I decided to do a search on YouTube the other day for child skiing and there were more than 2,000 results with titles ranging from “amazing three-year old skier” to “extraordinary four-year old skier.” It wasn’t hard to find awe-inspiring videos of little tykes rippin’ it up on the ski hill. By contrast, I searched for child snowshoeing and found 70 results, mostly consisting of gear reviews and sponsored videos for outdoor companies. Words like amazing or extraordinary were nowhere to be seen and I found no mention of a little ripper or shredder tearing up the snowshoe trails. What do you even call a kid on snowshoes? A little stomper?
I would love to be able to stroll into our preschool class and brag about how my four-year old rode the chair lift all the way to the top of the local ski hill and skied to the bottom without falling. I’d love to saunter into class with a new photo on my phone of my child descending his first real run, to boast about how he’s graduated from the bunny hill now, and that I’ll be struggling to keep up to him in a year. The reality though? My child hasn’t even discovered the bunny hill yet and I can barely get him to shuffle across a field on cross-country skis let alone descend a mountain of any size.
What I’m slowly coming to realize however is that maybe it’s ok to be from Canada and to not like skiing. Or maybe, that one doesn’t have to learn to like skiing when they aren’t even five years old. I gave my son the choice yesterday between cross-country skiing and snowshoeing – and he chose snowshoeing. We went on a delightful hour-long tromp across a local golf course and we both had fun. I didn’t regret for a second that we were on snowshoes rather than skis like everybody else in our group. Will my son always choose snowshoeing? Maybe. And will I, who lives for skiing, be ok with that? Yes. I actually would be ok with that.
I’m not convinced that we as parents need to be teaching our children that all fun things in life require speed, an adrenaline rush, or a sense of danger. I’ve been trying to learn to slow down since having a child and snowshoeing is a great family activity where we can take a leisurely stroll hand in hand, looking for birds and squirrels, and talking about the nature we see around us. Unlike skiing at a resort, snowshoeing is peaceful, quiet, and calming – three words that I wouldn’t typically use when describing any activity with a young child.
Snowshoeing is a fabulous family sport with its low learning curve and affordability. You don’t need to sign the kids up for lessons and they can use the same snowshoes for years without the additional need for special boots that need to be replaced every time their feet grow! There’s also no fancy clothing requirement for this sport and nobody is judging you on the trails if you haven’t purchased the latest model of ski jacket or pants. Snowshoeing is outdoor play, plain and simple – in whatever warm outdoor gear you already have on hand.
You may not get the same bragging rights raising a Little Stomper instead of a Little Ripper but you can still do some pretty awesome things on snowshoes. Last winter we hiked into a backcountry cabin with another family, towing the children behind us in sleds. It was a 7.5-mile journey and certainly no walk across a city park. At the end of it though, we completed our first winter backcountry trip as a family, the children got to play in snow tunnels outside the cabin, and we have great family memories from the trip.
The key, as with all sports, is to make snowshoeing fun for children to learn. We stomp like dinosaurs when we go for walks, take big clomping steps, and add monster sound effects. Have a snowball fight, play a game of tag, or dig out a snow fort and watch your children have fun in the snow. At the heart of it, that’s what snowshoeing is all about – fun in the snow.
- Start out close to home in your backyard or city parks. Move further away from home once your children have picked up how to walk comfortably in snowshoes.
- Take the distance your child can normally hike and half it. For deep snow, consider halving it again.
- Focus on having fun in the snow rather than on how far you can hike. If you never make it across the first meadow because your kids want to make a snowman for an hour, that’s ok.
- Bring a sled for younger children in case they tire early. You’ll be able to extend the length of the hike this way as well.
- Hope for 41F degrees but plan for 5F. It’s better to have too many clothes than not enough. You can always take off a layer if you are too hot.
- As with all winter sports, cotton is your enemy. Dress in warm layers and don’t skimp on the waterproof outer layers.
- Make sure snacks and lunch can be eaten with mittens on or that you can plan your trip around first and second lunch, before and after your hike.
- Bring friends. Everything is more fun with friends.