Cross-country skiing can be the perfect winter activity for a family outing: If snow has just fallen, you can ski right from your front door; it’s less expensive than downhill skiing; and it’s a sport people of all ages can enjoy. Rather than racing down mountains, a cross-country, or Nordic, glide along trails is an attractive alternative for parents who want to share the outdoors with their kids.
Two local experts, Sue Wemyss, a 1984 U.S. Olympian who now directs the ski school at Great Glen Trails in Gorham, N.H., and Mark Jacobson, general manager of the Weston Ski Track in Weston, Mass., have plenty of advice for getting kids started.
THE RIGHT FIT
“Good gear is important,” Jacobson says. “Sometimes equipment gets passed down in families, and it’s too big or too long.” Kids can get frustrated when gear is uncomfortable or doesn’t perform well due to improper fit. Whether you’re renting or buying, “Nice-fitting boots are essential,” Jacobson emphasizes.
Wemyss suggests having very young kids try on equipment inside, on a carpeted surface, where they can get used to how the gear feels without slipping and sliding around.
“I also think it’s best to start very young kids without ski poles,” Wemyss says. “You can even have them go out with just one ski on, and they can use their other foot to scoot around. The idea is for them to feel the glide. That’s the fun of skiing.”
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
While ski-mad parents may be excited to get their kids into the sport, both experts stress it’s important not to push children before they’re ready. Jacobson says kids can ski as soon as they can walk, but, he says: “Follow the lead of the kid. Adjust your expectations. Keep it fun. Adults may need more drills, but for kids, it’s better to make it more about having fun and running around. Younger kids are good at figuring things out.”
Wemyss warns against setting too-high expectations. “You want the kids to like [skiing], and that might mean they want to be outside for five minutes,” she says. “Let the child determine how much time they want to be outside on skis.”
THE RIGHT STRATEGY
Like most teachers, Jacobson and Wemyss have a playbook of games, which are really cleverly disguised ways to teach skill and technique.
“Play red light/green light and Simon says [on skis],” Wemyss suggests. “Or simply take a ball outside to toss around.” Once you get kids moving on skis, they will start learning how to stop and start.
Going downhill can be especially daunting. Wemyss has kids kneel on their skis and hold onto the ski tips. This changes children’s centers of gravity, helping them get a feel for the acceleration of a downhill section.
Jacobson also likes to play tag, hide-and-seek, and limbo, all of which can get kids comfortable on their skis. Then, when they’re ready for a little adventure, set a goal. “Bring along a backpack and ski to a certain spot for an outdoor picnic,” he says. “They’ll be having fun, learning lots of skills, and building confidence.”
Learn how to prepare your kids for any outdoor adventure in “How to Dress Kids for Winter.”