Get Ready: Family Snow Adventures

It’s Friluftsliv Time!

Friluftsliv is a Scandinavian word that means “fresh air life.” The word encompasses a Nordic idea that even in the dark of winter, in the snow, in below zero temperatures, it’s essential that we get outside and connect with nature for our mental health and happiness, for our spiritual well-being. That goes for our kids as well. In the cold, snowy weather, and with pandemic rules on top of it, it’s easy to hunker down inside where it’s warm and comfortable and bake or binge our favorite shows. It’s also easier to keep our kids inside—kids don’t always like being out in the cold and even the thought of listening to them complain can sometimes feel like too much.

While staying inside feels easy and good at the moment, it doesn’t feed our souls. Fear not! With the right gear and preparation, it’s not too hard to get your kids out in the snow and have a fun family adventure. And being outdoors in the snow is a great way to be with friends and family while remaining socially distanced and safe. There are so many awesome things you can do together in the snow, depending on your kids’ ages and your abilities. 

Here is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) for snowy family adventures:

  • Sledding
  • Snow-shoeing
  • Fat tire bike riding
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Downhill skiing or snowboarding

The Right Clothes

Scandinavians have another great phrase relating to winter: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” This mantra is repeated by parents who insist their children spend time outdoors every day, no matter what the weather is doing. A few weeks back I wrote a blog called “Dress for Winter Weather.” Check it out for a more in-depth description of the best kid clothing for staying dry and warm in the snow. But here are the basics you’ll need:

  • Base layer: long johns (Merino wool is best)
  • Mid-layer: fleece jacket/pants
  • Outer layer: waterproof jacket or parka, waterproof rain pants or ski pants
  • Waterproof boots
  • Wool socks
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Hat (should cover ears)
  • Goggles (only needed if it’s snowing or you’re skiing)
  • NO COTTON! When cotton clothes get wet they stay wet—and cold.

Organize Your Gear

One of the main challenges to going on a snow adventure with your family is digging out all your winter gear and making sure you have everything you need. Forgetting any one thing (gloves!) can quickly put the kibosh on your whole day. The trick I’ve learned over the years is to keep everything you need in one spot. For me, that’s a big plastic tub. In the winter I keep the tub in the basement for quick and easy access. In the summer I move it out to the garage so it’s out of the way. Inside my big plastic tub are separate duffel bags for each member of my family. Each person’s snow clothes go in their bag. When the system is working, it takes less than 10 minutes to make sure all the gear is there, then load the tub or individual bags into the car. Set up your own system for a quick and easy exit:

  • Find an indoor area where you can stash a big bin and dry your clothes. A laundry room, mudroom, or any spare room will work.
  • Get a big bin & 1 small duffel bag per family member. The bags should be easy to tell apart or tie on colored strings.
  • Put up some hooks and a drying rack for drying out wet clothes.
  • After a day in the snow, everyone hangs their clothes on the hooks and drying rack.
  • The next day (or once everything is fully dry) clothes go back in bags, ready to use again.

Big plastic tub & individual bags for storing snow clothes

Hooks and drying rack for drying out snow clothes

The Night Before

Pack as much as you possibly can the day/night before so the morning is more relaxed (and maybe you can sleep 15 minutes longer).

  • Load gear into the car (skies, sleds, etc).
  • Make sure kids’ clothing bags are packed and sitting by the front door. You might even create a packing list the kids can check off themselves.
  • Have kids set out a base layer (long johns) to put on in the morning and wear in the car until you get to the snow. Then they’re not fully dressed and overheated on the drive. If you have snow right outside your door, lucky you, this step isn’t needed.
  • Pack lunches and snacks into a cooler and put it by the front door.
  • Make breakfast the night before, wrap in aluminum foil, and stick in the fridge. While you’re making coffee in the morning, pop the foil-wrapped breakfasts in the oven to warm. By the time you are loading kids in the car, breakfast is warm and ready to eat in the car. Put them in a paper bag, which doubles as your garbage can.

The Morning Of

Give yourself plenty of time in the morning so getting out the door isn’t super stressful. Especially if you’re heading to a spot that might be crowded (ski resort, popular sledding area) and you want to get there early. Kids need time to wake up and parents need time to get coffee. Eat a big, hearty breakfast. Something that will stick to your ribs and get your kids through until lunch, or snacktime. A protein of some kind is critical here. Eggs. Peanut butter. Bacon. Or veggie bacon. My family’s favorite rib-sticking, easy-to-make-the-night-before breakfasts are:

  • Egg bagels: toasted bagels with cream cheese/cheese, scrambled eggs, and sausage/sliced ham sandwiched inside. Veggie sausage or smoked salmon for vegetarians.
  • Breakfast burritos: hashbrowns or fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, cheese, and sausage wrapped in a tortilla. Sour cream and salsa optional. Veggie sausage or smoked salmon for vegetarians.

Also pack some tasty snacks for when your kids are drying out mid-day, or for the drive home. Some kid-friendly, car-friendly options:

  • Cheese sticks
  • Meat sticks
  • Granola bars
  • Fruit/dried fruit
  • Goldfish or any salty crackers

Kids Helping and Doing

Be sure to teach your kids your “getting out in the snow” system and let them help with all the steps. They can pack their clothing bags, help make food, help load and unload the car, and help clean up when you get home. Show them how then let them do the task on their own. Check their work after and give praise and pointers. Letting kids help and do gives them ownership of the adventure and builds life skills. Eventually, they will be able to have snow adventures all on their own and teach their own kids. But only if you let them. 

Keeping Kids Dry & Warm = More Time Outside

At some point, your child is going to get wet, and then they are going to get cold. This is the turning point. This is when you either have to pack it in and go home, even if you’ve only been out in the snow for an hour and it took you several hours to get there! Or you can help your kid get dry and warm up, and then get back out in the snow for more fun. Here are some tips for getting them warmed up and back outside:

  • Pack extra clothes. I use a separate bag packed just with extras. You’ll need an extra set of socks and gloves for every kid. If you have extra boots, that’s a good idea as well.   
  • Get some hand warmers. They are small enough to fit inside gloves or boots and are great for keeping hands and feet warm for hours. The most common brands are made from natural chemicals (iron, vermiculite, activated carbon, cellulose, salt) and can be composted in your garden. If you want a reusable option, there are some rechargeable pocket heaters on the market (like this one by Jomst), though they aren’t small enough to fit inside gloves. If you’re at home playing in the snow, a couple of small, microwaved potatoes will do the trick nicely.
  • Set up a warming spot wherever you are. A place where kids can get out of the snow and cold, take a break, and get dry and warm. If the law allows, you can bring a portable fire pit, or pack your car with blankets and entertainment (books, coloring supplies, etc). A few minutes of warming up by a fire or in a heated car is usually all it takes to get a kid back outside for the afternoon.
  • Bring treats! Even the promise of treats can be enough to keep a cold child going for one more hour. Here are some tried and true treat options:
    • Small treats: little chocolates or gummies that fit in your pocket can be used to motivate kids when you’re on the chairlift or want to go a little further on the trail. 
    • Drink treats: hot chocolate, hot Tang, or hot tea can be waiting in a thermos in the car for mid-day warm-up or end-of-day reward.
    • Snow-only treats: Pick an end-of-the-day reward that is special—something your family only gets when on a snow outing. Donuts are great. Make it a tradition your kids look forward to as they are pushing through their discomfort.

Keeping Kids Happy = Keeping Your Sanity

I’m not going to lie: being outside in the snow with your kids can be challenging, even if you are prepared. Ten years later, I still have powerful memories of my kids screaming at me on the ski slopes as I taught them to snowboard (which they begged me to do): “Why are you making me do this? I hate this! I hate you!” Kids get cold, which can lead to whining. Or yelling. Teaching your kids how to do different outdoor activities—whether that’s x-country, snowshoeing, or snowboarding—means they will be pushing their comfort level in many different ways. Sometimes they need someone to lash out at and you will be the closest, easiest target. If you keep your cool in these situations, they will pass, and eventually, your child will get better at what you’re teaching them and more comfortable in the snow. I promise.  

I asked a few parent friends who regularly adventure in the snow with their kids, “How do you keep your sanity?” Here’s what they said:

Liz and Piper, mountain rescue dog. Photo credit: Lynne Spencer

Liz: When they’re little, always leave them wanting more. Call it a day while they are still happy. They’ll be more likely to want to do it again.

Kristin, on right

Kristin: Go with friends (theirs and yours). Kids will stay out in the snow SO much longer if they are with their BFFs. And being with your friends keeps you happy too.

Ivo, center back row

Ivo: A pocket full of gummy bears for the kids. And cold beer at lunch for dad.

Tomorrow morning I am heading up to the snowy mountain with my teenagers and my younger niece and nephews for some family snowboarding time. Tonight we will all check our bags to make sure our gear is dry and packed. We will make and pack our breakfast and lunches. We will get our snacks and hot beverages ready to go. Then, when we wake up at o’dark-thirty, all we have to do is load the car and go. We’ll be ready for a full day of snowy family friluftsliv.