It’s not easy to raise little Nordic skiers. After all, we’re competing against the thrill of downhill sports, the tug of year-round club sports, and trying to teach them a discipline that isn’t always the easiest sport to master. But with a little creativity and patience, you can instill a love of cross-country skiing in your child that will carry them through to adulthood.
1. Expose them young.
Bringing babies and toddlers along for the ride teaches them that outdoor play is part of family life. Infants can travel in front packs, older babies and toddlers in pulk sleds or Chariots, which you can rent at most Nordic resorts and centers (hint: pulk sleds are easier for skate skiers to pull).
2. Keep it short and sweet.
Toddlers aged two or so may love to simply clomp around in the boots and wave the poles. Consider a few shuffled steps a victory! For older kids, find a flat and friendly practice loop and keep outings short—15 to 25 minutes for little ones, about an hour for older kids. And go when weather and conditions are kid-friendly.
3. Offer incentives.
“Can you ski to the red barn? Can you beat Mommy to the big tree?” Making a game of skiing is easy, especially if you pack rewards—a few gummy bears in a pocket or an energy bar at the end of the loop work well to keep little ones motivated.
4. Make skiing part of the family culture.
Ring in the New Year with a moonlight ski. Attend races and enjoy the colors and excitement. Invite friends over for post-ski chili and s’mores. Celebrate the lifestyle you associate with skiing with your kids and they’ll embrace it.
5. Get the right gear.
Rent gear that’s sized and selected for your child to prevent blisters or fumbling on too-long skis.
6. Stop and explore.
We may power head-down through our daily 15k, but kids have an innate gift of wonder and knack noticing everything. Let them inspire you to really look at the winter landscape. Hunt for signs of animals—tracks, burrows, scat. Look for icicles and frost patterns, talk about the forests and meadows you travel through.
7. Let them compete.
Don’t underestimate the inspiration of a cheering crowd and some cowbells! Kids are naturally competitive, and the thrill of a race setting might just inspire older kids to really dig in. Most major races and events have a kids’ component where little ones can race in a fun and friendly setting for free.
8. Find a lesson program.
Most Nordic Centers offer kid-specific instruction. Some even have free or extremely low-cost lessons that not only help turn your child on to the sport, but also give parents a chance to nip out for a quick ski.