The author and his daughter ski along the base of a large ice flow in this image taken by renowned Adirondack photographer, Frank Houck.
As a youngster growing up in the Adirondacks, I learned early on how to enjoy the winter and it’s many offerings, which ranged from snowball fights to snow forts, sledding, snowshoeing, skiing and skating
I learned to embrace the winter at a young age, and how to take advantage of the recreational opportunities it offers.
In fact, until recently, I’d nearly forgotten about the many evenings spent atop the town hill tossing snowballs at passing cars. My memory was jogged just the other night, when a group of hooligans peppered my car with snowballs as I drove past the former scene of my crimes.
Adirondack winters can be the most extensive of all seasons, with snow storms typically arriving by October and the last of the snowpack hanging around until early May.
If a person doesn’t know how to enjoy winter sports activities, it can become the cruelest of all the seasons, and up north, there is simply no way to avoid it. In fact, it is a key component the Adirondack culture. Most local kids know how to jump start a car by the age of 10 and by then, they’ve already been shoveling sidewalks for at least a couple of years. Around here, there’s more money to be made shoveling snow than in mowing lawns.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to introduce many guests to the joys of winter travel; but my greatest pleasure was derived in the process of introducing my own children to the joys of the season. They ski, skate, play hockey and both spent time with the luge and bobsled.
I’ve often been asked what’s the most appropriate age to start a child on skis, snowshoes or skates. My standard response is, “As soon as it’s comfortable for both you and the kids!”
Comfortable is the key word. Kids are high energy and can be easily entertained with minimum equipment and minimal instruction. However, the main focus is having fun for everyone involved. Skis, skates or snowshoes are really winter’s toys. Sleds are a helpful tool for when the kids get tired.
Kids have a lower center of gravity, and if they fall the don’t have far to go. In fact, most kids like to fall in the snow, provided they are dressed properly.
My children have been on skis and skates from an early age. They began with boot binding skis, the type which allowed them to wear warm winter boots. They first learned how to slide, shuffle, fall and get up on the living room carpet.
Skiing is comfortable indoors as it’s warm, there’s no deep powder, no cold mittens, no runny noses and it really generates great enthusiasm for getting outdoors.
When they finally advance to real snow, it’s important to remember they have short attention spans and mostly, they just want to have fun. Don’t exceed their tolerance level, and try to stop while they still want more.
Be sure to pay attention to the weather and don’t attempt outings in bitter cold or windy conditions. Be sure to dress kids accordingly and keep the lessons to a minimum. It is helpful to have a hill nearby, but not too steep. Even if they can’t kick and glide; they will want the skis to slide.
Strive to make the experience exciting and entertaining for them, and be sure to quit before they are bored or get too cold, and always keep a sled handy, just in case! It’s has to be fun, or it’s done. Keep some hot chocolate handy.
If you want to instill a child with the desire to pursue the activity, whether skiing, snowshoeing or skating; be certain it is on their terms. Make their winter outings exciting and adventurous, and set simple yet achievable goals with a reward in mind.
We took a lot of home videos which are much easier to accomplish today than they were 15 or 20 years ago. Videos are great fun for them to watch their progress on TV, and it’s easier for parents to point out helpful techniques. Kids will strive to succeed if their parents are enthusiastic and involved.
Always quit the activity while you are ahead, and leave them wanting more, rather than wishing they could quit. Keep in mind that whatever the activity, it needs be for their satisfaction not yours! A ski lesson that degenerates into a snowball fight is still good fun; even if it signals the end of the lesson.
I believe that skating is best accomplished first in an arena and similar to alpine skiing; it helps to have professional instruction. It is always better to have children learn these skills along with someone their own age and ability.
Positive reinforcement brings better results than negatives, so be sure to encourage rather than criticize. You can lead by example, but just go at a slower pace.
Nordic skiing and snowshoeing lessons can easily be handled by most parents. For either activity, I find it best to set groomed tracks appropriate to the width of the child’s stride. Ski or snowshoe tracks that are comfortable for an adult may be too wide for a small child to straddle and can cause them to be off balance.
As children progress in skill, endurance and enthusiasm, it will soon be time to graduate from the backyard to a local nordic ski center. Be sure to upgrade their equipment appropriately since nothing hampers their development more than a pair of ski boots or skates that are too tight or skis that are too small.
When a child attains the skills necessary to enjoy the winter environment, their opportunities for positive recreational experiences are virtually unlimited. Parents and children will develop commonality and a set of shared skills that will result in an indelible recreational bond. According to recent reports, there are currently more people enjoying winter sports today than ever before. This is likely due to the advances in clothing, the availability of lighter and easier to use equipment, and a progressive and proactive winter sports industry.
It is important to realize that studies indicate the majority of lifelong skiers began skiing by the time they were in the 4th grade.
The research didn’t stop with just winter sports. Further studies indicate the majority of lifelong outdoor travelers were initiated to outdoor sports at a similarly early age, typically by their father, an Uncle or a close family friend.
The lack of structured entertainment centers such as movie theaters, social centers or YMCA’s in most Adirondack communities, should not be considered a negative factor; especially if parents and community leaders make the effort to provide similarly enjoyable positive recreational opportunities.
The community of Tupper Lake has long been a leader in this regard, with their continuing volunteer efforts to reopen Big Tupper Ski Area, and to develop a new, outdoor municipal skating rink. These new developments follow the successful effort to upgrade their local movie theater and bring it into the digital age. There is more to be done, but it’s obvious the community is well on the way.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.