Kids on cross country skis or snowshoes - it is not only about child obesity, nature deficit disorder, and better brain function – it's about fun.
What can the kids do after school or on the weekends? Have you set your plans for the school breaks this coming winter?
The winter can be snowy, yet mild and great, for a weekly program or a family winter vacation with plenty of cross country (XC) skiing and snowshoeing, so gather up the kids and head to the hills.
There are XC ski areas that are exceedingly kid-friendly with fun activities to enjoy on the snow. XC skiing and snowshoeing not only delivers great times for kids, they create memories for a lifetime.
We know about the calorie-burning effectiveness of XC skiing and snowshoeing. We understand that kids should get outdoors more often. According to Dr. Majid Fotuhi, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore, studies support the idea that exercise can improve learning efficiency for kids.
In short, exercise and better fitness are associated with better brain function all year long, so here are some samples of the unique XC ski and snowshoe programming this winter:
In Gorham, N.H., Great Glen Outdoor Trails Center has the Trail Tracker program for an everyday scavenger hunt at Great Glen, which is a big hit for kids to track down cartoon animals out on the trails. When they find the animated creatures, they stamp a card and, upon return to the lodge, they get a treat. The TC Bank Kids SkiFest Jan 12 has an obstacle course, lollipop race, mini lessons for first timers, treats, free XC ski rentals and special trail rates.
Jackson Ski Touring nestled in N.H.’s White Mountains, has the Story Land Element Garden, a small terrain park at the Touring Center designed for young children. Kids are also encouraged to ski or snowshoe to a 3-kilometer destination to the Ellis River Warming Cabin, which is open on weekends. Reach the cabin and enjoy a chocolate covered waffle on a stick treat.
Garnet Hill Lodge in North River, N.Y. has a 6-week kids XC ski program (1.5 hours on Sundays) that is available to individual kids or organized group programs for fun, exploration, and adventure learning skills on ski and games on XC skis with a hot coco/snack break, soccer on skis, tree ID game, and more.
The Snow School program has snowshoeing for kids in more than 40 locations across the nation such as Cable Natural History Museum in Cable, Wis. and Michigan Tech University, which coordinates snowshoe programs for 3-8th graders in 20 school districts in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Some of these programs include games, ecology, wildlife tracking, outdoor skills and more. Go to the Winter Wildlands website or Facebook page for a list of Snow School locations.
The Loppet Nordic Ski Foundation runs one of the largest introductory kids cross country ski programs of its kind in the country at the Theodore Wirth Park, just minutes from downtown Minneapolis, Minn. Some 600 kids from local elementary and middle schools learn to ski each year through the Foundation's programs. They also are given info about fitness and nutrition. A small trail is groomed at each school, so that the kids can ski right out the door in their physical education classes.
Breckenridge Nordic Center in Breckenridge, Colo. has one of the best equipment exchange programs for kids whereby there is no charge for kids to trade in their old equipment for similar equipment in bigger sizes.
The Bohart Ranch in Bozeman, Mont. has the Adventures in Winter Ecology ski program for school groups starting with fun games on skis, a snack break and then smaller tour groups go out for grade-specific hands-on field exploration science curriculum meeting at a trail shelter for lunch with classmates.
The Methow Valley Sport Trails Association in Winthrop, Wash. has three storybook trails that feature 1 km loops that have sign-sized illustrated story book pages on panels displayed along select trails for kids to read as they ski or snowshoe. And the trails are free for kids under the age of 17!
The Strider Glider program at Bear Valley Cross Country & Adventure in Calif. runs both midweek and weekends. This program includes games, destination skiing, skill building, striding, skating, racing, etc. The weekend program allows local kids to befriend and ski with weekenders that they would not see with just a midweek only program.
A number of states conduct statewide programs to encourage kids to get outdoors in the winter. The Vermont 5th Grade Passport offers a booklet of coupons for free trail passes at more than 30 XC ski resorts. An adult paying full price must accompany the kids and there is a small $10 cost associated with the passport, which is good from December through May excluding holiday blackout dates.
In the Burlington, Vt.area, the Smuggler's Notch Nordic Center is known for family programming. The one and a half hour XC ski lesson for kids happens in a special terrain park that has snowy roller bumps and other features for kids to learn balance and increase confidence while having fun on skis.There's also the Mom or Dad and Me class for a parent and child older than 6 in a one hour private lesson with an instructor.
Also in Vermont, the Bolton Valley Nordic Center's kids program focuses on the development of basic Nordic skiing skills as well as natural science and natural history and each of the kids' ski skills are practiced with fun games like ski soccer, tag, obstacle courses and snowball biathlon.
These winter programs feature ways for kids to learn balance and increase confidence while having fun on skis or snowshoes. And they're committed to helping kids develop lifelong habits of health, education, and physical fitness through participation in outdoor winter activities…and as the kids can attest they are also just plain fun.
Photo: Kids cross country skiing at Sleepy Hollow Ski Center (Sleepy Hollow)