How do you get kids hooked on cross-country skiing?
We are pleased to share with you our little Guide to Cross-Country Skiing with Children in which we have grouped together several important points & tips to consider in order to initiate your little cross-country skiers early on!
What to do when they are very young? We pull them!
Ski trailers or sleds make it easy to take your young children cross-country skiing with you. You can rent, borrow or buy!
Before embarking, assess your experience, physical condition and weather conditions. Will the load be too big to pull? Is the terrain too steep? It is better to start small and slowly lengthen our outings in order to adapt well without injury.
Trailers with skis keep children protected from wind, weather and branches. It's warmer and there's usually a lot more cargo space than the carry bag. However, this type of cabin is more expensive.
We pull the trailer with a belt attached to our waist, which leaves our arms free. Manufacturers of joggers and bike trailers offer ski conversion kits that allow you to convert the trailer to your desired activity.
I use the Thule model a lot for walking, running, biking and cross-country skiing. I love my stroller, it was probably the best investment I made from the start with the small newborn hammock.
Some may have a closed roof, windshield, padded seat and safety harness or backrest. It's the same principle for the waist belt, but these sleds sometimes slide less well on the snow and can be a little heavier to pull. For transport, sleds are light and less cumbersome to move than a ski trailer. They are also more often available for hire at cross-country ski resorts.
Try to insulate the seat under the child with a cushion, blankets or sleeping bag. Sleds without protective covers leave children more exposed to the elements, so dress them accordingly.
You can also use a traditional sled (toboggan), but if the track is not too well groomed, it pushes the snow forward; then it’s quite a workout! It will also be necessary to think about lengthening the rope and be careful not to use the tracks that are drawn.
- Practice pulling a loaded sled or trailer on skis
before trying to tow your children. It takes time to get used to the extra weight of the sled, especially when going uphill or downhill. Do shorter distances at first.
- Check on your child regularly to make sure they are comfortable and not too hot or cold. It is useful to ski with another person to have a hand when needed.
- Discover more tips in our article How to keep baby warm in sled.
There are ways to make learning to ski fun and get your kids into cross-country skiing.
Once the kids are too heavy to pull a sled and can walk some distance on their own, you can start introducing them to cross-country skiing. After seeing you slide on skis, they will probably want to copy you and try skis for themselves.
There is no age to start children's cross-country skiing. Some may start as young as 3-5 years old, trailing on cross-country skis for very short distances. Many children begin by learning the technique of classic skiing without a pole because the movement is very similar to walking.
Take a lesson. It is always good to have a qualified instructor to teach your child. The Canadian Cross Country Ski Association provides a list of clubs and stations offering cross-country lessons and Ski de Fond Quebec offer a list of cross-country ski centers with groomed trails. Some start teaching children as young as 5 years old.
Before going out, have your child put on skis inside and try them out. Let them put on boots and experiment with binding skis. Have them practice dragging gently on a mat while they hold your finger. Walk them back and forth to get a feel for how the skis move. Guide them around a very slow turn, taking small baby steps so they don't cross their toes.
Once outside, put them on two skis and let them walk. Hold your hand out to the side so they feel supported if needed. If you stand behind them, be careful not to let them lean on you (when learning to ski, you want them to be positioned forward). Hold a stick in front of them so they can ask for help if they need it. Children usually won't need poles until they are 7 or 8 years old.
Everything is more fun when you play games. Here are some of our favorite ski games:
Little Thumbling race
Throw a nut, candy or even a snowball and have the kids ski down to the obstacle and then bend down to pick it up (also make sure not to leave anything on the trail afterwards).
On two parallel tracks, two children can race against each other (or mom or dad). Give way if someone is coming from the other direction.
This one is always fun. It is best to play in a large snowy field.
Green and red light
It is played the same way as the traditional game. The leader shouts: "Green light!" and the children are skiing. When they hear "red light!" They stop. The goal is to reach the finish line where the leader is. It is more favorable to play this game in a large open space outside the tracks.
Bal or soccer
Throw a ball and have your child ski to retrieve it. Keep throwing the ball in the direction you want your child to ski. You'll want to pick a quiet trail for this so you don't throw a ball towards oncoming skiers. This game could also be played in a large field.
If they are of school age, have them make the letter shape in the snow by tapping it with their skis.
Place a colored golf ball (or any ball) in the ski slopes, one per slope, and have your child hit the golf ball as they ski, moving as fast as they can until to the next ball. Note that you'll need firm, traced ski slopes so the balls don't jump and roll off the slopes.
Source: Ski de fond Saint-Francois in Drummondville
Motivation is very individual! What works for one child may not work for another. Here are some ideas you can try to keep kids motivated while skiing:
It's quite simple. Children receive a small treat at each crossroads. Choose a route that has several junctions to fuel motivation. It's practical to bring a little bag of treats in your coat pocket or attach it to a belt for easy access.
For longer journeys, take a surprise break! Find a picnic table or a tree trunk for the meal and show them what hides in the thermos after considerable physical effort! A thermos of hot chocolate will be the icing on the sundae at the end of the activity.
Build a snowman, go sledding
In other words, we're taking a break! Bring a sled with us and find small hills to play after skiing. Other times, take off our skis and build a snowman or have a snowball fight.
Pack good meals and snacks
If your child loves hot meals, then take a thermos of hot meals with you when you go skiing. Find a picnic table or a tree trunk for the meal and they will be very happy. Get out all your special treats, too. I would also suggest a thermos of hot chocolate. For longer rides, pack individual fun snacks for every mile on the trail.
Skiing for a "carrot"
Children can ski one to save weekly time on a tablet (or whatever), it can be amazing how many kilometers they can ski when they are motivated! Tell your child that they will save 20 minutes of tablet time for the week per kilometer skied. You may have to hold them back from skiing 10km!
Plan a special outing or a privilege to plan afterwards
Do you want to do a 10 kilometer loop with your child? Give them something to look forward to after accomplishing this feat. A good restaurant, a movie
special, etc Why not end the ski day at a local cafe for cookies and hot drinks?
Tell stories on the trail
Become a storyteller! Memorize legends or stories and tell them on the trail. Tell the children, "If you keep skiing, I'll tell you the rest of the story." Your kids might like to make up their own stories and tell them to you while you ski.
They can now follow, or maybe you follow them? Either way, we've got some tips and tricks to help you make cross-country skiing enjoyable.
Think about where you are going to ski
Would you like to ski icy crusted old snow through a -25C playground? No! We love well-maintained tracks and trails. Children are no different. Here are some tips for choosing the right beginner-friendly trail:
- Avoid slopes when starting out with novice skiers.
- Look for a trail with interesting features. A golf course here with small bridges and a good toboggan run? It may be your favorite place to ski 1 hour during the week.
- Choose a quiet place to start. A popular run on a Saturday afternoon can become frustrating when faster skiers come up behind you, expecting you to move to the side to let them pass.
- Choose your route, taking your child's preferences into account. Most kids won't enjoy gradually climbing endless miles. Choose rolling trails with short climbs, alternating with downhill sections.
Bring a friend
When hiking, it's really a winner. Same thing skiing! Make sure you know the dynamics of the children involved. When you get the right duo in terms of speed and ability, it's very motivating for them.
You can give your child and his friend superhero capes. *Magic water is also a winner! * Thank you uncle Pierre for this infallible trick!
Have realistic expectations
What are your expectations? You can sometimes be on the verge of disaster if you push your child a little too much or choose a loop that is too long.
It's always best to start small, go slow, and manage your expectations. When your child says they're done, that means they're done. Don't push him. Stop and move on to change the pace.
Finally, it is recommended to have different options in mind for your day of skiing. Choose a trail network with a variety of short and long trail options so you can adapt to your child's mood or energy level. You usually know what type of ski day it will be within the first ten minutes on the slope.
Source: Espaces.ca and ccn-ncc.gc.ca
These apply to cross-country skiing and almost all outdoor winter activities.
Check your equipment in advance. Know how your gear is working and if it's in good condition so you don't get cold fingers and toes when trying to assemble the sled at the trailhead.
Choose your trail(s). The trail should be according to the skills of your children. Choose a much easier route than you would usually do on your own. The goal is for them to have a good time. You can always do an easy loop multiple times.
Ski the same time they can walk. If your child is able to walk for 30 minutes before getting tired, you can ski with him for 30 minutes. Plan the time to return to the car in your time on skis.
Make skiing fun. The goal is to be outside and moving, to hell with performance. If your kids are fidgeting or crying, unhook them from their skis and call the day a success. Go back inside and take a break. (Hot chocolate solves almost everything). We try again next time!
Travel at nap time for young children. The rustle of skis and the gliding motion will often put the little ones to sleep while you practice. The best of worlds!
Aim for the best time of the day. The experience will be more pleasant if you go in good weather and aim for the hottest time of the day, generally between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Listen to your child. Sharing your enthusiasm helps develop a love and interest in the sport. Want your child to love cross-country skiing? Take frequent breaks and stop to observe hare tracks or deer in the woods (or their droppings!).
Take turns pulling. Everyone gets a workout if you share child-carrying duties. It also gives the adult who is not towing the trailer time to ski at a faster pace or take a short solo ride. So pack light!
Bring a change of clothes. Dress the children with the layering system. Have extra gloves, socks, and layers on hand in case they get wet. Learn more in our article on tips for dressing your children in winter.
If you are not yet ready to commit to this sport, it is wiser to rent skis for the day. Renting is also a great way to decide what kind of skis you eventually want to buy. In some places, it is possible to rent them for the whole season.
Visit an outdoor center with an on-site rental store and you'll find knowledgeable staff to help you measure and fit
skis and boots properly. They will also help you decide which wax to use depending on the temperature, if you rent waxable skis.
Personally, I think waxless skis are easier for skiers.
beginners, because you can just put them on and go. However, as you get better at skiing, you may want to switch to waxable skis to improve your performance and speed.
For equipment purchases, I suggest visiting a reputable ski shop or sporting goods store where you can get help choosing the right size and fit. Most people start with a traditional set of classic skis for use in Nordic centers.
Used equipment for children
For children, you will probably want to start with skis and second-hand boots, many ski clubs organize ski sales in the fall where you can equip the children at a good price. It also exists the alternative to online buying/selling groups.
Cross-country skiers choose to put on light layers so as not to get too hot while skiing; in motion, the body can feel 10 degrees difference with the actual outside temperature.
The trick: dress in "layers".
Remove clothing if you are hot or add clothing if you are cold.
Our advice for clothing:
For the legs:
- Start with a thin layer that breathes well to keep you dry and help keep you cool. A pair of tights really does the trick. Merino is the par excellence material.
- Add a pair of slim softshell stretch pants on top. Be careful, the big snow pants can be bulky
and limits movement.
- If needed, add a warmer layer on top (this is the first to remove in case of overheating).
- Finally, a final layer to cut wind.
For the head and extremities:
- Most cross-country skiers will choose light mitts or gloves and a very light toque, but beginners will want mitts or padded gloves (more similar to what you would wear in downhill skiing).
- We always use stretchy versatile headbands (like our headbands!) to wrap our face, protect our neck and keep our mouth and nose warm in cold weather. On hot days they can be worn as a lightweight headband to keep your ears warm.
For children: opt for warmer clothes when learning (just like adults who have to walk slowly at side of them). Children are often very comfortable in pants
light ski pants with long underwear and fleece pants in below.
For warmer days: replace the ski pants with rain pants. Our kids also wear a base layer sweater, a fleece hoodie and then a softshell jacket over it.
Our small non-exhaustive list:
- It is always useful to have light and packable puffy jackets in your backpacks for downtime.
- Also bring a spare pair of warm, dry socks
- Bring plenty of food and snacks, and water in an insulated bottle.
- You can also bring a thermos of hot chocolate or apple cider.
- Hand/toe warmers. The hotpoc are good allies for warming up during short breaks. A nice reusable alternative.
Quick tip: To keep your phone warm, put it in an inside pocket with a hand warmer. Mine stays nice and warm all day and rarely freezes.
- Always carry basic emergency items if you need to be away for a few hours (in case of injury where you have to wait for help).
- First aid kit, bandages for blisters, headlamps in case you are caught after sunset, down jackets and packable blanket.
Beginners will want to start on flat, easy trails. There are a few options here:
- Find groomed trails if possible: Groomed trails help beginners keep their skis straight. Many cross-country ski resorts have heated cabins and specially designed trails for beginners. Ask your ski shop for advice local or your ski professional.
- Stay close to home on your first outings. Aim for a short trail near the car, not too far from the house, resort, or from a warm shelter. If someone grumbles, the return will be easier. We have for you a list of parks for walks and hikes in each region of Quebec and it's places mostly offer cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
- Go to one of the regional parks, ski clubs or in your town, or a provincial parks (free for 17 and under) nearby which has groomed trails. Get a map and stick to the green trails. I suggest choosing a small loop of less than three miles to start. You can always do a second loop if the first one goes well.
- When taking your kids cross-country skiing, choose a much easier route than you would usually do on your own. You want them to have a good time. You can always do an easy loop multiple times.
- Look for ski groups online or local websites that specialize in cross-country skiing.
Ski in a group, ideally bring 2 adults if you are with young children. It's always safer in the event of an accident, you can always send an adult for help.
Have fun and enjoy this great way to connect with nature and your family this winter!
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