It’s five o’clock on a Wednesday in the middle of winter. The sun is about to set and the streets are unappealingly slushy with days-old snow. In your cozy living room, the kids are bouncing off the walls, ready to release some energy after a long day indoors—and, if you’re being honest, the adults are, too!
Sound familiar? It’s challenging to get outside as often as we like in the winter. Traditional snow-based recreation activities, like ice-skating, snowboarding or cross-country skiing, aren’t always accessible or cost-effective. And sending the kids out to build yet another snow person loses its cachet after the novelty of the first few snowfalls wears off. Next time everyone feels stir-crazy, bundle up, step outside and break out one of the games from the list below.
- Best for: Exploring neighborhood nooks and crannies with a range of age groups.
- What you need: A white cloth; stick (garden stakes or wooden spoons also work well); watch or phone as a timer; excellent vision.
Tie a white cloth on a stick and then take turns hiding it in the snow for others to find. First, set boundaries for the game: the bigger the course, the harder the game. Then divide into teams, or give each individual a chance to hide the flag for everyone else. Be sure to bury the entire stick in the snow so it’s harder to find. Time each search—the person/team whose hidden flag takes the longest to find wins.
- Best for: Those in search of a simple team sport that gets you moving without requiring special skills.
- What you need: A ball; 4 bases made out of snow mounds and marked by colored water or leaves; a competitive spirit.
Like most things, this classic schoolyard game is more challenging in the snow. Teams can be as small as three or as big as fifteen. Build four bases, and start pitching or kicking! The rules are the same as baseball: Each team switches between offense (kicking) or defense (infield and outfield) every three “outs,” and the team with the most home runs wins. If you want to change up the game, it’s easy to switch to soccer or baseball instead (try using a stick for a bat and a pine cone for a baseball).
- Best for: A quick fix of big-body play outside when time is short.
- What you need: Rope; a line in the snow (marked by your foot, a rope or a branch); strong arms.
The more the merrier when playing this simple game. Don’t forget to bring your sense of humor in case you get a face-full of snow—slippery conditions make it a lot trickier to hold your ground.
- Best for: Getting your heart rate up while improving hand-eye coordination.
- What you need: Lots and lots of snowballs; quick reflexes; a sense of humor.
Draw out a volleyball-size court in the snow or set natural boundaries. Split into two teams, then retreat to the sidelines to create a pile of snowballs to tag out the opposing team. Ready, set, throw!
When someone is hit, he or she is out and stands on the sideline. If someone catches an offending snowball, the thrower is out. When all members of one team are tagged out, the game is finished or starts over. Make sure to set rules against aiming for the head or face to keep everyone safe.
- Best for: Filling long, empty afternoon hours with an easy-to-play leisure sport.
- What you need: 5 to 15 “holes;” a colored ball; “clubs;” patience.
Make your own course by creating holes out of half-buried cans, jars or cups. If you don’t have golf clubs, try using bats, hockey sticks, ski poles or branches to hit the ball. Flag each hole with a ribbon, stick or anything easily visible, and make sure to use a colored ball so you don’t lose sight of it. For an added challenge, try building snow ramps or pits, or weave your course around obstacles like trees.
- Best for: Those who crave fresh air, but need a reprieve from aerobic activity.
- What you need: Two different types of natural objects; a cunning mind.
Here’s a good one for anyone looking for a mellow outdoor game—no coordination or aerobic activity required. Draw a large tic-tac-toe board in the snow with your boot or a stick. Instead of drawing Xs and Os, have each player pick out five playing pieces from nature (e.g., one player is “pine cones” and another is “rocks”). When this game loses its appeal, draw out a hopscotch board instead.
Mystery Snow Art
- Best for: Curing cabin fever with a mellow mind-enriching game.
- What you need: A timer; clues; a stick; an active imagination.
Have everyone write a few one-word clues on scrap paper, or take premade cards from a real guessing game. Pair off in partners, then have one person on each team use snow as clay or a drawing board while your teammates try to guess the clue. Set a timer for one minute while teams compete to see who can guess the word first.
Pin the Smile on the Snowman
- Best for: Getting the whole family outside to laugh together.
- What you need: A scarf or bandana as a blindfold; assorted face parts from nature or your kitchen; good aim.
Team up to build a snowperson, but leave the face blank. Collect a variety of potential “features” for its face, such as lichen for hair, berries for eyes, or bark for the mouth. Blindfold each player and watch them try to pin on the eyes, nose, or ears (so many options!). For added chuckles, give the player a few spins once blindfolded.
- Best for: Running the wiggles out without having to follow many rules.
- What you need: An open area to run; healthy lungs.
There’s nothing like sprinting in circles to warm you up on a cold day. Just like the traditional version, whomever is tagged by the person who’s “it” has to stay frozen until another player tags them to free them. To make it more challenging, step only in the footprints already created by others: If you step out of a footprint, you become “it.”
Snow Field Pentathlon
- Best for: Big gatherings of active friends and families who aren’t afraid of a healthy dose of competition.
- What you need: Cardboard; ropes or flags as course boundaries; a branch or stick as a javelin; endurance.
For a bigger group that has a whole afternoon to fill, set up a wintry track-and-field competition at a nearby park. Below are a few ideas, but feel free to create as many events as you like.
- Snowman Hurdles: Build a series of snowpeople of varying heights to leap over as you run from point A to B.
- Target Practice: Paint a bull’s-eye on a piece of cardboard and assign each ring a different point value. Hang it on a tree or prop it against a rock and keep score as each competitor hurls three snowballs at the target.
- Relay Race: Pass a snowball between 3 or 4 sprinters as they race around a set course. If the snowball is dropped or melts, the team has to start over.
- Long Jump: Heap loose snow into a pit to create a soft landing zone, then draw a line a few feet in front of it. Take turns running then launching yourself into the pit from behind the line. Be sure to mark how far each person jumps.
- Javelin Throw: Toss a hefty branch as far as you can after a running start, trying to sink the tip of the branch into the snow.