What Color is that Snow?
If You Can Walk...
You Can Snowshoe
Winter Family Fun
My First Snowshoes
Winter Family Fun
by Carl Heilman II
Winter is a season that is custom made for children. From snowballs, snow forts and
sledding runs, to parallel ski tracks and lightly packed snowshoe
trails, the winter snows
provide for hours of varied fun for children of all ages. Winter is a natural part of the cycles
of life in the North Country. It's much
easier to find ways to enjoy the snow, than it is to
try to hide from the brisk north winds.
Since both my wife Meg, and myself had enjoyed a variety of winter sports since childhood,
it was easier for us to keep up with snowshoeing and skiing
after both Carl and Greta were
born. We did discover that introducing them to winter, and taking them along on our
winter excursions wasn't as easy as we first
anticipated. However, we have continued
taking them both along on hikes in all seasons, and have found the rewards to considerably
outweigh the difficulties. Carl
and Greta have both been enthusiastic about outdoor
adventures ever since they were able to voice an opinion, and now anxiously await each
new trip out in
Most important for everyone in enjoying a winter outing is being properly prepared.
We have found that there are three basic needs to keep in mind for
everyone on the trip:
keeping warm, taking along enough food and water, and having proper, quality equipment.
Of these three, keeping warm is probably the most
important. If you aren't warm, it is unlikely
that you will have an enjoyable time, no matter how good your food and equipment is.
With the popularity of winter sports today, there is a pretty good variety of winter clothing
available for children today. While there are different
styles of insulated outerwear available
for the downhillers, I prefer to dress our children in the more traditional layers suggested
for snowshoeing and
cross country skiing. Up to about three years old, the kids are mostly
just along for the ride and do little to keep themselves warmed up. Then, enough
must be provided to retain their own body warmth.
At those younger ages, we used one-piece snowsuits in addition to long johns, wool
socks, mittens, and hat and scarf. For footwear we used fiberpile
booties for infants,
and boots with removable felt liners for toddlers. Our two generally traveled in a sled
when they were little, so we also put a sleeping bag
in the sled that could be wrapped around
them for extra warmth. Also, remember to dress little ones so diapers can be changed
with relative ease and minimal
Older children (from about four and up) should be dressed in the same layers that are
recommended for adults. On the trail, older kids will tend to be at
least as active as their
parents, and often much more so, so they should definitely dress in layers. It is difficult
to vent heat properly when wearing a one
piece snow suit. Choose layers of wool, polypropylene,
or other suitable man-made fabrics and pile.
I tend to recommend a wool/polypropylene mix for long johns. Avoid the use of cotton
materials for any of the layers. Children can generate a quantity of
heat in a hurry, but
are also susceptible to rapid cooling. Cotton is comfortable as long as it is dry, but when
it becomes wet with perspiration or melted
snow, it becomes quite dangerous as it wicks
away essential body heat.
Layers of clothes should include: long johns, wool socks, shirt and pants, sweater, parka
and bib overalls, hat and scarf, mittens, and insulated
boots. I suggest either a lightly
insulated parka or a combination of a bunting jacket and windproof shell. Bib overalls
help keep the undergarments dry as the
kids get off the trail and jump and 'swim' through
A balaclava or ski mask is a good substitute for a hat and scarf. Also, we've found that
mittens with a shell and removable liners are far superior to the
commonly found versions
with sewn-in linings. Be sure to carry an extra set of liners for those who just can't seem
to keep their little hands out of the snow.
Removable liners are also easier to dry out at
home than the composite mitts.
The same is true with footwear. Boots with removable felt liners are available right down
to toddler size. We've found them to be a really worthwhile
investment and far superior
to the typical lined winter boots. Besides being warmer and more comfortable, the felt
liners are also easily removed for efficient
drying at home or in camp.
Keeping your children comfortable in winter means not only knowing when to have
them properly bundled up, but also knowing when to unbundle them. When
were real little, we'd periodically check their cheeks and hands to make sure they were
warm enough. We found that if any part of them got too chilled,
they were quick to cry
to let us know... As they grew older they were able to tell us if they were too hot or cold,
but usually only if we asked. They're generally
too wrapped up in the fun they're having
to think about it. It's good to check on them often and thoroughly.
If they get too warm, their perspiration will begin to cool them down as it condenses and
possibly freezes in the insulating layers. I'd rather have them
stay slightly on the cool
side with dry clothes, than see them get overheated and have wet clothes. After a couple
times on the trail, you will probably all
learn to regulate clothing efficiently. It is good
to bring along enough extra clothes so there is a dry change of clothes for after the rolling
around in the
snow and building snowmen.
Be sure to carry enough food for your time out on the trail since brisk winter weather always
seems to generate quite large 'little' appetites. Make
several snack stops throughout
the day in addition to good lunch to help keep hungry little ones from running out of energy
on the trail. We try to avoid sugared
foods which tend to provide a quick burst of energy
that is followed by a quick drop in energy.
We like to take along dried fruits, crackers and cheese, and pretzels for the many snacks,
and a good sandwich or two that they enjoy for their lunch. It's
also easy to take along
yogurt and other refrigerated foods since there is little problem keeping foods chilled.
Sometimes it's even necessary to place
some foods and fresh fruits near body heat so
they won't freeze.
It is quite important to take along enough fluids to drink. Dehydration, a problem in itself
can also lead to a more severe problem - hypothermia. In the
winter, it is harder to recognize
when you are thirsty, so it is important to drink water or juice often throughout the day.
Also, packing something hot to drink
in a good thermos can be a great picker-upper when
you or the children get a bit tired or chilled.
When choosing outdoor gear to take the children along, be sure to select good, efficient
equipment. With the right equipment, both you and your
children can better enjoy your
sport. Real young children can be bundled up and carried in a child's pack or skidded
along in a sled. We found a backpack to be okay
for one small child and two parents, but
with two youngsters we decided it was much better to have a good sled. Also, a child
in a pack may be comfortable while
snowshoeing, but the winds from skiing at even a
moderate pace are pretty nippy for a baby's tender face and might bring a quick end to
As children get to be a couple years old, the wind doesn't seem to be as much of a problem.
A rigid harness sled with a cargo cover turned out to be the best
solution to both the problem
of the wind, and that of taking along two children. Not only could we fit in both children
and our gear, but we also faced them backwards
to keep the wind off their face while we
skied. A sleek fiberglass or wood sled is both functional and efficient. The rigid aluminum
poles keep the sled at a
constant distance behind you with plenty of room for maneuvering
skiis or snowshoes.
I find little drag from the sled, even with a good load in it. There is a pull, of course, when
going uphill, so I use either my snowshoes, or skins on my skiis
for the ascent. Still, I have
found towing two kids and gear in the sled with a total weight of about 80 pounds is about
as easy as trying to carry a 20 pounder on
my back. The children also have much more
freedom of movement and really enjoy the trip. Seats are available for some models of
sleds, but we decided to use
their car seats so we could face them backward and recline
them when they were real small.
Greta took her first cross-country sled ride when she was three months old. For extra
warmth on a chilly day we would snuggle the sleeping bag around both
Carl and her,
and zip up the cargo cover to near their necks. At that tender age they would tend to fall
asleep after only a few minutes on the trail. By the time
each of them were about two though
they would stay awake much more of the time.
At three, Carl refused to sleep on the trail anymore and thoroughly enjoyed the best part
... 'going fast down the big hills!' Once they were older, we
still took along the sled for a
couple years to carry their extra gear and also to sometimes give them a needed break
on the trail. After they are totally weaned
from the sled, it becomes a very efficient way
to carry in gear for a winter camping trip.
As your children get older, they will want to participate in the sport themselves. We started
both Carl and Greta on the small bearpaw style Kitty Paws
when they were about two
years old, and they both handled them surprisingly well for short distances. Children
can also start to master the kick and glide of
cross country skiing at about the age of four.
Though they ski for only a short distance, and walk much more than they glide, they have
surprising agility and
really enjoy their accomplishments. As they get older they grow
naturally into the sports and soon handle the equipment with ease.
Though initially more expensive, good quality equipment will handle properly and efficiently,
and will generally last through several children. It
will also help a child to better appreciate
the equipment and the sport. If it fits properly, both the children and the parents will have
a much more enjoyable
Snowshoes for youngsters should not be too large, and especially not too wide. I've
had some 8 year-olds playing around on 11" by 63" Ojibwas - fun for a
short while, but
don't expect them to hike a mile on them! I suggest a pound of body weight per square
inch of flotation per snowshoe. That means the 5.5" by 20"
shoes are suitable for kids
up to about 40 pounds. Kids from about age 4 and up can handle the 8" by 25" bearpaw
styles until they need larger styles. Depending on
how large they grow to be at maturity,
they may never need shoes larger than that. A pair of my 8" by 25" Catpaws is all I ever
use for practically all of the
snowshoeing I do.
There are several varieties of waxless skiis available for children. Some use a special
boot that fits special ski bindings, while others use standard
ski boots. We found the
special boots and bindings to be the best for young children. The boots were high, like
winter boots, and the kids could stay warm and
dry while playing in the snow when they
took a break from skiing. Most any good mountaineering shop can help you fit your child
with proper skiis. Good
second-hand equipment is also sometimes available.
It's a good idea to practice around home with new equipment before heading to the hills.
This helps to gradually break in both the parents and the
children. Babies tend to adapt
pretty well, but by the time they hit the two stage, it's often helpful to prime them so they
know what to expect. We'd often show
slides or pictures of previous trips they had enjoyed
to get them looking forward to the next trip.
We'd also let them play with their equipment around home so they'd be familiar with it
on an outing. When choosing a trail to take them on with the sled, we
often chose moderate
trails that were fairly level or uphill on the way in. That way we could snowshoe the uphill
on the way in, and then have a nice ski down on the
Getting out often and playing with them in the snow helps a lot, too. A few winters back,
we built an igloo in the backyard from congealed snow the plow had
pushed out of the
driveway. Carl, who at 4 already loved camping out no matter what the conditions were,
slept with me in it for two nights. We couldn't convince
Greta though, no matter how hard
we tried. She firmly decided, even after reading some bedtime books in it that, "Me no
seep in igooo, me seep in mine bed!"
Once you become comfortable with taking the children out in winter, then you might
want to try some winter camping. If the youngsters are already adept
camping and they really enjoy the snow, there is little difficulty in adapting to camping
in the snow. It does help to choose your weather
carefully so you can avoid the extreme
cold. Choosing some of the milder winter weather also means that you won't have to
buy a lot of new equipment since most good
three season equipment will suffice for moderate
Pick a quality, roomy, and sturdy self-standing tent. Instead of buying a thick, limited
purpose winter bag, doubling up a three season bag with a
summer bag gives the needed
insulation for moderately cold winter nights. Also, boot and mitten liners can be put
in between the two bags at night to dry out.
Good thick foam pads, at least 1 inch thick,
and good quality down or fiberfill sleeping bags help make the long winter nights comfortable.
For extra comfort at night, and for fresh water in the morning, put a tightly sealed canteen
of warm water by your feet. In the morning, with a good
gasoline stove just outside the
tent door, you can cook and serve 'breakfast in bed'. Pack high-calorie foods and plenty
of carbohydrates since winter weather
really burns them up!.
Over the years, we've encountered few problems with the children enjoying the trip.
Snow seems to provide instant entertainment for children of all
ages ... whether it is a
40 year old who has never seen snow before, or an 8 year old who has seen it every winter.
Every hill is the start of a new adventure whether
on a sled or skiis, or snowshoes. Imagination
is the only limit to the design of a snowman, which can be a project for the whole family.
everywhere, and if nothing else you can just roll around in it and have a
As important as it is to keep the children happy, it is also good to take some precautions
so the parents stay happy, too. While there are some advantages
to winter hiking, there
is also more preparation. It is a good idea to pack the night before so that it is easier to leave
in the morning at a reasonable time.
And, don't feel defeated if it seems best to turn back
The important thought to remember is to have an enjoyable outing so everyone will want
to go again next time. With real young ones, start out early and
time the trips with naps
in mind. Also, be sure that you are in good physical condition yourself and can handle
whatever emergency might arise.
If you are not accustomed to taking your children out at all, I suggest starting family expeditions
during the summer months and continuing them into
the Fall and then Winter. Start small
on shorter hikes of maybe only an hour or so, and then work up to longer outings gradually
as the family becomes
accustomed to longer distances. It is also good to get out by yourselves
a bit and scout out new areas before taking the children along.
Because of extra gear and the colder weather, winter hiking is definitely more demanding
than summer hiking, but the rewards are immense and far
reaching. While you are enjoying
more family togetherness and sharing new experiences, the children are growing richer
in many ways. By providing my children
with a sense of awareness and enjoyment of
the outdoors in all seasons, I hope they will grow to appreciate the full meaning of wilderness
and be able to pass
that appreciation along to their own children...