Keeping the kids active during the snowy months, spending time as a family, and getting your cardio in — there are tons of reasons why heading outdoors for a couple of hours of cross-country skiing is a great idea. And while gliding across freshly-traced tracks makes for an awesome winter outing, there are a few things you’re going to want to consider before you venture out.
From signing up the kids for lessons to dressing for the weather, here are a few tips for those new to the activity
Ease into it
Starting off in the sport is relatively easy. There are no long lift lines like with alpine skiing, it’s generally not crowded along trails, and is fairly budget-friendly — so it’s a good outdoor activity for families to do together with their young kids.
For those too young to glide along behind, ski trailers (sometimes called pulks) make it easy to take your young kids skiing with you. Practice towing your empty trailer up and down hills and become accustomed to the added weight before tucking in your youngster. Be sure to read all product safety instructions in the product’s user manual and check on your child regularly to make sure they’re comfortable and warm enough.
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Kids can start cross country skiing on their own as toddlers, as the free-heel motion of classic skiing technique closely resembles walking. For young children, there are wax-less ski sets that simply strap onto regular boots, so you can stick close to home while they shuffle around the yard or the park. Practice with the gear ahead of time — at home on carpet works — so that you’re not scrambling with cold fingers once out on the trailhead.
When they’re comfortable, pick manageable routes with lots of rest spots and snack opportunities, and end your outing before they’re tuckered out. You want them to have a fun, successful time. You can always travel further on the next trip out.
Always. Bring. Snacks.
Bring along plenty of water and more snacks than you think you’ll ever need. For an extra special outing, pack an easy picnic and a blanket to spread out on the snow for al fresco dining.
Dress the kids in warm layers and have plenty of extra waterproof gloves and dry clothes in case they get wet and cold (there’s going to be lots of falling) or work up a sweat. Bring a small backpack to hold wet belongings or clothes you shed along the trail.
Consider taking lessons
Cross-country skiing is relatively easy to learn, but lessons will ensure that everyone starts off on the right foot.
This winter, GUEPE (a Montreal educational nature organization) is offering Jack Rabbit cross-country ski lessons for children 6 to 13 years old in four of Montreal’s large Nature Parks (Cap-Saint-Jacques, Bois-de-Liesse, l’Île-de-la-Visitation, and Pointe-aux-Prairies). In the 8 week course, given between Jan. 8 and Feb. 26, kids will learn to ski — while having fun of course! For more information visit guepe.qc.ca/cours-de-ski-de-fond-montreal where you can also find info about adult ski lessons.
Cross-country ski lessons are back this year in Mount Royal Park and take advantage of the park’s 22 kilometres of groomed trails. There are different classes for a variety of age ranges and abilities, including those as young as 4 in the Jeannot Lapin level. Lessons include warm-up exercises, technical exercises, and a variety of games to help kids practice. Children also take part in short or long outings depending on their group’s skill level and progressions. Check the website of Les amis de la montagne at lemontroyal.qc.ca/en/youth-cross-country-ski-program for more information and details.
And off-island, you can take lessons in Saint-Lazare’s Les Forestiers nature park with The Club Ski de Fond Sud-Ouest. Visit skidefondsudouest.ca for information on programs and schedules.
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Where to go
If your kids (or you) are just learning to cross-country ski, find groomed trails that have classic ski tracks and marked distances (so you don’t stray too far). The mechanically groomed Riveraine trail offers a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence River for over 21 kilometres, from Parc Summerlea in Lachine and through LaSalle to Parc Arthur-Therrien in Verdun. Many of Montreal’s large parks such as La Fontaine Park, Maisonneuve Park, Angrignon Park, and Jeanne Mance Park offer tracks over flat terrain where families and beginners can test out their skills.
Groomed tracks make it easier for beginners to glide and helps keep their skis straight. When they’ve gained confidence, balance, and stamina, you can try heading off onto a trail with fresh powder. Follow your city or borough’s Facebook page as some even offer free rentals and try-it-out sessions!
Get advice from the pros
If you are purchasing equipment, visit a specialized shop beforehand (Poubelle Du Ski and Austrian Ski Shop are two in Montreal). Staff will be able to advise you on the right ski length according to weight and experience and offer suggestions on gear including wax, boots, and poles. You can also consider lightly used equipment, or trying out rental equipment for a day or a season.
Get active, stay warm, and most of all, have fun!