Cross-country and kids aren’t a natural match … but that’s usually because we want to turn out kids into little adults, making them ski the way we do.
Cross-country also lacks the “cool” factor of downhill skiing. It’s like trying to get your kids to kayak when there is a jet-ski tied to the dock.
But if we focus on the fun instead of the destination, skiing can be a great family activity, a fit for 5-year-olds, 15-year-olds and 55-year-olds.
My first piece of advice to Adirondack dads and moms is that you should get up early and go ski on your own for a few hours. Get it out of your system. Now, when you come back to ski with the kids, you’ll be ready to focus on them.
Keep it short and safe with little ones. Temperature is important. You may do fine striding along at 5 degrees. But with little kids, frostbite is a bigger issue. Look for temps in the mid 20s and watch out for wind.
I like to find somewhere nearby that’s well traveled, or where I’ve already put down a track, but somewhere that is still wild enough to add interest. There’s nothing wrong with skiing in a city park, but making tracks through a pine forest, boughs drooping with snow, will create the memories that make kids want to keep coming back.
Play games while you ski, tell a story, bring snacks, take breaks and have a special treat after. I find that an ice cream cone or mug of hot cocoa helps solidify the happy memories and cover over the so-so ones.
Doing anything outdoors with pre-teens and teens requires more strategy. Frankly, if you figure this one out, let me know.
Cross your fingers that your kid finds friends who also want to play in the snow. And it is possible you’ll have to bite the bullet to fund some downhill skiing during this age. But they’ll come back to cross-country sometime.
I find little kids do better with classic/diagonal skiing, although athletic youngsters with access to groomed trails may like the speed of ski-skating/freestyle. Bigger kids, especially those who run or bike and like physical challenges, may do better with freestyle.
Whatever your style, wherever you ski, cross-country is a sport for all ages. Get out and make some snowy memories.
Here’s some links to more advice about skiing with kids:
“Teaching Kids Cross-Country Skiing,” a useful article by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
“Four Essential Tips for XC Skiing with Kids,” from Outside Magazine.
“Teaching Your Own Kids Nordic Skiing,” from Nordic Ski Colorado.