I live in Minneapolis and we are trying to plan ahead of a COVID winter with no place to go. I have a 3-year-old (he'll turn 4 in February) and I love being outside with him in spring/summer/fall. Winter is less appealing to me, but I think we are going to have to figure out how to stay warm and enjoy the snow! Can you recommend the best possible outerwear (from head to toe) for suiting up to stay safe and active outdoors in the winter? Also, do you have any recommendations for activities (besides sledding) that he can get started on? Is he too young to ice skate? ski? snowboard? What are your thoughts on the best activities and gear for mom/kid duos who don't typically do winter sports?
Thanks for reaching out and good on you for thinking ahead to this winter! My kids are 7 and 5 and we lived in Fairbanks, Alaska for the last 6 years so I know how important it is to be able to get outside no matter the weather or temperature. Most of the advice I can give can be broken in to two categories: How to stay warm outside in the winter and What to do when you're outside in the winter.
How to keep your kiddos warm.
Layers, layers, and layers! My daughter's school sent students outside for recess in any temperature above -20°F. So my advice is based on working down to that range, and if it's any colder than that does anyone really want to be outside?
For feet, body, head and hands we would start with a base layer. For their feet, it would be a nice thick wool sock. For their bodies it was a midweight wool baselayer, and for their hands a liner glove. Fleece balaclavas for their heads. The trick is to keep these layers loose enough that they aren't restricting any blood flow to their extremities but also snug enough that they fit comfortably under other layers.
Over those base layers go mid layers: a heavier weight fleece pant and shirt.
Over those go their outer layers: Warm winter boots on their feet that are big enough to accommodate their socks and not be restrictive. Insulated bib-style snow pants and an insulated, hooded winter jacket (if it is REALLY cold then we may add a thinner down jacket under the heavy winter jacket). A warm hat that fits over their balaclava (again, if it is REALLY cold, we have adult size fleece neck gaiters that we put on them as well). On their hands they wear mittens that fit over their liner gloves and cinch down snug to prevent snow and cold air from getting in there.
Typically that does the trick for heading outside and being warm for a good hour or so of play time. Conditions can change that: if it's windy, or the activity involves less/more moving around, or if it's snowing, etc. The really important thing is to check on your kiddo, particularly their face where there may be some skin exposed, to make sure they're staying warm. It's important to do more than just ask if your kiddo is warm enough; they are more likely to say they're fine (even if they are getting cold) if they are involved in a fun activity they don't want to stop doing.
Also: triple check your kiddo has used the restroom before you suit them up!
What to do outside with kids in winter?
Once you're able to stay warm outside there are lots of activities you can enjoy with your kid in winter! If you have a Burley bike trailer you can add a Burley We! Ski Kit to the mix, which allows you to pull the trailer while you ski, snowshoe, or hike. Or, if you want to turn your kiddo loose on their own you can go with a pair of Madshus Snowpup Cross Country Skis with Bindings. One of the things my kids loved was pretty simple: when we finally got enough snow I used a snow shovel to shovel out a maze in the yard and let the kids play out there. We also found lots of adventure climbing around on the huge mounds of snow left from the snowplows on our street. Sledding is always fun, I made sure we had a pretty big sled that I was able to connect to a harness on my waist to make pulling my kids through the snow a little bit easier. My kids actually really enjoyed going to parks and playgrounds in the winter. Sliding off a slide into fresh snow is super fun!
I also recommend investing in a double wall insulated water bottle. Having warm cocoa on hand has saved many outdoor adventures for me and my kids!
The most important advice is to take it slow and easy and don't hesitate to pull the plug if your kiddo isn't feeling it that day. The most important thing is time outside that they have fun. That might only be 15-20 minutes at the beginning, but all that time adds up over an entire winter season!
Hopefully this helps, don't hesitate to reach out if you have more questions!
@sarahbobera Also Mpls here! Ok well, closer to St. Paul, and in the suburbs, but close enough... Ours is a bit younger and will turn 2 just before Christmas.
John has you pretty covered for clothing, I just want to say pay special attention to the hands. It's probably less so as our kids get older and move more themselves, but hiking around with her last winter, even bundled up her hands would get cold and clammy from not doing much while we carried her (either backpack style or trailer/stroller). But even getting more active, grabbing stuff with the hands has the potential to get that area more wet with snow melting from body heat. Kind of a trade-off between bulky, warm, waterproof vs. thinner but more maneuverable for little hands.
I don't know much about skating, but skiing and boarding should definitely be possible, I've heard they can start as young as 2 and hope to bring ours out at least once this year to introduce her to it if we can. If you're pretty new to ski/snowboard yourself, you might check out if Afton is still doing their "I Will Ski/Ride" series, which is 4 days of instruction for beginner adults, with lift passes included so you can keep practicing before/after the lessons, and you get to keep the skis/board and bindings at the end of the class! Still would need to buy your own boots, or keep renting (though having your own is SO much more comfy). The price for it all was VERY reasonable, only like $350 a person I think? Felt like stealing money for all that you got, though its pretty obvious the objective is to make lifelong skiiers to boost lift ticket sales both here and out west. We did it a few years ago and it was a blast have zero regrets. Only thing I don't know is if they'll still be doing that program because of COVID, I can't find current info about it.
Another thing we're doing because we're avid mountain bikers, we've been having our girl learn to ride a balance bike, and got the Strider snow skis for it, so she can bomb down sledding hills on that as well as a normal sled. they make some for their 14" wheeled bikes too. For myself I'm looking at getting a fat bike, and I've got a Shotgun kid's seat coming on Tuesday that I could throw on it if I end up getting the bike.
MN in general and the twin cities specifically have loads of great skiing in the winter. I understand that most ski resorts are going to try opening this year and kids ski free at most until a certain age. I started my kids at 2 years for alpine, but don't expect to be outside with them for more than 1-2 hours at the most. They do get bored/cold (even with the right gear because they keep taking it off). Kids are older now, but this past season, when everything closed early we would still get out into some smaller hills in the state parks.
Keep the energy positive no matter what they are doing, don't expect them to love it right away, but if you make the trip fun they will always ask to come back. We would frequently stop to climb a big snow pile, build a snow fort in the trees, look at some wildlife, or eat a snack.
Gear wise, toddler's downhill skis with bindings are cheap (~$100) and you can get get some Roces length adjustable ski boots so you don't have to keep buying them new ones each season. Leave the poles out until they master balance without them. Also a slope rope is way better than a backpack harness for alpine skiing and they are only about $20.
I personally wouldn't start with cross country skiing until they are over 5, but grab a pair of classic skis, find some flat terrain and pull them on a sled behind you. That is always fun and quite a workout!