It’s winter. And possibly the only way to stop our nerves from further unravelling is to embrace the season with a positive, let’s-get-outdoors mindset. We’re taking a lesson from the Scandinavians, who thrive through long, harsh, dark winters. Yes, thrive! One of the reasons: they get outdoors. This winter why not take the opportunity to teach your kids a new outdoor sport, like cross-country skiing. Fresh air, exercise, and safe fun! Here’s how.
Start ‘em young
When should kids start? “I was once told by an instructor to make them beg,” says Ellen Chandler, director of Jackson Touring Foundation in Jackson, N.H., considered one of the top cross-country ski centers in the country. “What she meant was to make it seem enticing, then wait until they ask.”
In other words, if they see you enjoying the sport, they’ll want to join in. “Many avid skiers bring their children as early as a few months old, when they can ride in a pulk [a pull-behind sled],” Chandler says.
When you stop for a rest on the trail, get the kids out of the pulk and let them play in the snow.
Usually, by age three or four, when kids are balanced and steady on their feet, they can start skiing on their own.
“I’m a huge fan of snow boot skis. They are my go-to baby shower gift,” says Chandler. “They cost about $50 to $75 and fit over snow boots.”
Start by letting the kids strap on skis over their sneakers to try indoors on a rug, and then outdoors in the backyard or local park.
It’s just play on the snow until the kids are about four years old, the younger limit for lessons. Once they’re school age, consider family lessons at a reputable touring center.
Make it fun
Experts said it again and again: chill out, laugh, let the kids lead the way, play games.
“Make it fun. Find a straight hill and see how fast you can go down or how far you can glide,” Chandler suggests. “Try tossing a nerf football back and forth while skiing a loop.”
If the family dog is game (in terms of fitness and temperament), rent or buy a harness, and try skijoring.
Invite a friend along. “Pay for the friend’s ticket and rentals if you have to. It’s an investment,” says Chandler. “Also, look for older kids. We have a terrain park, and little kids love to see big kids do jumps and tuck on downhills.”
Bribes are not off the table, like a promised special snack at lunch time or hot chocolate at the end of the adventure. Even Gold Medalist Jessie Diggins claims to have been motivated by hot chocolate as a child.
Finally, let the kids tell you when they’ve had enough. If they’re old enough to understand the concept of we have to go back as far as we came out, get their feedback along the way. Golf courses are great for this: Do you want to do another loop? Or find a small hill and go up and down it as many times as they like.
“Let them decide when it’s time to go,” says Chandler. “I’ve seen kids go up and down a hill until the parents want to scream, but they learn so much by doing this.”
Dress for success
Typical one-piece snowsuits for young ones are fine for pulk and snow boot skiers, and bib snow pants and jackets for older kids work. Consider layers that are easy to take on and off, and bring extra mittens and socks, because they’re going to get wet! You might also consider packing an extra set of clothes for the end of the day.
And if it fits the family budget, get the kids some decent equipment. “I don’t ever want to equipment shame, but if you want them to like it, buy or rent boots that fit, poles that are appropriate, and skis that glide,” says Chandler. “You wouldn’t ask a child to play basketball in their uncle’s shoes.”
Learn how to get up
Save your back and teach your kids how to get up after they’ve fallen. Practice first on the floor without skis. Have them lie on their back, with their arms and legs in the air to straighten out their skis; they call this the dead bug. Now, have them roll to one side and get on their hands and knees. From here they can push up to standing or slide one foot back into a lunge and then stand up. On a hill, stand below them and ask them to line their skis up with yours. From that position, they can get on their hands and knees and stand up.
Poles or no poles
Don’t make it an issue. “In some programs we ski without poles because it’s safer in a group and they learn much faster,” says Chandler. “But the more control kids have over their own experience, the more they’ll want to do it. I’ve had more than one child tell me that they like cross-country skiing because they get to have poles.”
If they’re using poles, have them swing their arms so their poles are parallel to the ground. This way they learn the correct arm swing and aren’t using the poles as walking sticks. If they’re developing bad habits with the poles, have everyone in the family ditch them for a while.
Ready to give it a try? Don’t forget the hot chocolate.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org