Adventure Action Adventure Ideas

10 Exciting Winter Sports for Kids and Families

Looking across to the Oldenhorn (Becca d'Audon) and down on the Glacier 3000 Alpine Coaster in Les Diablerets, Switzerland
Written by Kirstie Pelling

10 Winter Sports for Kids and Families

At the beginning of the year we kicked off our ultimate list of 100 outdoor activities for families. Our first post in the series was 10 family water sports activities including canoeing, sailing and rafting. In this second part we  wrap up well and prepare to slide, ride and glide through the coldest season of the year. Our list of winter sports for kids and families features ten activities we have tried and loved with our own kids at various ages. You don’t necessarily need skills; sometimes a sense of adventure is enough to get a flavour of these outdoor and indoor winter sports experiences and games. And sometimes giving it a go is more important than staying on your feet. Read on to unlock the action…and if you are looking for ideas for specific events take a look at our post on UK winter events, activities and sports….     

Ice Hockey- one of our winter sports for kids and families

We’ve got the skates but what do we do with the sticks?

What to do with kids in winter?

1 Have a go at Ski biking

The first sport in our list of ten winter sports to try is ski biking. It sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Biking in the snow. And I will admit it’s a little hard to get your head around at first. But once you have mastered it, it feels as natural as strapping on skis, but without the hassle and discomfort of snow boots. The first time we ride on the white stuff is in the resort of Chinaillonin the French Alps, where ESF ski biking instructor Jean-François Exertier lines us all up to show us the ropes of velo-ski. If you study the picture below you’ll see it’s like a cross between skiing and cycling, without a wheel to be seen.

Family ski biking in the French Alps

Family ski biking in the French Alps -one of our 10 winter sports for kids and families

This sport is a one of the best winter season activities if you have family members who haven’t yet learned to ski, or aren’t able to do high impact sports. You can take the ski-bikes on the lifts in the resorts to save tired legs. Jean-François became an ambassador for the activity when his neighbours started to manufacture the machines in their local iron workshop. He is still currently the only instructor who offers tuition in the five interconnected resorts around La Clusaz. Watch our video to see how we got on..

How to hire a ski bike

Contact the tourist information in the resorts around La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand to hire a velo ski and book some tuition. While this is quite unique to the area, you can hire bikes made for snow in many resorts across Europe. We also hired a mix of Fat Tyre bikes and electric mountain bikes and took to the forested areas near the slopes of Valmorel on a day out. Check out the video we made and see which kind of bike you fancy for your own snowy adventure.

 

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A taster of velo biking in the French Alps

Fat tyre and mountain biking on snow in Valmorel

2 Have a shot at winter biathlon

Biathlon combines two sports, Nordic skiing and shooting. It’s energetic and competitive so our kids love it. We have an introductory session while skiing late in the season in Le Grand Bornand. The children delight in watching each other falling over (there is also a faair bit of pushing as they race each other on cross country skis.) They enjoy being trusted to handle the air rifles and being able to compete with each other without parents telling them off for it. Le Grand-Bornand is famous for this winter sport; in 2013 it hosted the French Cross Country Skiing Championships and in 2017 it hosted the Biathlon World Cup.

Statue at the Stade International de Biathlon Sylvie Becaert in Le Grand Bornand

Statue at the Stade International de Biathlon Sylvie Becaert in Le Grand Bornand

We are taught biathlon by Alexis Bailly  who trains us a special area on a flat valley floor in the Vallée du Bouchet where 58 kms of cross country slope wind through nearby fields and forests. When we finally feel we know what we are doing with the air rifles, we practice Nordic ski techniques and then get racing. Who wins? We all claim we do. But the proof lies in the targets.

Shooting targets at 10m on a biathlon taster session at Le Grand Bornand, France

The tension mounts as Cameron takes aim at a 10m target on our biathlon taster session at Le Grand Bornand

How to do biathlon

You’ll need help to have a go at biathlon. There are many companies in the French Alps that can rent you the equipment, guide and track for a couple of hours. Ask at the tourist information in your resort. As well as the traditional biathlon you can do a laser version that particularly good for kids that might not have the dexterity to handle a rifle. It’s great for Star Wars fans too obviously. Although you definitely won’t look like Luke Skywalker as you awkwardly shuffle around the cones.

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Shooting and skiing – a grand biathlon double

3 Jam yourself into a Snow tube

You don’t need any skills for this sport; even a toddler can do it. But equally you might need to leave your pride at home; you won’t look your best self when your backside is jammed into an over-inflated tyre and you are squealing “wheeeeeeeeee!” as you hurtle down a smallish slope. For stuff to do in the winter months goes, ski tubing is up there with snow balling. Huge fun for all the family; we did ours at our local ski slop the Chill Factore in Manchester.

Help me out of this tube at the Chill Factore

Who’s for a snow tube at Manchester’s Chill Factore?

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Does my bum look big in this snow tube? 

4 Ride into the night on a Piste Basher

Riding a snow plough is one of the loveliest and loneliest winter activities I have ever done. There’s nothing like taking to the high slopes after all the skiers have gone home and the sun is going down. If you are lucky the sun will go down for you in a spectacular fashion, like it did for us. You can book the experience in many tourist resorts. We did it in La Molina in the Spanish Pyrenees. The driver picked us up from the bottom of the slopes, gave us ten minutes to wander around at the top and took us back down again a couple of hours later when it was dark. I wonder what he thinks about every night as he ploughs that solitary track, making the runs smooth for early morning skiers.

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Hitch a ride on a piste basher for a lovely, lonely experience

5 Enjoy the atmosphere of night skiing

Night skiing is available at many ski resorts and it is worth paying the extra fee to give it a try. Why? The slopes feel very different in the muted light and if you can shake off the rest of your party and other skiers, it feels more edgy and adventurous. And then there’s the party at the bottom; many slopes have music, lights, and cocktails to accompany the action. Look out for ski jumping on inflatable pillows to see the sunset from the air. I filmed one of my runs down at the Spanish resort of La Masella. Check it out.

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Blast into the dusk with family night skiing

6 Slide into ice skating

Teeny tots glide and twirl in leotards and tiny skirts. I shuffle in an oversize jacket and shoes that won’t do what I tell them to. But my coach Mandy Worth says I’m doing ok, so I cling onto that. That’s when I’m not clinging onto the side. The kids of course are fine.

Learning to Skate at National Ice Centre Nottingham

Learning to Skate at National Ice Centre Nottingham

Mandy’s job at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre is to train young skaters to be part of team GB. Mandy has been a short track speed skating teacher for 30 years and competed in the 1980 Olympics. Her eldest son is also a national coach. Her daughter in law was a competitive figure skater. “That’s one over achieving family” I’m thinking as I keep awkwardly shuffling. Nottingham ice rink is home for the GB short track speed skating team and more famously where Torville and Dean began. The only sign of them today is their costumes, draped on cardboard cut outs. I am wondering if I can get a cardboard cut out of myself so I can nip off for a coffee and leave the others to glide.

Torvill and Dean costumes at National Ice Centre Nottingham

Go ice skating and you might meet a famous skater or someone like me pretending to be a cardboard cut out

If ice dancing is more your thing, but you aren’t the professional yet, find an ice disco at your local ski resort when on a ski trip, Here’s how we got on in La Clusaz:

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Beginner’s ice skating lesson at the National Ice centre 

Ice dancing and other spring treats at La Clusaz in the French Alps

7 Treat the family to a toboggan run

Cold weather sports don’t come more exciting than this. And many ski resorts offer tobogganning all year round so you can get your fix on a summer Alpine holiday as well. The Glacier 3000 Alpine Coaster in Switzerland is the highest toboggan run on rails in Europe. We blast down in the individual bob sled carts, each choosing our own speed. Have a look at the video and see if you fancy it.

How to go tobogganing

We have been tobogganing all over the world. It’s usually cheaper than lift passes for skiing but the cost can mount up as a family. In a couple of resorts we split a book of tickets between us and had two goes each. Or to do it really cheaply, find a bivvie bag and some snow for a DIY adventure as we did in the UK’s Lake District.

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Glacier 3000 toboggan run

Lake District bivvie bag DIY tobogganing

8 Clash sticks at family ice hockey

Ice hockey is fun to watch and even more fun to play. And it doesn’t matter about the weather is it’s in classic indoor winter sports territory. But it is a brutal affair and not for the faint hearted. We join in a group training session at La Rosiere in the French Alps. Most of the other people are French. And most have done it before. The brief training is a bewildering mix of drills and the subsequent games are carnage; with everyone crashing into each other and the sides. Someone puts the kids and Stuart into a family team. They are hopeless. And then suddenly Matthew is doing ok in goal. They are still utterly rubbish, but at least they are upright. They declare it one off their favourite winter sports games until they discover they have lost. Take a look at the video to see how they got on..

How to have a go at ice hockey

Check with your local ice rink to see if they offer lessons. Or ask at tourist information on your ski holiday about winter sports games and activities. It beats staying in and overeating fondue surely?

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Learning ice hockey as a family

9 Ice axes ready for glacier hiking

We first try glacier walking when the kids are tweens. In the southern reaches of Iceland, on the Oaefajokull tongue of the Vatnajökull glacier, the teeth of their crampons crunch lightly on the thin layer of ice. For obvious reasons people like us aren’t encouraged to go randomly walking on glaciers in the Vatnajökulspjodgardur National Park but there are plenty of companies that can take us up there and show us around. You can ride a skiddoo, climb vertical walls or just head out for a hike. You may have to cope with the idea of your kids having ice axes though. Every time we pause to learn about the glacier, the boys hack away at the ice. There’s an even more exciting experience to follow though: our guide Jón Heider Rúnarson holds them by the waist as they peer down into a hole that stretches down further than we can see.

Glacier Boys with Ice Axes

Boys, glaciers and ice axes

How to walk on a glacier

Seek out a company that can offer you a guided walk. Or find a mountain that offers public glacier walking as an attraction; like the glacier hiking we did at Les Diablerets in Switzerland. There were even people running past us in a mountain race.

In Ice Arch on Glacier

Bit nippy around here? That’s the thing about winter adventure activities, they are always bloomin’ glacial

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Glacier hiking on Skaftafell

An independent walk on Glacier 300o in Switzerland

Skywalk on Dachstein Glacier in Austria

10 Laugh a lot at cross country skiing

The basics of cross country skiing are really easy to learn. It’s once you get out there and start trying to snow plough in fixed grooves that you start falling over. By mid afternoon it is clear to us that mastering the sport might take longer than a day. But we are having so much fun sliding through the woods and falling over that we don’t care. Cross country or Nordic skiing is cheaper than downhill and a qualitatively different experience, more like hiking on skis. Out of all the cold weather sports it’s one of the most peaceful, and a great back to nature experience, as long as you can laugh quietly.If you don’t fancy any ski action then try strapping some snow shoes to your feet and going for a walk through the forested areas.

Read more:

Falling Over Fun: Nordic Skiing at Guils Fontanera

Snowmobile on Dachstein Glacier

We’d have included snowmobiling in our winter sports list f anyone had let us have the keys

Further reading:

Got an appetite for further adventure? Check out our top 10 water activities list which kicks off our mega list of ‘100 things to do before your kids leave home.’  More articles on family adventure sports will follow soon so keep an eye out!

 

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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