15 Tips for Cross Country Skiing with Kids

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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Cross Country Skiing with Kids

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.

cross country skiing with kids

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 skis for kids
Cross country skis for kids

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!

cross country skiing for kids

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:

  1. Lay down and put your skis in the air to free them from the snow.
  2. Lay them down so the skis are on top of each other.
  3. Roll over/move your hands towards your skis.
  4. Get into a kneeling position.
  5. 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.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids
Cross Country Skiing with KidsNotice how close the parking lot is….

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).

Cross Country Skiing with Kids

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.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids

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!

This post also has more fun ways to get kids playing while they ski.

Fun local races also boost morale and a desire to be a part of the fun!

Cross Country Skiing with Kids
Jardine Ski Run

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.

We recommend this harness or a vest with a handle like this one (see our full review of the Kinderlift Vest here).

Cross Country Skiing with Kids

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.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids

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).

There’s a bunch of winter and kid-friendly snack ideas in this post.

10 Tips for XC Skiing with Kids

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.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids

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.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids

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.

Check out our favorite ski trailers here under “multifunctional strollers”.

Cross Country skiing with Kids

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.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids in Yellowstone

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!

Cross Country Skiing with Kids
This cutie is requiring a lot of patience and really is only skiing for a few minutes…but see the photo below to see how far she’s come!
Ages 5 and 8 and begging to race!

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.

The entire team is 100+ kids, but they are broken up into smaller groups. Kudos to the coach who manages a herd of 9 year old boys!

Related posts:

15 Tips for Cross Country Skiing with Kids

© 2020 Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.


  • Amelia lives with her husband and five young children outside of Jackson, WY in Grand Teton National Park. As a mom, she quickly learned that the secret to sanity was to spend more time outside where tantrums don't see quite so bad. Amelia started TMM in 2012 to help encourage all families (including her own) to get outside, no matter the weather. Due to the necessity of having to keep so many kids warm and happy, she has become an expert in kids' gear and loves being able to share it with others.

11 thoughts on “15 Tips for Cross Country Skiing with Kids”

  1. Great tips! You never know what to expect…. we’ve had some really great days and some not so great days (yeah… those melt downs when you’re 6k out in the middle of the woods…). I’ve learned to bring a little chocolate with us all the time (for the kids and the hubby!).

  2. I love skiing, my son loves it. My middle daughter hates it. So I’m trying not to pressure her. I pull the baby in a chariot, and try to get my daughter to at least try it. Super hard when we don’t have snow up here. (Come on, Alaska!!) but I just try for about 15 min, we stay close to the car or chalet on local trails and then I have my husband come entertain her when she is done so my son and I can get in some skiing. I’m not giving up on my daughter yet but it is frustrating. All of her close friends do Jr. Nordic and she has no desire whatsoever. She is 5, so I’m hoping as she gets older maybe she will be more into it.

    • My middle one had absolutely no interest until this year (he’ll be 5 this summer). And you’re right – I think the consistency is the best thing you can do! I had almost forgotten about Jr. Nordic – so wish we had that down here too! Hang in there, Mama! It will pay off… 😉
      (And yes, come ON, Alaska! Where is the good snow?!?!)

  3. My kid is finally old enough to cc on his own and out of the chariot. What brand ski set up is the best for 4-5 yr olds? I tried to look in the Facebook group but couldn’t find posts about it.

    • Hi andrea – skis are so hard to find this year. Strap-on skis work….but really kids are better with skis and bindings. If you email me I am more than happy to help you find some! Amelia@talesofamountainmama (dot) com


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