Rick Silverberg has led winter excursion workshops for AMC’s New Hampshire Chapter for more than 30 years, but he may have spent even more time traveling winter trails with his daughters’ Girl Scout troops. Silverberg and his wife, Judy, co-led troops for each of their two daughters over 10 New Hampshire winters, starting when the younger girl was 9 and the older was 11. When he talks about keeping children excited about being out in the snow, he knows what he’s talking about.
“Kids are always growing and changing,” he says. Those changes challenged him and Judy to come up with outings that felt new and different every time — especially on snowshoes. “Snowshoeing is easy,” he says. “For kids, it’s only fun by itself the first time,” when they’re learning the basic movements. But easy doesn’t have to mean boring. Because snowshoeing is simple to learn and do, it can quickly become the foundation for other winter fun.
When their daughters were young, the Silverbergs used games and storytelling to add interest to snowshoe outings. As the girls gained experience and years, their parents planned longer and more challenging excursions.
Play games: Rabbits and coyotes.” Have you ever watched a rabbit run through the snow?” Silverberg asks. Their big back feet hit the ground farther forward than their smaller front feet. The Silverbergs helped kids place their mittened hands together slightly in front of their bodies, mimicking a rabbit’s front paws, and their snowshoe-clad feet on the outside of their “paws.” The adults encouraged the children to jump forward onto their hands and to see if they could push off with their “hind” legs so they landed with their snowshoes slightly forward of their mittens. It might take a few tries to get the rhythm, Silverberg says, but several good bunny hops will look just like giant rabbit tracks.
Coyotes, on the other paw, are straight-line walkers, putting front and back feet on each side into the same track. The Silverbergs had kids hunch over and simulate how coyotes walk through the snow by having them cover the print that a mittened hand makes with the snowshoe on the same side. “If they do it well,” Silverberg says, “the snowshoes will completely cover the hand prints.”
Tell outdoor stories. On troop outings, the leaders looked for ways to engage the girls through stories. “I was always asking, ‘What happened here?'” Silverberg says. Even the snow-laden branches of a fir tree could turn into an exploratory story, with the troop crawling under the boughs and noticing how the tree became a cozy emergency shelter. The Silverbergs pointed out feathers and fur on the snow and other animal tracks, winter plants, ice and snow patterns. “You don’t have to know what it is,” Silverberg counsels adults. “You just have to notice.”
Map winter. With leaves gone, winter is a great season for views. The Silverbergs brought maps on every trip as a matter of course. The group often stopped where they had a view to match the landscape and the map. Even highway maps can be used for this purpose.
Stay close to home. In the Silverbergs’ experience, it’s best with younger children to plan snowshoe outings close to home. “Even if they’re dressed perfectly for the weather,” Silverberg says, “you just don’t want to be too very far from hot chocolate.”
Visit old friends. After just a couple years, the Silverberg girls and their friends were experienced snow-walkers. At that point, the troops’ co-leaders added to the adventure by taking the girls back to trails they’d hiked in the summer. “I’d hear them talking about how different the trail looked in winter,” Silverberg says. “They’d just be amazed the entire time.” Snowshoeing, he notes, is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to enjoy winter in the Northeast. Children’s snowshoes work well for all but the most serious winter backpacking trips. Rentals are widely available, or consider buying used.
All of the AMC winter family adventures listed below include snowshoeing, ranging from beginning instruction to guided backcountry trips, and all are geared to families with children.
– Winter Family Weekend at Joe Dodge Lodge, January 15-17
– Winter Family Week at Highland Center, February 19-27
– Winter Family Adventure Camp at Cardigan Lodge, February 21-25
– Guided Family Snowshoe Adventure to Carter Notch Hut, February 20-22
– Winter Family Adventure Getaway at Joe Dodge Lodge, February 22-24
Learn more about “snowshoe school” programs for local schools at AMC’s Highland Lodge.
Photo credit: Jerry Shereda, Courtesy of AMC
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.