Bring the Kids Skiing and Make it an Adventure
By Inge Scheve, XC Oregon/Alpina Racing/Madshus USA
Making outdoor activities a part of the family equation may seem like an ordeal, and many parents balk at the mere thought of bringing young children on cross-country ski tours. While getting ready and out of the door may take a few minutes longer with young ones in tow, the family experience is well worth the effort. Here are some ideas that may help make the outing more enjoyable for everyone and reduce the stress factor to a minimum.
Pick the right place
First things first: You want to introduce your kids to the wonders of skiing, so the most important step is to find an appropriate location Ė one that wonít intimidate the youngest ones but at the same time challenge the more experienced. Let the exploration begin.
1. Start small. You donít have to scale a mountain or drive half a day to have a memorable ski tour. There are often lesser-known, fun and exciting trails less than half an hour away from home.
2. Have the kids reach interesting destinations. The more involved they are in the decision-making, the more stake they have in seeing the outing succeed.
3. Look for places with built-in diversion, such as cornices to jump out over and places to build snow caves.
4. Contact the local chamber of commerce, convention and visitorís centers, or regional tourism offices for maps and brochures that feature area trails and tours.
5. Choose areas that offer a variety of options, from short, flat and easy ski trails to more strenuous ones with lots of elevation changes so you can work what is the best for the day and the groupís energy level.
6. Visit your local recreation-oriented stores. They usually carry maps and guidebooks and often employ people who are very knowledgeable about outdoor options.
Success strategy: Whenever possible invite another family or school friends of the kids along for the outing. This way, everyone gets along better, with less bickering.
Prepare at the Trail Head
After all the planning, it might be tempting to hop out of the car and start down the trail. But a few minutes spent stretching, establishing ground rules, and set the tone for the day will pay off.
First, look over the map of the trail with everyone and discuss the length and points of interest along the way.
Some good rules of thumb:
- Stay on the trail. There is no such thing as a short cut, especially in unfamiliar terrain.
- Pack it in, pack it out Ė litter, that is.
- Be courteous to other skiers and allow plenty of room for people to pass you.
- Identify natural hazards such as avalanche areas, and open water and creeks. Alert fellow skiers if you run into or see signs of any.
- Drink small amounts of liquids frequently. Even when it is cold outside and you are not feeling sweaty or thirsty, your body is losing liquids to breathing and perspiration.
- Pay attention to discomfort. Itís better to stop and adjust clothing, or put on a patch of moleskin to avoid getting a blister later. Pay particular attention to young children Ė the difference between too hot or too cold is not much! Open up the anorak, loosen the scarf, or take off mittens to adjust body temperature. Always bring plenty of clothes.
- Find a comfortable pace, even if it feels slow. If youíre breathing too hard to talk, you are going too fast.
- Donít worry about getting there. Enjoy where you are.
Success strategy: Donít rush it! Strive to savor the moment and focus on whatís around you rather than simply pass through on your way to the ďgoal.Ē Set examples by pointing out birds or animal tracks, or stop at interesting snow formations, icicles or snowed in trees to encourage a leisurely style of skiing. Most importantly, let the kids explore, even if it means not reaching the goal you had in mind.
Make it Fun
For some, the experience of being in nature is rewarding enough, but others need a bit more than interesting birds or trickling water to stay excited and motivated. Here are some ideas for trail games.
Follow the leader: Give each kid an opportunity to take the lead, break trail, set the pace, schedule breaks and water stops.
Wildlife watch: Encourage everyone to look for animal tracks and birds, animal droppings, meal remnants and so on.
Treasure hunt: Have each kid take turns hiding an object along the trail for everyone else to look for.
Story telling: Tell a progressive story that passes from skier to skier.
Guessing games: Have each person predict how many trail markers you will see, or how many other skiers you will pass along the trail, etc.
Establish a schedule for stopping along the way for short breaks, maybe every 20 minutes or at predetermined landmarks (the first stream crossing, when you get to the lake, at the top of the hill, etc.) That way, kids have doable goals to stop for, and less of a tendency to ask for stops. When you do stop, take inventory of how everyone is feeling. Feet OK? Need more sunscreen? Are you drinking plenty of water? Encourage everyone to adjust clothing to stay comfortable. Try to have a final destination where you can stop to enjoy the view. It might be the top of a mountain peak, a lakeside, or a cabin. Wherever it is, celebrate the achievement by dropping your packs, taking a group photo, and having something to eat. This is also a good time to revisit all the things you have seen and the moments you want to remember. Ask everyone to contribute their favorite sights so far.
Finish the Journey
Back at the trail head, take the time to stretch and unwind, cool down and get comfortable. Change your clothes and footwear, and have a refreshing snack.
Record the Experience
Before the trek fades from memory, encourage family members to preserve the adventure. Here are some ideas.
Challenge kids to draw a map of the trek complete with landmarks and highlights. This will give them a visual memory of the trip while introducing map skills
Make a trip collage by using a highlighter to trace your route on a trail map and then attaching pictures, drawings and items found on the tour to it.
Have each child hunt for a ski pole. Then when you get home, put the date and location on the ski pole with paint or a permanent maker.
As a family, brainstorm ideas for the next adventure. Keep your lists in accessible places, such as on the refrigerator, so everyone can add to it as inspiration hits.