Low Risk- snowshoeing

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Criteria:

Best for grades 4+

  • Simple terrain: few junctions, relatively short and gentle slopes, reasonably smooth trail surface
  • Local: in the community (e.g., urban or regional park)
  • Low inherent risk in the activity
  • Minimal fitness required
  • Clear boundaries for activity: hard to be lost for more than an hour
  • Short duration: typically (but not always) less than a half-a-day in duration
  • Near support services: e.g., buildings or vehicles accessible
  • Close to emergency services: less than 20 minutes from EMS arrival on-site
  • No specific teacher/leader qualification or certification required: an adult could implement the guidelines without specific technical training
  • Minimal preparation time of students: an hour or less student prep needed

Snowshoeing Ratios

 Student Grade Number of Supervisors to Students
1 – 3 1:8 / 2:16
4 – 7 1:12 / 2:24
8 – 12 1:15 / 2:30

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Safety Guidelines

Snowshoeing is a traditional activity in Canada (an excellent activity to incorporate to connect students to some First Nations related curricular objectives). Equipment innovations have contributed to its renaissance as a popular and highly accessible recreation activity. It is easy to learn and has minimal risks, except those potentially related to winter weather and terrain.

Known Potential Risks
  • Injuries related to motor vehicle incidents en-route to and from activity area;
  • Becoming lost or separated from the group or the group becoming split up;
  • Injuries related to slips, trips, and falls in the program area or en-route to/from it;
  • Injuries related to colliding with another person or with a fixed object;
  • Injury or delay related to ill-fitting equipment or clothing, equipment malfunction, failure to use the equipment properly or becoming tangled in apparatus;
  • Injuries related to the physical demands of the activity and/or lack of activity skill;
  • Acute or overuse injuries/conditions;
  • Weather changes creating adverse conditions;
  • Hypothermia,  frostbite or other cold injuries due to insufficient clothing;
  • Loss of manual dexterity in hands during cold and wet weather;
  • Illness related to poor hygiene;
  • Injuries related to interactions with animals in the environment;
  • Psychological injury due to anxiety or embarrassment (e.g., re: body size or shape, lack of fitness or skill);
  • Other risks normally associated with the activity and environment.

Additional Challenges of Activity in a Cold Environment

  • Decreases in body temperature; the colder it is out, the faster the loss.
  • Faster cooling of skin wet from sweating or precipitation.
  • Magnification of the loss of body heat in the wind, especially if the skin is wet.
  • Greater perception of the cold in environments with higher humidity.
  • Frostbite of extremities (e.g., nose, ears, toes, fingers) can lead to long term tissue damage.
  • Compromise of brain function in severe cold, contributing to increased chance of injury.
  • Dehydration in dry cold environments, due to water loss through respiration and sweat.
  • Increased injury susceptibility of muscles, ligaments and tendons when they are cold.
  • Children get cold faster than adults and suffer frostbite more easily. They may lack of experience in the cold and forget to stay well-dressed; e.g., removing toques, tubes, mitts, and/or getting these items wet while playing so they do not function as well.
Common Risk Mitigation Strategies

Activity Instruction:

Teacher/Leader Readiness

  • The teacher/leader must be competent to organize the snowshoeing activity; to demonstrate, instruct and supervise it; and to effect rescue and emergency procedures as necessary.
  • There are no instruction or teaching/leadership training/certification courses available for snowshoeing in BC.
  • Assistants must also be comfortable and competent on snowshoes and being outdoors in winter.
  • The teacher/leader must know how to prevent and recognize signs and symptoms of common cold related illnesses and injuries (e.g., hypothermia, frost nip). At this level, treatment primarily involves getting the affected student(s) indoors out of the cold and determining if any additional first aid or medical treatment is needed. 
  • If more than .5 km from the school, at least one supervisor should have first aid training, the level dependent upon the time/distance from EMS (refer to First Aid in General Considerations).

Location/Equipment

  • Guidelines related to travel by bus or walking to/from a site are covered in Travel to/from Off-site Destinations in the General Considerations. If travelling by a means other than bus or walking, see Transportation in Special Considerations.
  • Identify a safe, allowable way to transport equipment considering the safety of the students and minimal potential for damage to the equipment. (e.g., longer snowshoes and cross country ski poles (where used) may not be permitted in the cabin of a school bus and need to transported in a lower luggage hold – which not all buses have). Address any such issues when booking.
  • Equipment may be provided by the school, a service provider, or, more rarely, the family of the student. The owner is responsible for ensuring that snowshoes (and poles, if used) are in good repair.
  • Snowshoes range from traditional tear-drop shaped models made of wood and webbing to modern metal, plastic and fiberglass styles. If going off-site, teachers/leaders should be prepared to do basic repairs on the equipment the students will be using.
  • Define specific boundaries for the activity.
  • Activity area should be situated a safe distance from roads and other hazards.
  • When choosing a site, consider the environmental conditions (e.g., sun, wind, wind chill, snow conditions and suitability of terrain.)
  • Appropriate layered or at least warm clothing should be worn
  • Headgear and gloves/mitts should be required (at least brought along) for anything beyond participation in mild conditions and within .5 km of an accessible indoor facility.
  • Refer to board policy regarding any temperature/weather cut offs. Many schools preclude outdoor activity at about       -25° Celsius, including wind chill. Consider student age, maturity, clothing and footwear as well as site exposure.

Instruction

  • Review safe and effective use of equipment, including boots, bindings, and poles (e.g., poles have sharp tips; caution students about their use, especially when working close to others; avoid stepping on other’s snowshoes).
  • When learning games on snowshoes, poles should not be used and should be kept outside the playing area.
  • Teach basic uphill and downhill maneuvers on a gentle slope.
  • In an age-appropriate manner, teach/review hypothermia and frostbite and their prevention.
  • Remind students to be especially vigilant regarding sun protection (e.g., sunglasses, sunscreen and lip block). Solar rays reflecting off the snow increase the risk of burning and skin damage.

Supervision

Ensure students are appropriately supervised (considering age, maturity and context). In addition to the guidelines in Supervision in the General Considerations, apply the following as appropriate:

  • In- the-area supervision; on-site for Grade 1-3 groups.

The suggested minimum supervisor to student ratios for are:

 Student Grade Number of Supervisors to Students
1 – 3 1:8 / 2:16
4 – 7 1:12 / 2:24
8 – 12 1:15 / 2:30

Where a 2:30 ratio is provided, the intent is to suggest that two supervisors can likely handle a full class of students. It is accepted that, in some cases, this might mean a few more than 30 students; class sizes vary. Adjust supervision ratio if/as necessary due to the presence of any special considerations.

For on-site instruction in a confined area such as the schoolyard or an adjacent small park, a teacher/leader experienced and competent in the activity can supervise a regular full class of students. Additional adults (or older student volunteers) may be needed at the beginning and end of the session to help Grade 1-3 students put on and take off snowshoes.

Local Day Tripping: All of Instruction, plus:

Teacher/Leader Readiness

  • The longer the winter activity is to be, especially if it is to be away from a warm indoor facility, the more competent the leader must be.
  • At least one supervisor should have first aid training, the level dependent upon the time/distance from EMS (refer to First Aid in General Considerations).

Location/Equipment

  • Select a relatively short, conservative route (e.g., one with escape routes and/or near shelters/cabins), particularly with novice students. Consider time available till dusk, prevailing and forecasted weather and snow conditions.
  • Students should be encouraged to dress in layers and bring a back-up pair of gloves/mitts. 
  • For any site, students should be made aware of the boundaries for the activity.
  • When choosing a site, consider the environmental conditions (e.g., sun, wind, wind chill, snow conditions and suitability of terrain). Try to select areas/routes that are relatively protected from the wind unless students are well-dressed for more exposed conditions.
  • When the weather is cold, try to plan activities around mid-day, when temperatures may be warmer.
  • Be aware that the temperature tends to drop quickly as soon as the sun sets.Be aware of risks related to snowshoeing with bindings that do not automatically release in the event of a fall or other emergency. Participate in control.
  • Appropriate layered clothing should be worn (e.g., synthetic or wool close to skin to wick/hold moisture away, fleece or wool in a second layer for warmth, and a wind/water repellent layer (ideally breathable) on the outside).
  • Where possible, avoid cotton clothing (e.g., jeans, hoodies, sweat socks), especially on extended day trip or longer outings. If students are planning to wear cotton, encourage them to bring one or more changes of the cotton items, depending on the intended duration of the outing. If a student gets very cold some distance from shelter, changing into dry clothing may help.
  • Avoid excessively restrictive clothing (e.g., tight boots or gloves); body parts with restricted circulation are more subject to frostbite.
  • Headgear and gloves/mitts should be required for anything beyond class instruction on a local site in mild conditions. Over 50% of body heat can be lost through the head and neck. Ears, noses and cheeks are subject to frostbite, so keep them covered when it is cold.
  • Bring a thermos of hot drink for emergency use.

Instruction

  • Discuss appropriate spacing of snowshoers.
  • Encourage students to put on and take off layers of clothing in order to stay warm and dry (e.g., avoid sweating). Add a layer when stopping to rest to avoid getting chilled.
  • Include additional warm up for an active session in the cold. It requires more time to get the body ready for higher intensity activities in cold weather than in war
  • Instruct students that they are responsible for notifying a supervisor if they feel too cold to continue an activity.
  • Keep well hydrated during active outings; hydration helps prevent cold-related injuries and conditions.
  • Encourage students and parent/guardians to consider the combined effect of cold and wind when planning what to wear for an outdoor session/trip.
  • Discuss frostbite and hypothermia with students and how to prevent, recognize and treat (at a grade/age-appropriate level). Identify and deal similarly with other winter related injuries (e.g., snow blindness) as relevant to the students, activity and environment.

Supervision

  • Constant visual supervision where a student is crossing a potentially hazardous point on the route.
  • Use a buddy system, as well as a lead/sweep system and/or other appropriate techniques to keep group together, with buddies also checking each other for signs of hypothermia, frost nip, etc.
  • Rendezvous at trail junctions, especially if unsigned, to ensure no one goes the wrong way. Do head counts before heading off again.
  • Create a system for appropriately spaced regrouping stops if the students are prone to getting too spread out along the trail (e.g., due to varying fitness levels and/or objectives) and/or to provide time for clothing adjustments, and water/snack intakes.

Notes

  1. If, when reviewing the guidelines above, terms and concepts presented are unfamiliar, this is a strong indicator that additional personal leadership preparation (e.g., a training course, reading) or contracting a qualified service provider is advisable.
  2. This document is not intended as an instructional guide. The teacher will need to use other references to learn how to teach student the skills (e.g., how to brake when inline skating, how to do a diagonal stride when cross-country skiing).