A lot of people have asked me how we got our kids to love snowshoeing at such an early age. We rarely snowshoe without all three of them in tow. People find it hard to believe that our ten year old still likes to go after all these years, our three year old will go all day or that our 20 month old is already snowshoeing. I have even had questions regarding how to find snowshoes for kids.
For me snowshoeing with my kids is a chance to spend time with them outside of the distractions of everyday life. No Game Boy, iPod, Wii, or computer. None of the day-to-day worries that take up so much of our time. It is also a time for me to instill in them a foundation for being physically active. Our children never get tired of trying to hide behind trees and scare us or making trails in different directions trying to confuse us as to where they went. Snowshoeing has quickly become an activity that we love to do together as a family and for me that is priceless. We go all day and never hear any complaints. They know that if they need to stop we will and that our number one rule while snowshoeing is to have fun. So, here I am handing out advice. I hope it leads you and your family to a lifelong love of snowshoeing.
I am by no means a professional and I am most certain you could ask a dozen snowshoeing parents these questions only to receive a dozen different answers. My tips and advice merely come from years of trial and error. In fact our oldest son has had to endure all of the mistakes we made, you could say he was our little snowshoe guinea pig.
The first and most difficult decision you will have to make is choosing the right snowshoe for your child. There are a lot of good brands out there and most offer a wide range of shoes covering all skill levels and ages. It can be a bit overwhelming when you first start looking. Luckily this doesn’t have to be as hard as it may seem.
If you remember only one thing from this article, let it be this: Avoid the idea that the highest priced product means it is always the best quality or the most comfortable. There are many superior quality snowshoes out there that come with a surprisingly low price tag. Many of these lower priced shoes come with lifetime warranties, which is always good when you have kids or like us multiple kids.
Try to keep the snowshoe simple without any fancy features that provide little to no function for a child. Let’s face it you’re probably not going to be crossing any steep dangerous ice covered mountains with your child so it’s not essential that he or she have a $200 pair of snowshoes with special ice cleat feature. It is also wise to avoid poles while they learn. The use of these can lead to tripping and simply serve as a distraction. Although they can be a great piece of equipment for adults and older youth they are, in my opinion, simply too much for a toddler to have to think about.
Don’t shop with the mindset that you should buy big so they can grow into them. Snowshoes that are to big are extremely difficult to maneuver and can actually be painful to wear. Most companies list a weight range and I recommend that you choose a pair that puts your child in the middle of that range. For example: if your child weighs 40 pounds look for a shoe that is made for 30-50 pounds or even a 0-50 pound limit. If you go with a shoe that puts your child at the top of the weight limit you risk them not fitting more than a few weeks, we all know how quickly children grow. Never go with a snowshoe that has a lower limit than your child weighs, this makes it very difficult for the snowshoe to distribute the child’s weight evenly leaving them sinking.
Look for a brand that offers similar snowshoes in various sizes. Learning to work new bindings can be difficult for a young child. Once you find snowshoes that fit and your child learns to operate them it is nice to be able to purchase the next size up without a whole new system to learn.
One of the most important steps to picking a great snowshoe is to call the company before you make the purchase. Even if you find a pair at a local sporting goods store I suggest you call the manufacturer direct and speak with customer service. Ask question about their warranty policy and any other questions you can think of. It is true you can get most, if not all, your questions answered at the location you purchase from or off the internet but, this call should be less about the information you get and more about the quality of customer service you receive. I have actually called a company twice before just to confirm the poor customer service I received from the first call was not just due to that specific representative having a bad day.
If they aren’t willing to answer your simple questions or they are unfriendly before you buy it can safely be assumed that after you purchase the product service will remain poor. It is likely that if poor customer service exists and a problem occurs with the snowshoes it will be difficult to get it resolved. I also encourage you to call more than once to insure you are receiving the same information, unfortunately there have been times I have called been told one thing then found out later a different representative had different information. Call as many times as it takes to make you feel comfortable. Whatever company you choose to purchase from you should be completely satisfied with them in ALL areas of the purchase.
Although many companies make a quality product at an affordable price, we find our personal favorite to be Yukon Charlie’s. Their one pull bindings are unbeatable for kids of all ages. Our oldest son’s snowshoes (which he wore for two years) have now been handed down to our middle son who wore them last year and will wear them again next year. They have held up so well that even our youngest child will be able to use them.
They show the normal scratches and scrapes you will find on any beginner’s snowshoes but mechanically they are in fantastic shape. The bindings still function smoothly and there is no damage to any of the rivets. The crampons are still going strong and even the frame has no bends, bows or cracks. Everyone in our family now wears Yukon Charlie’s and we have never been let down. The company is amazing to work with, and for me nothing surpasses quality products with outstanding customer service.
Another tip to choosing the right snowshoe is let your child help make the decision. Whether you take them with you to the store or let them shop online with you; it is important they play an active role in the purchase. Even at a very young age they can point to them, try them on and look at pictures of them. If they are old enough to pick a color go ahead and let them choose (even if you don’t like their color selection). Show them the brand or brands that you have researched, then let them choose from that selection. They are more likely to want to wear them if they get to be a part of the purchase.
Once you have decided on a brand of snowshoe and have determined your child’s size range and picked your color it is time to make the purchase. Buy your snowshoes before the snow falls. Depending on where you live this may require you to order online but, the money you save on the off season purchase will more than cover the cost of any shipping you have to pay. Keep in mind that no matter what age your child is, learning to snowshoe will inevitably cause scratches on them. It will also mean they drag them everywhere when they are not strapped on their feet and at some point they will throw them in the car with no regard to how the crampons are positioned. All of this can wreak havoc on a pair of snowshoes and your nerves. Knowing you got a great deal on a quality pair of snowshoes can help you to relax and let your child learn.
Once they arrive strap them on. Pull out the snow boots in the middle of summer. We have found our kids are most excited about their new snowshoes when they first open them so take advantage of the new toy excitement. No one likes to get a gift in August and have to look at it until December without getting to play with it. On a side note, do use caution the crampons can be sharp and may cause problems if used to smash the hand of a sibling (trust me). Let your child wear them around the house. It is unlikely that a quality crampon will be damaged by a child trekking around on carpet.
This is your chance to put them on your child and watch for any signs of discomfort and most stores will accept them as a return if they have not been worn outside. You know your child better than anyone else so use that parent instinct to identify if your purchase is right for your child. A few obvious signs of discomfort may include: pulling at one shoe more than the other, shaking their legs, trying to take them off while whining or crying. Although they may be awkward for a small child they should not hurt.
If there is a problem take notice of it right away. (If you purchase in person do not let a sales representative make you feel pressured into another brand you have not researched and do not let them tell you your child will get used to the discomfort.) If the problem persists physically examine the snowshoe, take a look at the bindings, too tight or too loose can be a problem. Discomfort may also be cause by your child’s snow boots.
It is best to have a boot that laces up and can be secured firmly to the foot. Slip on style boots can leave room for shifting or even slipping off with the weight of the snowshoe, this can create pain, discomfort or even cause the child to fall down. If none of this resolves the discomfort it is my opinion you should return to your search. If you purchased online take the necessary steps to return the snowshoes to the retailer. If you are in the store do take the time to try on the other brands but, as I stated earlier, I highly recommend going home to thoroughly research any new brands you consider without any pressure.
When the first snow falls you should have a quality pair of snowshoes for a great price and a child who is comfortable in them after wearing them around the house for the last few months. It is now time to hit the trail. Our kids loved learning in the fresh powder, although it is not always the easiest to trek on it is by far the softest to fall down in. No matter how good they have done around the house be prepared for challenges outside. It is amazing to watch a child learn a new skill so plan your first few trips around them, don’t expect to go any measurable distance.
Our daughter’s first trip was about an hour we made it all of 200 yards. She spent the majority of the time stopping to point at her snowshoes saying “see cute” it was extremely important to her that we all seen every flake of snow that touched her new purple shoes. Although mastering the technique may not be a challenge for your child, overcoming the excitement of walking on snow may slow down your trip.
After you have given adequate time for your child to get acquainted with snowshoeing it is time to set a goal destination. Every child is different and the time it takes them will vary. Our kids were ready for this step after about three outings,. Choose a destination that has something appealing to a child. A bridge is always a good destination, most kids enjoy throwing rocks or snowballs into the water or at the ice if it is frozen. It is important to not over do it, if your child tires before the destination stop even if it is just for a break, a snack or lunch.
Pushing your little learner to hard will only cause a loss of interest in the activity. Although you have to use your judgment, we usually try to shoot for a first destination no more than one half mile each direction. We stop half way up and build a snowman then knock it down on the way back. This breaks up the trip into little distances and gives the child something to look forward to in both directions. On the way back when our kids see the little snowman they built in the distance it usually gives them a second wind and inspires an impromptu race to the goal.
Once you have mastered a couple of destination trips it is nice to take a trip or two to nowhere. Since snowshoes leave obvious tracks wherever kids go losing them is near impossible and being able to just explore only helps to build their abilities. Our children love just trekking, we look for all kinds of treasures and animal tracks. However, these trips are where you have to be careful. It always seems easy walking away but, it doesn’t take long to travel farther than you should have and having to go back a long distance can be a real challenge for kids.
Watch for signs that your child is tiring. I always watch for them to stop running from place to place or when they begin to walk in a straight line instead of swerving in a curvy playful way. My middle son always started out wanting to be the leader and inevitably as he became tired he moved behind me, this was always my red flag that it was time to break and turn around. You can always head in another direction if you get back to your starting point and the kids still have energy.
Once you have purchased quality snowshoes, played in them around the house, and ventured out to play in fresh powder your child will be hooked for a lifetime. The opportunity to go play, relax and be physically active will be something the whole family can look forward to. If you make the choice to introduce your child to snowshoeing you give them a chance to create a lifelong love of the outdoors.
A place to start your gear search: Yukoncharlies.com
Ideas for planning a family trip: http://www.thefamilytravelfiles.com/folders/snowplaces/