This article caught our attention in the Winter 2009 Issue of Wilderness Medicine Magazine.
Winter doesn’t have to be a stay-at-home season. There are plenty of opportunities to get your kids into the outdoors. With some basic equipment, reading, lessons and tapping into your own experiences, you can equip your kids and give them skills to participate in outdoor winter adventures and sports.
Get Ready, Set…Go
Back in the sixties I remember being so bundled for a winter outing I walked like a grade B movie monster. Gone are the days of cotton long underwear, thick cotton sweaters and bulky water logged snowsuits. The Fall 2008 edition of WM magazine discussed clothing and gear, but winter requires some added advice.
Outfit your kids in non-cotton synthetic fiber clothing using the layer method. Give attention to waterproof mittens or gloves with liners. Wool or fleece hats contain warmth and should cover their ears. Neck gaiters make up the distance between jackets and hats. They can also be pulled up for face protection. Neoprene face masks in extreme cold not only protect from cold exposure but also from sun and wind burns. Thicker synthetic socks and waterproof boots protect feet. Pay special attention to tight fitting boots which restrict toe movement and predispose to cold injury. Light reflection from snow cover can cause UV eye burns – bring sunglasses or goggles for all. Sunscreen is a must for exposed skin.
Helmets should be non-negotiable for activities such as sledding, skiing, and snowboarding.
Remember to bundle infants and small carry-along kids who may not be heating up from exercise as much as you. Carry instant heat packs, which shouldn’t be depended on for prolonged exposure situations, but can help take the chill from hands and feet. Besides, they are as good as a magic trick for little ones who marvel at the scrunch and heat trick.
Fun Things to Do
You can’t beat a great snowball battle or building Frosty for a quick outdoor activity, but there are a whole lot of winter adventures waiting to help build your kids’ confidence, skills, and general good health.
Too often this is considered a benign sport, but consider your kids are on a device that gains speed and eventually collides with something or someone. Examine and repair damaged equipment and check steering function. Sleds with runners and steering devises are safer than disks or toboggans. Pick gentle slopes, away from hazards, with a spacious level area to stop. Teach them proper riding position with feet always pointing downhill. Make a game of pulling the sled and racing back up the hill. Feed and water them every hour to maintain energy and warmth.
Skiing or Snowboarding:
Helmets. Helmets. Helmets.
These activities require training from a skilled individual. If you don’t ski or snowboard, consider lessons for the whole family. All resorts offer a variety of lesson packages that can include ski rentals and lift tickets. During lessons they learn not only to ski but how to fall and avoid injury. Rent equipment for a season if they are new to the sport before making a big investment in gear. The ski rental shop will help choose and fit the equipment. But if your child complains about a tight fit or bindings that don’t release when they fall, take time out for an adjustment back at the shop. Check your own equipment at the beginning of the season for needed repairs and routine maintenance. If you teach them yourselves try using a harness to control their speed, or ski next to them holding your pole parallel to the ground so they can hold onto it, or like we did for our youngest, just ski ten feet ahead of them to act as a stop if needed. No matter what method you use inject fun into the activity by taking lots of breaks for snacks and hot chocolate, play games like searching for winter birds, and let them snap pictures to preserve memories of the fun.
Winter hiking just got a whole lot more fun with snowshoes. No learning curve here; if they can walk, they can snowshoe. Wearing snowshoes allows you to ride above the snow instead of sinking into it. You exert less energy, stay drier, and can cover more distance. As with any hike bring a map, emergency rescue gear, extra food, extra clothing, and leave your itinerary with someone. Most XC ski centers also rent snowshoes and poles for use on their trails. This is an opportunity to teach your kids respect for multi-use trails. Stay out of the XC ski tracks and yield to skiers coming downhill. It’s also a great time to observe the scenery and wildlife when walking down a quiet snow-laden trail.
Some campgrounds operate year round, or you can backpack into a designated trail campsite. If this is a first-time winter camping trip, consider car or tent camping in a designated campsite. Having your vehicle nearby is an “out” for sudden weather changes. Bring a four-season tent, sleeping bags, and thick sleeping mats or air cushions for ground insulation. Plan to sleep wearing your hat and mittens. This is a terrific opportunity to teach kids winter survival skills such as fire building in wet conditions, snow fort construction, trail finding, and weather monitoring.
Slick Advice for Tricky Conditions
Start outdoor adventures, like snowshoeing, early in the day so you are back before the daylight fades. Allow extra travel time for bad weather, traffic delays, poor road conditions, or detours. Stay home if the weather is bad. Frequently check kids clothing and gear for wetness and proper coverage. Catching problems early can avert a worse disaster later down the trail. Bring along extra hats, gloves, mittens, socks, and scarves to replace wet items. Bring a dry pair of shoes and extra food. Most kids less than twelve years need supervision for these outdoor activities which also gives you a chance to teach and spend valued time together. Equally important is bringing your sense of fun and flexibility. Quitting before they and you are exhausted reduces the risk of injury and enhances their prospect of continuing these winter outdoor traditions with their own kids.