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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!