My husband and I recently arrived at a local cross-country ski trail to find 30 tweens and teens skiing with their coaches from the Aspen Valley Ski Club.
We were stunned. When our sons were younger, getting them to Nordic ski was nearly impossible.
“It’s just like walking,” they’d whine. “We want to go downhill. Cross-country is too much work.”
And usually, to keep the peace, we’d send them off to our local alpine ski area and we’d retreat into a couple of hours of contemplative motion, enjoying the quiet forest, moving to the rhythm of our skis swishing on the freshly groomed track.
Sometimes on these ski outings, we’d see children, little ones bundled up, riding on a sled or being carried in a backpack. Rarely did we see more than a handful of families skiing together. And on the rare occasion when our young sons would join us, they’d have fun, but they were never eager to do it again.
Thus, we were even more stunned when we returned to that same trail head, one week later, and encountered the Grand Mesa Gliders, a learn-to-ski program for kids ages 4-8 and a youth program for all levels of skiers ages 9-16.
Sponsored by two local nonprofits (the Grand Mesa Nordic Council and The Nature Connection) and the U.S. Forest Service, this program provides free instruction and low-cost rentals to any child wanting to learn classic cross-country skiing. They were doing a brisk business. Children were everywhere.
Following up with the Forest Service, I learned that in addition to participating with Grand Mesa Gliders, the Grand Mesa, Gunnison and Uncompahgre National Forest runs a winter ecology program for 4th graders in three counties and hosts 4 days of winter field trips for local 6th graders.
Funded by “More Kids in the Woods” and “Every Kid in a Park” grants, these field trips introduced 1,600 kids to cross-country skiing last winter and leaders hope to reach 2,000 children this year.
The “Best” Tip
As for the AVSC skiers, I followed up with their head coach, August Teague.
Twenty years ago, when Teague competed for AVSC, he was one of 4 or 5 Nordic athletes in the club. This year, AVSC has 300 young cross-country athletes.
Teague credits the growth in youth participation to several factors.
First, cross-country skiing has become “cool”. As more kids take up cross-country skiing, more kids become interested.
Second, cross-country skiing is a fun way to get outside and exercise in winter.
Third, cross-country skiing is more affordable than alpine skiing.
Fourth, lessons for children are more common and competitive clubs have skilled coaches who know how to work with kids.
Teague has coached Nordic skiers at every level, including four years with the Australian Ski team. His best tip for getting kids enthusiastic about cross-country skiing?
“Make sure your kids are smiling. If they’re smiling, they’re having fun.”
Seven More Tips
In addition to always keeping the emphasis on fun, here are seven additional tips for families.
1. Trail Up. You can cross-country ski almost anywhere it snows, but it’s easiest to start on a groomed trail. Groomed track is easier to ski and trail maps tell you how far you’re going so you plan a suitable (probably short) route.
2. Sign Up. Cross-country skiing is easy to learn and a lesson will start everyone in your family off right. Look for lessons through parks departments, ski clubs and at trail systems.
Other resources for learning how to cross-country ski include YouTube videos and books.
3. Gear Up. Visit a rental shop where staff will help you choose the right waxless skis, boots and poles and show you how to use the equipment. When you’re ready to buy, consider lightly used equipment, as well as new. Cross-country skis don’t demand as much care as downhill skis and will last for years.
4. Layer Up. You’re going to get warm so wear layers. Start with thin ski socks, wool or polypropylene long underwear, snow pants or winter cycling pants, a sweater or fleece, a lightweight jacket, gloves, a beanie and sunglasses. If you’re going off trail, don’t forget gaiters to keep the snow out of your boots.
Bring a small backpack to hold clothes you shed along the trail.
5. Eat Up. Drink Up. Bring snacks and water. Eat and drink at least once an hour (good advice for any athletic activity!).
6. Wise Up. Don’t be overly ambitious the first few times you go out. Start with short loops or trails. Let your kids set the pace. Set reasonable expectations, keep the emphasis on fun and finish your ski before anyone is exhausted.
7. Play On. While parents are often counting kilometers, kids are more likely to be focused on adventure and playing in the snow.
We recently encountered an adorable set of sisters, ages 5 and 7. Excellent skiers, we saw them first at the far end of a long trail. When they returned to the parking lot, they traded skis for snow boots and began climbing huge mounds of plowed snow around the parking lot perimeter. They were throwing snowballs, laughing and sliding like seals on their bellies.
After one particularly long and steep decent, the younger girl looked up, her face full of snow, and loudly proclaimed the day “epic.”
You can bet both she and her sister had been smiling all day.
Cross-Country Skiing Posts:
- Why Cross-Country Ski, January 11, 2103.
- Getting in Shape for Telemark and Cross-Country Skiing, September 15, 2010.
- Nordic Ski Gear Designed for Women, March 25, 2015.
- Cross-Country Skiing Etiquette: No Mean Dogs, March 21, 2012.
- Cross-Country Skiing on Colorado’s West Bench Trail, April 19, 2011.
- Cross-Country Skiing with the Family: How My Friend Joy Gets It Going On, February 3, 2011.
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