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Safety key to winter fun

Disabled Air Force veteran, William Fry takes off on a snowmobile during the 22nd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic held at the Snowmass Village, Colo., April 2. The annual disabled learn-to-ski clinic helps motivate and rehabilitate disabled Department of Defense veterans. It is the largest of its kind in the world. The clinic instructs veterans on Alpine and Nordic skiing, rock climbing, snowmobiling, sled hockey, and more. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

New Hampshire provides many outdoor winter activities for Airmen and their families to enjoy - activities that are more enjoyable when done safely. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- New Hampshire provides many outdoor winter activities for Airmen and their families to enjoy - activities that are more enjoyable when done safely.

To ensure members of the community perform these winter activities safely, the 157th Air Refueling Wing Safety Office offers these helpful tips.

"When planning outdoor winter events, it is imperative that you and your family take a few basic steps to prepare: know where you're going, know the environment, bring adequate equipment and supplies, and leave a trip itinerary with family or friends in case someone should have to call for help," said Master Sgt. Jeremiah Neault, 157 ARW safety and occupational health manager.  "Always be ready for cold temperatures and wind chills, as well as other dangers associated with snow and ice."

"One of the leading causes of safety mishaps this time of year involves increased risk taking while involved in outdoor winter activities," Neault said.

Before attempting to ice fish, ice skate, ski, snowmobile, snowshoe, or other activity on a frozen lake, pond, or river, Pease safety officials suggest checking the depth of hard ice.

"There should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before walking on it, and eight to ten inches of hard ice for snow machine travel," Neault said. "It is important to assess ice safety by using an ice chisel or auger to determine the ice thickness and condition."

Neault emphasized that thick ice does not always mean safe ice.

"Ice can be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions," said Neault.  "Weak ice is formed when warming trends break down ice, then the slushy surface re-freezes."

The New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game also offers the following ice safety tips:

· Always fish with a buddy.
· Test the ice.
· Beware! Wind and currents break ice.
· Don't gather in large groups.
· Don't build a fire on the ice.
· Bring blankets and a first-aid kit.
· Reach for solid ice, kick and roll to safety, if you fall in.
· Don't drive large vehicles onto the ice.

For those who hike, run, walk or bike during slippery conditions, Neault encourages the use of traction devices, which slip on over shoes. Although Neault didn't endorse any particular brand, he said traction devices such as Micro Spikes, Stabilicers, and Yak Trax, are examples.

When new snow falls, children can often be found outdoors. Neault encourages parents to discuss safe winter play with their children.

"If a plow is nearby, children should stay back at least 25 feet or more from the road," he said. "It is best to have children play near the house as the snowplow approaches, and stay there until the plow has passed."

To avoid injury, he also suggested being mindful of areas selected to sled on.

"Make sure to choose a hill with a gentle slope, free of trees, large rocks and fences, and that also has a long run-off area at the end," Neault said. "Don't sled near a frozen lake or pond and only sled in daylight."

He added that it is a good idea that children under 12 years of age have adult supervision when sledding.

For those participating in winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding or other activities, remember risk management.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department offers a Hike Safe Card.  This is a yearly $25 fee for individuals and $35 for families.  According to the Fish and Game website, "people who obtain the cards are not liable to repay rescue costs if they need to be rescued due to negligence on their part. The card is valuable for anyone hiking, paddling, cross-country skiing or engaging in other outdoor recreation. An individual may still be liable for response expenses if they are deemed to have recklessly or to have intentionally created a situation requiring an emergency response."

Neault also discussed the importance of personal protective equipment.

"Be sure to wear the right personnel protective equipment, or PPE, for the sport or activity," he said. "Always wear a helmet when required and make sure it is properly fastened."

Officials also stress dressing in layers and wearing moisture-wicking clothes (not cotton, as it holds moisture in thus drawing heat away from the body) for the activity as the best way to stay warm and prevent frostbite.

Among the many sports-related injuries that occur, Neault said many are the result of inexperience in a sport.

"For those that are new to a sport, start slow and work your way up to the next level," he said. "Don't test out the expert level if you don't have the experience."

Neault added, "Learn from people that are experienced and who take safety into account as they enjoy winter sports."

Another important factor to consider while enjoying outdoor activities is the responsible use of alcohol.

"Staying sober while participating in winter sport activities will help prevent a serious mishap from occurring," he said. "It is never a good idea to participate in any activity when under the influence of alcohol."

As part of being a good wingman, Neault also encourages each member of the community set the example for others.

The best way to stay safe and prevent mishaps is to have a good plan during winter activities he said.

"By setting the example, it will help motivate others to remain safe as well."

For more information on Hike Safe visit their Fish and Game website: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/safe/

NH Fish and Game ice safety brochure: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/fishing/documents/ice-safety-broc.pdf

To speak with a member of the safety staff call 603-430-3487

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