Teaching Kids to Cross-Country Ski

We are fortunate to live in an area ripe with opportunities for outdoor winter adventures, and no sport gets you further outdoors in the snow than cross-country skiing. While Nordic skiing is more work and less thrill than downhill skiing, there are ways to make cross-country skiing fun while teaching your kids the fundamentals. Kids love to play in the snow, why not teach them to cross-country ski?

Along with the obvious benefits that come with getting children involved in sports, cross-country skiing can be a family bonding activity. Almost everyone—from the very young to the very old—can cross-country ski, as long as they are healthy and somewhat active.

The most important thing when teaching young children to kick and glide is to make it entertaining and keep your expectations low. All children develop at a different rate. Like crawling and talking, your child will be ready to ski at a different age then your friends’ kids. But if kids think of skiing as just another way to play outside they’ll be more interested in trying it out.

Start off by trying on equipment at home. Not only will you be sure everything fits properly, “practicing” indoors adds a little familiarity to a new experience on the snow. Try getting in and out of skis and shuffling around the living room. If possible, attempt indoor skiing in the fall or early winter—not when everyone is staring out the window at snow laden streets wondering why they aren’t outside.

When it is time to take your brood outdoors for the first time keep it short (maybe twenty to forty minutes) so they can learn to be comfortable, have fun and gain experience in the snow without getting cold, wet or hungry. Then play, play, play!

In “Cross-Country Skiing: Building Skills for Fun and Fitness” (The Mountaineers Books, $19.95 paperback) Steve Hindman recommends the following games.

• Have kids race to a certain spot. When you blow the whistle, they must stop by a count of three. If they don’t stop in time they must move back ten ski lengths.
• Tie lots of balloons to a long string attached to your waist and weave over the snow while the kids chase you and try to break the balloons by stomping on them with their skis.
• Have the kids take one ski off and race using the remaining ski, as if they are riding a scooter.
• Do the Cha-cha, 1-2, 1-2-3. Glide on the three. Do it as a group. Do it up hill, do it downhill, do it all around. Get rhythm.
• Ski like a cat. Curl the claws on all four paws (poles and skis) to grip the snow and spring forward.
• On the flats, have kids put their skis in the A (wedge) position and use their poles to push themselves around. Have them go right, then left, then straight. Do the same in a train of kids (skis of the child in back placed inside the wedge formed by the skis of the child in front). Make train sounds. Expect a crash.
• With their skis in the V (herringbone) position and edges turned, tell kids to walk and quack like a duck. Start on the flats, then waddle up a gentle hill.
• Downhill drill: Start out with the knees on skis, hands on tips for the first run. Do the next run up right with hands on knees. On the final run have kids try to bite their pole handles as they slide downhill.
• Red light, green light. Same as the game on foot. Leader holds poles baskets up for go, poles crossed means stop.
• Limbo! Place two ski poles upright in the snow. Suspend a third pole, held in place by the straps of the first two, between them. Be sure to attach the horizontal pole on the back or downhill side of the upright poles. Have kids ski through the arch clearing it by crouching forward or doing the limbo.

Most ski instructors recommend starting out without poles and adding them later once the child is comfortable and competent on skis. By the time you are done playing all these games, kids will be able to glide with their weight on one ski, transfer weight from ski to ski, conquer hills (up and down) and slow and stop. As long as they’re enjoying their time on skis, your lesson was a success.

When you are ready to hit the trails pick a destination (a cabin, lake, snowman building area) to motivate young ones. Children love the adventure of traveling through untrammeled snow, so let them explore off the trail (being aware of possible avalanche danger, of course). Unplowed roads such as Bozeman Trail (Sourdough), Mill Creek and Bear Creek (near Jardine) make excellent tours for novice skiers.

Babies can be pulled in pulks (snow sleds), and as soon as they are decent walkers, toddlers can use waxless skis with universal bindings that fit onto their snow boots. Progress to a boot-binding system around age five with waxless skis until kids are eight or nine. At that point, they can stick with a waxless set-up, or if they are planning on racing or joining a league, they can transition to waxable boards.

Kids grow quickly, so it might be tempting to buy equipment that will fit for more than one season, but this isn’t the place to skimp. Having gear that fits is essential for having a good time. Boots that are too big will be difficult to control and may cause blisters and too-long skis are cumbersome. However, there is no need to buy expensive new equipment. Check out one of the used sporting good stores in town or explore the ski swap held by the Bridger Ski Foundation (bsfnordic.com) each fall.

Just as having the right equipment is important, what your kids wear can make or break a ski outing. Dress in layers, and no cotton allowed! Start with long underwear—top and bottom, add a fleece or wool sweater and top with a waterproof (but breathable) jacket and pants. Then, put a lid on it. Hats are essential for holding in heat. Gaitors will keep snow out of children’s boots and waterproof gloves will keep their hands warm. Carry some hand heaters in case anyone gets cold. If your kids are already set up with alpine skiing or snowboarding duds, use those. Just watch that they don’t get too hot as cross-country skiing generates more heat than downhill sports.

As with any activity, be sure to pack lots of snacks. A Thermos of hot chocolate can go a long way towards keeping children happy, motivated and warm. Don’t forget foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, cheese and crackers or energy bars. Cross-country skiing burns a lot of calories, as does just being outside in cold weather, so pack more food and drinks than you think you’ll need.

The earlier kids get started, the more likely they are to make skiing and fitness part of their lifestyle. By keeping cross-country skiing excursions playful, short (at least at first) and comfortable, children will develop a love for this winter activity. Plus you’ll get to spend time with your family playing in the snow, racing over hills and dales and doing something that’s good for all of you.

Montana Parent
January 04, 2008

For more fun teaching kids to ski: 5 Ways to Make it Fun from Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *