The winter season offers many wonderful opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoors. When you and your kids participate in a winter sport, you’ll gain the benefits of playing outside in the fresh air and being active. Learning a new sport together can enhance family relationships as well as boost your children’s confidence and self-esteem. We talked with winter sports experts at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont, to get their thoughts on what makes winter recreation so special.
The nature connection. Chris Rice is the manager of operations for Peak Expeditions, which runs the ice climbing and Via Ferrata programs at Smugglers’ Notch Resort. He says, “Getting outside in the winter gives people the unique experience of enjoying and being active in nature while having fun and challenging themselves. Here in Vermont, the winter season offers some of the most picturesque landscapes and beautiful scenery in New England. Smugglers’ Notch is one of the premier ice climbing locations in New England. Whether rappelling into an ice canyon or climbing up a frozen waterfall, we like to connect people to environments that many never get to experience. That connection to nature is special and fulfilling.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing also provide a connection to nature, notes Paul “PK” Kayhart, at the Smugglers’ Nordic Center. “Participating in either sport can be a nice way to get outside and take in winter’s beauty at the pace you choose. Enjoy the countryside with friends and family or enjoy touring in peaceful solitude.” You might let the kids lead the way and explore by looking for animal tracks in the snow or identifying trees by their bark. Kayhart observes Smugglers’ visitors enjoying guided treks for families that talk about animal habitats and forest heritage, a vacation highlight that encourages kids’ interest in the natural world.
Don’t be surprised to find that being a part of the winter landscape prompts big grins and feelings of exhilaration. “I love the way my kids hoot and holler as they go down the slopes,” laughs Harley Johnson of Smugglers’ Snow Sport University®, which, as part of its children’s ski and snowboard curriculum, connects kids to nature with fun activities, such as visiting Father Winter in his teepee on Morse Mountain.
Being active. Smugglers’ experts put the emphasis on having fun for families interested in winter recreation, but they are quick to highlight the health benefits of these outdoor sports. And you don’t have to be a pro to gain these health benefits. According to Kayhart, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing provide a great low impact and whole body workout. He adds, “Both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can be beneficial for a variety of other reasons, such as improvement of balance, working the body’s core, and mental refreshment and stimulation. Don’t forget about the bonus calorie burn due to the cold!”
Downhill skiing and snowboarding also have aerobic benefits, while engaging lower body muscles as well as the core, notes Johnson. Of ice climbing, Rice says, “It is a great leg and core workout that can really improve a person’s balance, while requiring a lot less arm and grip strength than people think.”
Personal growth. Look for a program with a focus that works with your family’s preferred learning style. For instance, Peak Expeditions programs are designed with the “challenge by choice” model in mind, which Rice explains as “we encourage people to push themselves a bit, but there is always a fun way of achieving success.” Johnson notes that sometimes beginners may be wary of a new experience, and having the support of a professional instructor can enhance a newbie’s skiing or riding experience through tips and guidance. Don’t be shy about communicating your needs to program staff.
With young children, Johnson suggests talking about the activity in advance so that kids are prepared for it. This can help alleviate any nervousness they may feel and help them to proceed confidently. “It’s a good idea to discuss expectations with them ahead of time. It is important to keep their expectations reasonable so that they are not disappointed,” she says, pointing out that sometimes, young beginner skiers and riders think they will be riding the chairlift or doing tricks right away. “Remind them that there is a lot of fun to be had in developing the skills that prepare them for the next level. Tell them that even ski and snowboard instructors take lessons to polish their skills. Let them learn at the rate they are comfortable with, and that will build their confidence. Each milestone can be a family celebration.
Rice of Peak Expeditions strongly believes in the personal benefits of winter outdoor activities. He notes, “Getting outdoors for these activities is a fun way for people to develop self-confidence, trust and communication skills. Leaving one’s comfort zone a little really pushes personal growth and can be a great way to grow as an individual, group, and family.” Continuing to relive such experiences through shared memories and storytelling enhances family bonding just as much as participating together in the actual activity. Alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing are all sports that families can enjoy together and pursue as lifelong hobbies.
We hope you and your family are ready to choose a winter sport that’s right for you and that you’re excited to play in the snow this winter!