Although I haven’t conducted quantitative surveys on the matter I am confident in the following statement: All children love snow! Experience has proven this to be true time and again. Whenever I go hiking with my niece and nephew, they light up at the sight of snow. Before long they are erupting into fits of laughter in the soft snow pile and throwing snowballs around. Children embrace the slopes with an unadulterated enthusiasm. Observe how confidently they race down the slopes, zooming past us adults with a look of fierce determination.
You may be thinking, if all children love snow why have I struggled to introduce them to cross-country skiing? How can I motivate them and get them engaged? Today I am going to provide some valuable advice on getting your children excited about cross-country skiing. Some of the insights might seem obvious but give them a try, and you’ll find them intriguingly effective.
Make it Fun!
Children’s resistance to cross-country skiing may be based on the general misconception that it is tiring and difficult. They see it as a boring alternative to the more fast-paced nature of downhill skiing. Making cross-country skiing fun is the best way of capturing a child’s attention and engendering in them a lifelong passion for the sport.
As I don’t have children of my own, I asked my friend Anne, who has an eight-year-old daughter Louise, for some advice. Anne, along with her husband Mark, live near Bolton Valley, a nordic skiing paradise in Vermont. Anne has been a passionate cross-country skier since her youth. She even maintained her cross-country routine whilst six months pregnant! She wasn’t deterred when she approached her third trimester – she stopped skiing only because the season ended! While I don’t necessarily advocate that route, it does demonstrate just how dedicated of a cross-country skier Anne is! A friendly disclaimer: always consult your doctor if you are thinking of cross-country skiing while pregnant. The risk of a fall could have negative impacts on your unborn baby.
Given her passion, Anne has some great advice on the topic, even for recreational skiers. When I approached her with my inquiry, I brought up some of the common concerns that I imagined children might have.
“Isn’t that the one where you ski uphill?”
Anne laughed. And she had some compelling wisdom to offer: “All of those concerns? Those are all in our head, as adults. Those concerns are not in the mind of a four or five year old. They have a general curiosity and sense of wonder. As long as you follow these two key principles you will get any kid’s full attention: you lead the way and ski first, and you make it fun.”
How Do You Motivate a Toddler to Start Skiing?
The first time Anne took her daughter Louise skiing? When she was five months old in a chariot sled!
Anne explained the results: “She didn’t have much choice. Although she couldn’t walk yet watching us ski made her so curious! She saw us having fun, and she was eager to have her own experience with the two weird planks she saw strapped to our feet! We let her explore the equipment and familiarize herself with it by touching it and feeling it. By the time she could walk she was desperate to ski – curiosity had simply gotten the better of her.”
What advice does she have for parents who don’t live next to the trails? “Give your toddler some small skis to play with at home or in the backyard – even in summer. Put on your own skis and exaggerate your movements to make it silly and entertaining. They will love this and will mimic your movements.” Show them that you are having fun with this unique toy and they will use their imagination to explore all the possibilities that exist.
You can find small second-hand skis at the flea market or on a website like Ebay. If you have the opportunity to go into the snow take these small skis with you and let your child explore. Always ensure that you are sticking close to your child’s side.
Incorporate Some Games
Some creativity is required when it comes to introducing children to cross-country skiing. Games are always a hit. Challenging your child to stand on one ski, playing a jumping game or some light gliding practice will get your child in an energetic, competitive spirit. When your child becomes more comfortable on their skis, you can play more skilled games. These include playing games like ‘catch me if you can’, kicking a balloon in the air and challenging them not to let it hit the ground whilst playing in the snow. Play charades and get everyone to imitate an animal. Keep moving and keep active. Children will become irritable and exhausted as soon as they get cold so keep their heart racing and their blood pumping!
You can become more flexible and experimental as your children grow up. If they are a bit older why not digitalize the skiing experience? Anne recommended something she calls the “Selfie Game”. When Louise and her friends (some of whom have limited skiing experience) go out on the trails with Anne, she pulls this game out of her hat. Anne, or her husband Mark, will do a short circuit on the trail, ahead of the group, and will take selfies in front of distinctive spots along the trail, for instance, a special tree or landmark. They then return and challenge the children to find the same spots where the selfie was taken. They can then take their own and compare notes! This is a fun way of bringing engaging technology into the mix. While this method makes skiing secondary to the selfie taking action, it is a great way of holding children’s attention. This engagement is what keeps them interested and what will have them asking: ‘when can we go skiing again?’ on the car ride home!
Release Your Expectations
Always remain patient and encouraging, even when your child falls. Reassure your child that falling is natural. Exercise falls by getting into the squat position and tipping over. Give them a high-five and make it a light-hearted experience.
Don’t pressure your child. If they are not enjoying it or if they are getting overwhelmed and frustrated just put the skis aside for the day and focus on another game or activity. Initially, your child may only feel comfortable on their skis for a few minutes. As they practice, they may find themselves wanting to explore and experiment longer. Eliminate the expectations and demands and allow your child to blossom in their own time.
Anne gave me one more useful piece of advice. She suggested that when you go skiing with your family that both the adults take turns skiing, leading, entertaining, and teaching. If you or your partner is skiing while the other is waiting with your child on foot, you will grow restless. Taking turns allows both parents to spend time with their child while enjoying their own time skiing!
When Can Children Start Cross-country Skiing?
While some people swear that it depends on the individual child and their respective coordination and strength, a general rule is that children should be at least four years old before they are introduced to cross-country skiing. Small children typically lack the body tension and coordination necessary to thrive at the sport. They struggle to find balance with their skis and poles and are at a heightened risk of injury. In fact, many ski schools simply don’t accept children under five years of age. After five, children adapt to the techniques more easily and feel more comfortable gripping their poles. In all cases, young children should begin with classic skis and should only move onto skating at eight years old at the earliest.
Are Skiing Courses Useful?
At this point, you might be thinking that getting your child into cross-country skiing requires a lot of work. This can definitely feel like the case if you aren’t able to visit the slopes every weekend during the winter season like Anne and her family are. It might feel like the possibilities to provide enough training to your child are limited.
With this in mind, I highly recommend investing in skiing courses for your child. The prime time? When your child reaches five or six and begins to develop their own interest in skiing. A skiing course will teach them the proper techniques and help them build good habits. You want your child to learn the safe and correct way from the start.
One of the significant advantages of a skiing course over DIY methods is that children have fun learning with other children. They may feel more at ease. That being said, it is worth inquiring into prospective courses to see if they offer a playful learning experience. Talk to the instructors and ask other parents and children for their insights. I recommend watching one of the lessons in action. The faces of the children will be a clear giveaway. Are they having fun or do they look restless as the instructor rambles on about theory and explanations?
You must also pay attention to the training area that the ski school utilizes. Good schools have both nicely groomed trails and small hills where children can practice downhill skiing, turning, and stopping safely. Can you see animated figures, little gates, ropes, balls or flags? Gaining the attention of children is of fundamental importance and providing them with an entertaining experience will arouse a passion for the spot. In addition to technical advice and practice, children must be exposed to different activities and visual stimulations to keep them interested. When teaching is done effectively, they will be keen to go out and explore and practice and you will be amazed at how much they learn in just a few lessons.
Anne stressed that the skiing experience does not begin and end with skiing school and lessons, however. She emphasized the central role of the parent in helping their children learn. They must be patient, accommodating, and encouraging throughout the learning process or children will be less inclined to apply what they learn at lessons to the real world.
What Equipment and Clothing are Suitable for Children?
Children should learn to ski with universal no-wax skis. The length should not exceed the height of the body. The poles should comfortably fit under the arms. Boots should be insulated for warmth, with enough room for thin socks to prevent blisters and discomfort.
The rules of dressing for cross-country skiing that apply to adults apply to children, as well. Always dress in several layers of thinner clothing rather than one heavy piece. Cross-country skiing requires a different approach to apparel than downhill alpine skiing does. As sweating is an inherent part of cross-country skiing, you want to avoid heavy parkas and bulky ski pants. Not only will these clothes retain sweat, but they are also non-conducive to quick, light movements. Wearing the wrong apparel lends itself to the misconception that cross-country skiing is difficult.
Warm gloves and a thick, protective hat that covers the ears are vital. If it is sunny protect your children’s eyes with sturdy sunglasses. A well-stocked backpack should include a warm drink, a light snack, and spare gloves. When you dress your children correctly and equip them appropriately, they are much more likely to have a great cross-country skiing experience.
Children learn by observing and imitating. As a parent, you are in a unique position to teach your child to authentically, and safely, enjoy cross-country skiing. With genuine encouragement and a playful approach, you can teach your child to develop good habits and an enthusiasm that will carry them throughout their life. That’s what happened to me!
Always be patient and don’t expect too much from your child. They need to develop their skills in their own time, and they need a supportive environment in order to thrive. Even after several skiing lessons, they may only feel comfortable on the easiest trail. Skill will come in time – enjoy their learning process and make every step fun and memorable.
When I skyped Anne recently she told me about a recent experience she had while on a cruise vacation in the Caribbean. In the kids club pool, the children went on short jet-ski rides with an instructor. Afterwards, the instructor asked the children to draw pictures of all the different things you can do with a jet-ski. Louise used her creativity and drew a snowmobile instead! When the children were asked to show their drawings to the group, it turned out that all the children had done the same! What did I say? All children love snow.