Winter is just not winter for me unless there’s snow on the ground. Mostly because snow means sledding and 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 a bit 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.
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 XC ski days.
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.
Ditch the poles
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).
Dress for the weather
Be smart about it. 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.
Wear a Costume
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!
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do it 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.
Pull a Trailer
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. They’re still having to balance so working on that skill, but sometimes that little boost makes ALL the difference in the world.
Find Trail Distractions
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.
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!
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