard Patrollers keep both you, and the mountain safe. Next time you see them on the mountain or ride with them on a chair lift, stop and talk with them. They're friendly people willing to share their knowledge of the resort with you. They can even give you some tips on great gear and where might be a good place for you to ski and ride based on your ability level. Check out these Safety Tips written to give you some snowsmarts and in collaboration with the NSP Safety Team. For more information, please visit nsp.org.
Since 1938, the National Ski Patrol has been advocating safe practices on the slopes so that skiers and snowboarders like you, can enjoy the most out of the mountain terrain. So, to share the message of how to have fun, while staying safe, NSP developed the slogan "Be Snowsmart! Play It Safe!"
What does "Be Snowsmart! Play It Safe" mean? Well, while it can mean a multitude of things depending on what situation you're in and what terrain you're on, the basis of it can be summed up in 3 key points.
1) Prepare for conditions.
Knowing what type of terrain you and your equipment can handle is extremely important when playing it safe. To be Snowsmart, know your ability level and where that appropriate terrain is on the mountain.
2) Reduce your risk of injury.
To reduce the risk of injury, always wear a helmet. Helmets can reduce your risk of head injury by 35-50%. You can avoid risk of injury in other ways too, including tuning your equipment, skiing with a friend, being aware of other skiers and riders on the slope and being aware of your surroundings and on mountain signage.
3) Prevent emergency situations.
Situations on the mountain can quickly turn into emergencies without warning. Unexpected weather changes, backcountry and side country skiing areas, and getting down the mountain with an injury are just a few factors that may turn into emergencies if you are not prepared. Preparing for situations such as these can help tremendously and can be as simple as being aware of weather forecasts, carrying a reliable communication device while on the mountain, snowboarding with a friend, and knowing how to contact Ski Patrol.
These safety tips are just part of being snowsmart! Before you even head out the door you need to have a few things lined up, like what you are going to wear and knowing how to dress for conditions outside.
Having the right equipment is important too. Borrowing is not the best idea, but renting is a great way to try different gear and see what you like before spending money on purchasing your own skis, board, boots, poles, and helmet. The National Ski Patrol highly recommends wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding, but encourages those participating in the sports to realize that helmets do have limitations and are not a complete answer for slope safety. Check out this helmet fact sheet from the National Ski Areas Associationto get more information on the benefits of wearing a helmet.
In addition to the proper use of helmets, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has developed Your Responsiblity Code to help snow sports enthusiasts avoid injury and make their experience as safe and enjoyable as possible.
If you're adventuring in the backcountry you must be knowledgeable in avalanche safety and the equipment used to help keep you safe; NSP provides information and classes on backcountry avalanche safety.
Find out more from the National Ski Patrol.