When my husband and I invite kids to go cross-country skiing with us, they’ve been known to run and hide, or slink off and call their parents to come get them. When we ask parents to bring the family along, they usually hem and haw and say they really should get their kids out skiing—after all, it’s one of the healthiest, cheapest sports around—but usually they don’t go. They know their kids will whine.
Which would leave me thinking that kids and Nordic skiing just don’t mix. Except that we have already raised two daughters both of whom turned into Nordic ski champions. The sport has kept them in shape and opened doors they never dreamed of. Since they attended Glen Lake High School where there was no Nordic team, the girls competed on their own, but they trained with the Traverse City high school teams. And from that experience, I know children can learn to love this sport. I saw some 50 of them turn up for practices and races in the coldest weather, smiles spread from ear to ear, for the six years that spanned my daughters’ raising careers.
Our youngest child is 11. He tagged along after his sisters for years, but now we are watching him make this sport his own. He soars down trails, hops snow-covered logs, helis off of small banks–a lot of fun, and it’s all free.
My husband and I are learning that four things have to happen for kids to get into this sport. Number one is the right equipment. For some reason, parents buy downhill skis, snowboards, computer games … if they actually buy cross-country equipment for their kids it is generally some used system that doesn’t fit right and is frustrating to get on. My husband and I recommend the trade-in program at Cross-Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon—invest once, then bring it back the next year when your child grows and exchange it for new equipment. If it’s a drive for you, then make a day of it. The Cross-Country Ski Headquarters has great family-trails and a nice little lodge.
Number 2: Get them out an early age and often so that they are on the upside of the learning curve before they are self-conscious. Usually that means fighting some whining. But kids often whine about things that they end up liking. Couple tips: keep the skis short and on easy terrain. Maybe you have enough room in your backyard to track a little loop? If it’s dark before you can get out there, pick up some $20 Black Diamond headlamps at Back Country Outfitters in downtown Traverse City. Make it fun—have relays, treasure hunts …
Number 3: Take them to a high school ski race. Kids can’t believe it when they see how athletic this sport really is. The Traverse City team races pretty regularly at Timber Ridge. Take your kids out on the trail and cheer the skiers on. Then treat them to a hot chocolate and a hot dog. There’s a cheap family night they won’t forget.
Number 4: By the time they are approaching middle school, skiing kids need to meet other skiing kids. Connect with skiing families who have children your kids ages; sign them up for the Traverse Junior Nordic Club–it meets at Timber Ridge; if you live out in Leelanau County, know that my husband just started an afternoon club with kids from Glen Lake School. (Peter Edwards: 231-334-3080 if you think your child might be interested). We are thrilled to see that 10 children turned out this first year. Most of them could barely ski on the first day. He’s working with them at the Reindeer Run Nordic Center and they are making tremendous progress. A few nights ago I got to go to the practice. I’m happy to report that no one went and hid or called parents to come save them. But there were plenty of smiles.