Turn Your Kid into a Cross-Country Skier

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As a lifelong skier who has never lived farther than two hours from a ski resort, I was terrified when I became pregnant with my first child. I had no idea how I’d do at parenting a baby, and—just as important—I feared a “mini me” might impede on my ski time.

Yes, this sounds beyond selfish. And if you’re a skier, you get it. Luckily, when my first son, Scout, was born, I worked at the National Sports Center for the Disabled, at the base of Winter Park Resort, Colorado. Winter Park also had employee daycare, which meant I could work, breastfeed Scout, work a bit more, and then head out onto the slopes to get my daily fix of vertical. Not that I always did this alone. If Scout was fussy, I blended my two “responsibilities” by bundling him into a backpack and schussing Winter Park’s gentlest slopes.

Same went for the birth of my second son, Hatcher, also born during my Winter Park heydays. Along we went, until the boys were 10 and 11. But that year, 2011, I learned that I was pregnant with a third child, a daughter. Not that her gender made one bit of difference; I still saw the direct correlation between how many ski days I could squeak in each season and how well I could parent.

By now, we lived in yet another ski town, this one Nederland, Colorado. Not 15 minutes from our house lies the small but worthy ski resort of Eldora. We don’t love Eldora’s alpine terrain (which we like to joke is “the best East Coast skiing in the West”), but I am addicted to its Nordic center, with 42 kilometers (27 miles) of some of the steepest, most difficult groomed skate and classic trails of any Nordic center. Another bonus: right after my daughter Hollis was born, I was gifted a Chariot—that blessed kid-carrying buggy upon which you can attach wheels for running or biking, or, skis to—you said it. For the last three winters, I’ve spent several days per week pulling Hollis up and down Eldora’s trails, getting a skate-skier’s high (like a runner’s high but better), whittling my waist, and revealing muscles I didn’t know I had before skate skiing.

But here’s the catch. A good mother also wants to provide the goods for her kids. This meant delivering them unto my favorite cross-country trails, which I also knew would make them stronger, more balanced, and rock-solid alpine racers. As you’ve probably heard, Nordic skiing burns more calories per hour than any sport known to humans. It’s also soft on the joints, so you can continue doing it almost forever.

But what child in his right mind wants to work to ski when he can ride a lift and let his skis work for him? I’m guesstimating, oh, .5 per 1,000, so I asked Lee Tollitson, a diehard Nordic skier, who started the Nederland middle school ski team back in the 1970s, for some pointers on how to get children to love cross-country skiing. Lee had several good ideas, including the following:

  1. Always have a treat along for kid quick energy (lemon drops, M&Ms, dried mangos, etc.).
  2. Play “I Spy” (I spy a green sign, red cone, green old-man’s beard, lightning strike, etc.).
  3. Play skiing “Leap Frog”: Leap over a crouching skier’s body.
  4. “Tunnel Tag” on skis: Freeze with legs apart if tagged; the other skier must ski under your legs to melt you. All kids know this game—just not on skis!
  5. Treasure hunt: Make signs (age appropriate) to guide them to a location; graduate to a ski-orienteering course.
  6. Soccer on skis.
  7. Jumps on skis (90 degrees, 180, 270, 360) with skis parallel.
  8. Three-legged relay (outer ski on, inner off, and arms around partner’s shoulders).

I had no idea about any of these games when I imposed cross-country skiing on Scout and Hatcher. Yet they followed me down the rolling trails, obedient children. Don’t get me wrong: They also whined, and cried and collapsed on the snow, so I’d take them inside the Nordic center for hot chocolate. But I know I did something right by insisting they become cross-country skiers. This past Christmas, though Scout asked for—and received—a kick-a** pair of fat skis, Hatcher asked for—and received—a sweet pair of adult skate skis. And ever since, he has begged to come with me every time I go out to chase my addiction.

Let’s hope, when she’s old enough, Hollis does the same.