Polar explorer Eric Larsen shares his key strategies for building fun into every adventure.
Story by Eric Larsen
When I’m not out wrestling polar bears, scaling un-scalable mountains, or leading groups through gale force Antarctic blizzards, I’m at home with my family. You would think that the offspring of a polar explorer would inherently frolic in the snow and cold. However, getting my kids (ages six and three) out snowshoeing can be equally as challenging as a two-month polar expedition. In our house, where we are still reeling from the Terrible Twos and a kindergartner whom we once affectionately called The Ticking Time Bomb, I’ve learned a few key strategies over the past couple of years to make any snowshoe outing with children fun and exciting.
Become a snowshoe marketer
I wouldn’t call it brain washing per se… But we do spend a fair amount of time talking up the experience prior to any activity like snowshoeing. We talk about how much fun it is, where we are going to go, etc. Of course, you can also give an experience too much hype, so similar to any act of parenting, there is a happy medium (somewhere). Obviously, all kids are different, but ours aren’t quite ready to jump uninitiated into any new activity and the extra introduction and excitement provide context and lowers their level of concern.
Gear up and nerd-out the night before
Bottom line is that snowshoes are cool and when kids see them they “get it.” That said, it can take a little bit of time to size and adjust straps for kid-sized boots as well as relay the basic principles of snowshoeing.
One or two nights before heading out, I get out the snowshoes and let my kids check them out. I talk about how they work and why they are important. When they’re ready, I have them put on their boots and size the bindings accordingly. It should go without saying that using kid-specific snowshoes like the Tyker and Shift make this process possible. Adult snowshoes have adult-sized bindings, dimensions and will not adequately accommodate smaller feet and legs and as a result smaller stride and straddle.
Spend a few extra minutes on the outfit
Going outside in below freezing weather for any activity can be a challenging endeavor for kids. Personally, I adhere to the platitude: there’s no such thing as cold weather, just not enough layers.
However, children’s smaller bodies lose heat faster than you or I, which makes proper winter dress even more crucial. It is important to dress in layers, with lighter wicking base layers next to the skin, followed by insulation layers and then wind protection. I spend extra time to ensure that winter socks are pulled up high, mittens tucked into jackets, snow pants (and internal gaiters) are snug over boots. Nothing ruins a winter outing like snow seeping into ankles, wrists or neck (I’m a big fan of balaclava and neck gaiter for my kids). And while keeping warm is key, not getting too warm is equally important. If your kids get hot (which is surprisingly easy), don’t be afraid to stop and have them remove a layer.
Start on bite-sized adventures
As much as I want each adventure with my kids to be an epic that will become the cornerstone of our family lore, I generally like to start small. With my son, it was literally for 10 minutes around our yard—just to get the basic feel and balance.
After that, I choose well-marked, frequently traveled trails. Bottom line is to set reasonable goals and objectives… and don’t be afraid to scrap them along the way. Just the act of snowshoeing and being outside is fun for kids—so instituting martial law so you can force-march your family to a particular peak or overlook may have more negative repercussions than positive.
And while I don’t think weather (or temperature) should be a factor in getting outside in winter, choosing more mild versus severe winter conditions will increase your chance of success.
Get creative—make it fun
You can basically forget everything I’ve written except for this and still be a parental snowshoeing superstar: make it fun.
Bottom line, if it’s fun, your child will want to go again. Besides just enjoying the activity, we like to play follow the leader and tracking games (kind of like hide-and-seek), and make shapes and spell words in the snow with our snowshoes. Equally important for my wife, Maria and me, is to simply let our kids wander on their own while we follow behind. Allowing kids to follow their own curiosity builds their confidence and interest.
Hot chocolate. Period.
After year of effort, I really think my kids love being outside in winter and snowshoeing. It’s fun to see them becoming more comfortable and proficient. Of course, I can’t take all the credit. Don’t underestimate the value of a good bribe. We end each snowshoe adventure back inside, with clothes and boots drying over vents and a big cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows in front of each of them. Are there better ways to motivate your kids? Sure. But if you’re a parent, you get it. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Polar adventurer, expedition guide and dog musher Eric Larsen has completed more polar expeditions than any other American in history.
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