15 Tips for Cross Country Skiing with Kids
Winter is just not winter for me unless there’s snow on the ground. Mostly because snow means sledding and cross country skiing downhill skiing and snow forts and all the fun you can do only in colder temperatures.
I have loved cross country skiing for most of my life, and I love seeing my own kids get on their own skis now. Only over the past couple of years, it has gotten tons easier mostly because more of them can get their own skis on AND make forward motion.
But, it hasn’t always been that way. We have had serious meltdowns on the trail…usually in the middle of a loop, far away from any bail-out points. It’s never pretty.
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So, while I can’t guarantee any else’s kids being perfectly behaved (much less my own), here are some of my best tips we have learned over the years for more successful family cross country skiing days.
But before, we get started – just remember that this DOES get easier. Your hard work initially to get them geared up and on the trail will pay off, so persevere past those frustrations and melt downs that we ALL experience.
Getting started: Cross country skis for kids
One of the questions we get more than anything else is what gear do kids need to cross country ski and where do we find it? The tips below will help you choose the right skis for your child depending on age, ability and height.
Finding skis this year in particular is tough, so buy early. We also are always scouring buy/sell/trade groups and ski swaps for deals.
Cross country skis for toddlers
When toddlers are just starting to ski (we usually start ours at age 2), they certainly don’t need anything fancy. Strap-on skis are cheap and they wear their own snow boots so you don’t need a different pair of footwear.
The other advantage to this is that regular snow boots tend to be warmer than cross country boots, which is especially helpful for kids that aren’t really moving too fast and generating their own warmth.
These Lucky Bums first tracks skis are ideal for kids aged 2-4.
These Odoland beginner skis are great too and more specifically designed for cross country skiing, though truly either one works.
Cross country skis for bigger kids
While starting kids with the strap on skis is totally fine, we’ve found that we try to move them into actual boots and skis as quick as we can as this allows them more control than strap-on skis can.
In general, keep the following tips in mind:
- Size skis for about 10 cm over your child’s height (though up to 30 cm is ok)
- Choose waxless skis
- Make sure the bindings and boots are compatible (the most common binding is NNN)
How to choose the right size skis for kids
When sizing kids for classic cross country skis (opposed to skate skis), add about 10-30 cm to their height. More beginner kids will benefit from shorter skis, so err closer to 10 cm above their height.
For reference, my kids ages and lengths they ski right now are below. Note that these kids have all been skiing 2+ years so can manage longer skis. This chart is also helpful for choosing the right size skis and poles for your child.
- Age 4.5: 100 cm
- Age 5.5 (more petite): 110 cm
- Age 9 (more petite): 140 cm
- Age 11: 173 cm
Choose waxless skis
I personally don’t have a preference for one brand over another, but do keep in mind that unless your child is older racing, it’s easiest for them to go with waxless or “fish scale” skis. This means that the skis themselves grip the snow and they don’t require kick wax, which is a whole other ball game. For reference, the coaches on the local nordic ski team here don’t recommend kids under age 10 worrying about kick wax.
These Junior Fischer skis come with NNN bindings. REI also has a deal where you can save 10% with a ski package. The Fischer boots below work with these skis, but any boots with NNN bindings will be fine.
Cross Country Skiing with Kids: Tips and Tricks
The following tips and tricks are what has made successfully getting our five kids out skiing. In the winter we average 2-3 days nordic skiing (plus downhill skiing), so we have to make it fun and something they (mostly) want to do.
THE most important thing to note is that not all ski days will be awesome. I can guarantee you will have your fair share of frustrating moments (just like we still do), but the pay-off IS worth it. Just keep telling yourself that!
1. Teach them how to get up!
The best skill you can teach your kids as quick as possible is how to get up. Not only will it save your back, but will help avoid a lot of fussing over the fact that they feel stuck in the snow.
Be sure to watch the video below (sound on to hear the narration!)
Here are the quick steps:
- Lay down and put your skis in the air to free them from the snow.
- Lay them down so the skis are on top of each other.
- Roll over/move your hands towards your skis.
- Get into a kneeling position.
- Push yourself up.
2. Set your expectations low (really low)
Don’t even hit the trail right away. Start in your backyard or a field or somewhere you can get back to the car quickly if needed. That way you are at least practicing getting skis on, shuffling and have easy access to a warm house if needed.
If you do choose to hit a trail right away, choose one with a parking lot close to the trail. This is especially helpful if you have multiple kids of different ages.
3. Ditch the poles when teaching kids to cross country ski
While poles are necessary for XC skiing in general, they just get in the way when someone (kid OR adult) is just learning. The key is to learn how to balance on your skis before you add in pole coordination.
To lessen the temptation, leave your own poles at home too if you can (otherwise your little one may not understand why he can’t have poles too).
4. Dress for the weather
Be smart about dressing for the weather. Conditions can change very quickly. Use layers, and bring extra gear (mittens especially) in case they get wet. Warm kids = happy kids.
Check out our full post here on how to layer and what materials and fabrics we recommend.
Remember that when you are cross country skiing, there’s a good chance you will be working up a sweat. Dress so you can add and remove layers as needed throughout the course of a ski. MOST days when we are out skiing with the kids, I am changing my layers 3+ times.
My kids love skiing with a light layer under their Shred Dog shell (use “MTNMAMA25” for 25% off!)
If you don’t have a trailer to throw kids and gear into, you can also use a backpack.
5. Wear a costume when you ski
Actually just let them wear whatever they think is fun (over their warm gear, of course). My kids have had more fun in a cape or tutu out on the trail…and they seem to make them go just a tiny bit faster too. Whatever it takes!
Fun local races also boost morale and a desire to be a part of the fun!
6. Kick & chase!
Tell kids to pretend they are kicking a ball to help them get the motion down. If it works for your family, bring an actual ball to let them kick. However, be prepared to be the one chasing it down (and avoid light balls on windy days).
It also helps to have a parent (or adult) ahead to chase and an adult behind to be “pick-up-crew”.
7. Bring a harness
While most of the time you see ski harnesses used for downhill skiing, having a handle on your kid is really helpful when you’re both on skis and you have to pick them up 100,000 times.
8. Work the peer pressure magic
Bring friends, even if everyone is falling and laughing (that’s key) and not sure what they are doing.
Kids like to chase kids (usually) and we’ve found that always helps. Mom and Dad telling them what to do gets old pretty fast.
9. Bring snacks
Kids (and adults) burn crazy amounts of calories skiing in the cold. Even if you JUST fed them, bring something you can easily pop in their mouth.
Avoid granola bars that freeze easily, but trail mix is always a hit.
You don’t want hangry kids turning into noodles on skis (like the photo below).
10. Use bribery when teaching kids to cross country ski
End the day with hot chocolate. Get really crazy and offer marshmallows, too. Use M&Ms or jelly beans or craisins on the trail. Whatever gets them from point A to point B!
We often pack the hot chocolate with us and choose a spot on the trail for a planned stop.
As adults, it’s easy to just want to push on, but the kids benefit from a stop AND the snack.
11. Go cross country skiing with kids often
Practice makes perfect. Get out once or twice a week — it gets a bit easier every time! Make going XC skiing your normal, something you do on a weekly (or more) basis.
It’s great exercise and a great life-long skill.
12. Pull a trailer when cross country skiing with toddlers
While so far we have always had kids in the trailer, we’ve found that having the ability to hold on the back of it for kids just learning to ski is invaluable. If you have a trailer, don’t be too quick to ditch it once your kids are skiing some on their own.
They’re still having to balance so working on that skill, but sometimes that little boost makes ALL the difference in the world.
13. Find distractions on the trail
Choosing trails with cool features to check out or fun hills to go down always seems to go a long way. There’s something up ahead the kids want to get to, and then a good reason to take a break for a photo too.
14. Chill out
Kids shut down when they see you stressed. Don’t even go there. Pack your own hot toddies if needed.
Cross-country skiing is a great life skill and an easy way to get out and enjoy the winter as a family. As always with kids, it’s one day at a time!
15. Join a cross country ski team
Check out your local area for ski teams for kids. They are invaluable for providing fun, letting kids ski with friends and moving the love of skiing beyond JUST your family.
Our kids are on the team (starting at age 5) and it is THE best activity and, for us, and worth every penny. Unfortunately skiing isn’t cheap – inquire about scholarships. Honestly it’s the only way we are able to make it happen.
- Favorite ski games for kids
- Best winter gear for kids
- Snacks for the trail – ideas and recipes
- Kinderlift vests for cross country and downhill skiing
- How to snowshoe with kids
- How to teach your kids to downhill ski
15 Tips for Cross Country Skiing with Kids
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