by Tanya Koob
People tell me snowshoeing is boring. It’s not as fun as skiing, they say, or Why walk both up and down a hill To those individuals, let’s rethink the process. Snowshoeing is fun if you choose the right trails and resources.
Snowshoeing is a great activity for children of all ages and requires a lot less coordination than skiing. The learning curve is very small and generally, if one can walk, one can snowshoe. Many companies sell snowshoes for children as young as two or three years old, and at this age, it doesn’t really matter which brand you choose. Start with short, easy trips and slowly add more elevation gain and distance, keeping in mind that hiking through snow is harder for children than a summer trek, so distances should be halved when choosing an outing during the winter months.
Introduce your child to snowshoeing with outings near home before heading into the wilderness for bigger adventures. Many local golf courses allow snowshoeing or cross country skiing during the winter season, and parks or school fields make for simple, fun family experiences on snowshoes.
Tips for family snowshoeing fun
Choose the right trail. While I certainly don’t recommend venturing out in snow deep enough to bury small children, at least choose enough fluffy white stuff to make a snowshoeing experience interesting. In general, ski trails should be avoided since snowshoes are designed to travel through powder and not hard-packed surfaces, and many Nordic ski associations prefer snowshoeing to take place off pre-tracked trails.
Bring a sled. Always pack a sled for youngsters. Winter is my favorite time of year to hike or snowshoe with my son because even a five- year-old can be pulled along for a ride through the snow. Additionally, the sled itself is a fun game for kids when they aren’t riding; transporting friends, younger siblings, or even parents is a fun challenge. Finally, the sled can be used to haul firewood, backpacks, and an assortment of other gear you don’t want to carry.
Plan a fun destination. Hike into a backcountry campground and have a wiener roast if there are fire pits, hauling in wood if necessary. Bring marshmallows for s’mores; I guarantee kids will want to go snowshoeing again in the future. Alternatively, plan to have an outdoor picnic at the end of your trip at a day-use area or campground. Even the parking lot works.
Go with friends. Bringing friends is the equivalent of putting a superhero cape on your child. They will run faster, further, and with more energy if a buddy comes along.
Things to bring
As mentioned above, always bring a sled, Chariot-brand stroller with ski attachment, or ski pulk. Check ahead of time that the trail you’ve chosen will be wide enough to pull a sled. Usually, designated snowshoe trails are wide enough for this purpose.
We also like to bring a Strider balance bike with ski attachment. While these nifty ski bikes don’t travel well on the flats or uphill, they can easily be strapped to a backpack as necessary. My husband even rigged a method of towing our son by attaching a home-made tow rope system to the bike, something we found very useful while traveling several miles to a backcountry cabin last year.
As far as outfitting young adventurers, snowshoeing requires the same concept of clothing as any other winter sport. Warm layers of non-cotton materials, insulated boots and gloves, and a stash of extras. Also remember to pack water, high-energy snacks that travel well like dried fruit, nuts, and granola bars.
Fun and games
Make a snow fort, tunnel, or cave. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one pre-built, as is often the case on our outings. Bring sand toys and let the kids build snow castles as if they were at the beach.
Play a game of circle tag. Stomp out a huge circle with your feet. Next, divide your circle into slices like a pie by stomping out lines that intersect the circle. Kids have to chase each other by running around the circle and up and down the “spokes.”
Make a snow man, spin some snow angels, or have a good-old-fashioned family snowball fight.
See you on the trails!
Tanya Koob lives in Calgary, Alberta, B.C. and publishes Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, a blog focusing on outdoor adventures with her son, now five.