Cross Country Skiing is a Family-Friendly Sport Suitable For 2 - 92
While many children enjoy sports, most parents rarely participate in these activities. Those that do usually coach or play a little backyard ‘catch'. However, cross country skiing is one sport which makes family participation relatively easy. Because it is a safe sport which is simple to learn, it can be enjoyed across a large age span - from toddlers to grandparents.
Maybe this is why cross country skiing's popularity is growing. Children, with their naturally good balance, can learn to ski soon after they learn to walk. Some areas encourage the sport by offering organized youth ski programs or school sponsored classes.
Once your children are interested, the first thing you will need is equipment. Because children's interests often wax and wane, you may be tempted to purchase inexpensive equipment to start. While this is not unreasonable, be sure the equipment is in good shape and fits. Poor equipment will nip your child's interest in the bud.
Most children's skis are waxless. These are a good choice as they require no additional knowledge or equipment to use. Proper ski length is important. Visit to your local ski store or this Nordic ski resource site to determine correct cross county ski length.
Start toddlers with skis which strap to their snow boots. These will allow them to get the ‘feel' for skis, even slide down a few little hills, while reducing your equipment outlay. Once your young skier reaches five or six, it is time to switch them to regular skis with proper boots and bindings.
As with any sport, shoes are key. Modern ski boots are warm and comfortable and provide the necessary support. Just make sure they fit properly. Adding a pair of gaiters to keep snow out of their boot tops is a wise investment.
While your daughter may point out special ski attire she needs to look chic on the trail, cross country skiing does not require special clothing. Rather than focusing on looking cool, most skiers focus on staying warm. Because cross country skiing generates abundant body heat, layering is key to the skier's comfort and safety.
One major cross country ski benefit is its comparatively low cost. As one person put it, "Whole families can get into cross country for what it costs for one set of alpine [downhill] equipment."
Take Utah, for example. Skiing is big in Utah. Solitude Nordic Center, not far from Salt Lake City, offers 20 km of groomed trails. They also provide equipment rentals and lessons. A day trail pass costs $18. Classic Ski Equipment runs another $18 while skate ski equipment is $20.
Compare that to downhill (alpine) skiing. At the Alta Ski Area, another Utah ski resort, a lift pass costs $64 for adults or $32 for children under twelve. Equipment rental runs another $20. If you were to factor in the higher accident rate and potential doctor's bills, there really is no comparison.
Despite their parent's savings, no child is going to stay interested in a sport which is not fun. Fortunately, cross country skiing can be as fun as you want to make it. And, as your child gets older and wants more speed and a greater challenge, skate skiing can take them to the next level.
The easiest way to introduce young children to skis is to allow them to strap them on and tromp around the back yard for awhile. They will get comfortable with the long appendages on their feet and allow them to practice getting up with skis on. Most children will enjoy playing in the snow, having treasure hunts, doing stunts, racing down little hills or going over small jumps, all with skis on. Additionally, there are several games which families can play together which will increase everyone's skills while having fun together.
- Whistle Stop: One person is the referee, everyone else is a racer. The referee blows a whistle. The racers advance as quickly as they can. The referee blows the whistle again, everyone stops by the count of three. Whoever does not stop in time backs up ten ski lengths.
- Ski scooters: All skiers remove one ski. Then they race each other, pushing themselves along with their booted foot and using their remaining ski as a scooter.
- Balloon bust: Tie several inflated balloons to a long string. Tie the string around one skier's waist. The skier with the balloons weaves around a large meadow or field while the other skiers try to pop the balloons by stomping on them with their skis.
- Duck Walk: All skiers place their skis in the ‘V' position and practice walking and quaking like a duck. Begin on the flat then advance to a gentle hill.
- Downhill Dare: Practice your balance and skill on a gentle hill by skiing downhill in three different positions. The first time down, place your knees on your skis and your hands on your ski tips. The second time, place your hands on your knees and crouch forward. The third time use the proper ski position but without poles.
- Familiar Games: Two familiar backyard games which adapt well for skis are Red Light, Green Light, and Limbo. Both games can be played on skis and will increase the skiers familiarity with their skis as well as their flexibility and relaxation.
Once you hit the trail, remember to keep it fun. Not only do you have a great opportunity to ‘play' together, but you are surrounded by chances to increase your appreciation for and knowledge of nature. For example, snow provides a wonderful classroom for learning about animals in winter. Since the animals cannot move without leaving tracks, invest in a book on tracking animals in the snow and learn what critters live near your cross country ski trail.
Keep your ski treks light-hearted with the focus on fun and discovery, especially at the beginning. Be sure everyone is well dressed in layers - to avoid chilling or over-heating. Once you are prepared and comfortable on your skis, plan your cross country ski trips with the youngest skier in mind.
Keep your goal within their reach. Start with an hour and take several breaks. Be generous with the snacks (power bars, candy, nuts, water). They make great incentives, but remember, everyone is also burning energy and calories. Create positive memories. Make it seem ‘easy', and your children will be begging to go again.
If you start slow and build gradually, eventually your family can take extended cross country ski trips together enjoying a full day on groomed trails or exploring the back country. In fact, in northern European countries today, some families take the train ten or twenty miles away from home and then ski back together!
Cross country skiing can be as much fun as a family trip to the beach or the park. It can create as many positive memories as a family bike ride, hike, or summer excursion in the woods. It allows everyone to get outdoors in the winter, provides an outlet for excess energy, is great exercise, and is easy enough and safe enough for everyone to participate. Remember: "The family that plays together, stays together."
Ready to give a cross country ski vacation a try? At Elk Lake we are not only family-friendly, we offer real Montana hospitality and a backcountry experience which is kid-friendly. For more information, check out our Cross Country Ski page.