Enjoying Cross Country Skiing with Kids: 17 Tips For Success

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Unlike many other winter sports, cross country skiing is the most easily accessible winter sport to get into, since all you really need are skis, a trail, and some snow. If you’re looking to get your family into skiing, but aren’t ready to take on the financial costs of downhill skiing, make sure to try cross country skiing with kids.

Before you head out, there are a few things to keep in mind when going cross country skiing with your kids. Cross country skiing is an excellent way to spend time outdoors and bond with your children, but it does take some preparation and a bit of work. In this article we will present 17 tips that can help you enjoy cross country skiing with kids!

Tips for cross country skiing with kids

Before You Go Cross Country Skiing with Kids

Keep in mind that cross country skiing is a VERY aerobic activity. While it will likely start out cold, once your body is moving, you’ll easily work up a solid sweat. To make sure that you don’t get soaked and too cold later on, it’s important to dress in layers. That means a high quality base layer made of merino wool or other synthetic base layer material (check out our favorite kids’ base layers), and then a mid-layer and outerwear that can be easily taken off if you’re getting too warm.

Staying Fueled and Hydrated While Cross Country Skiing

Since you’ll be working so hard, it’s important that you stay properly fueled and hydrated while cross country skiing. A few hours before you go, have everyone in the family drink LOTS of water (we typically do 16 oz for the kids and 32 oz for adults), so that your body is hydrating beforehand AND so that you can hopefully pee most of that out before you go skiing.

ski hydration

While your cross country skiing, it’s important to bring water with you for any ski excursion over an hour. You can either carry a water bottle in a backpack or carry an insulated hydration pack for skiing to make sure that you get enough water throughout the day.

Read our Top Tips For Staying Hydrated While Skiing.

Cross Country Skiing vs Downhill Skiing with Kids – Which is Better?

downhill skiing with kids

Cross country skiing is done on skinny skis that have a special bottom so that they only slide in one direction. When you cross country ski, you can ski on regular trails (many easy hiking trails work well for cross country skis), and it can be done in a huge variety of areas. In some places, cross country skiing is free and in others, you’ll pay a small fee for a trail pass to ski on groomed trails. We recommend starting all kids on groomed trails when teaching them to cross country ski.

Downhill skiing uses wider skis and stiff ski boots that are completely attached to the ski with a hard binding. When you downhill ski, you typically go to a ski resort where you ride a chairlift up to the top of the hill and you ski down. Downhill skiing can get really expensive since many ski resorts have high costs for a lift ticket (check out our top tips for skiing for cheap).

Cross country skiing is a great sport to do with your kids. Cross country skiing is easier than downhill skiing because you can go slower and it’s easy for kids to start on cross country skis as toddlers (though we have downhill skied with all our toddlers too). It is also good exercise for your body and it’s fun to play with friends. Because cross country skiing is simpler, it’s an easier sport to start with kids. You can even rent the skis from a local ski shop. They can help with sizing skis and make sure you get the right ski length. Another great option is looking for cross country skis at a ski swap.

Tips for Cross Country Skiing with Kids

cross country skiing with kids

We all know that if you love any type of skiing, you’re going to want your kids to love it too. We know firsthand that the experiences that kids have on skis go a long way in shaping how much they want to ski in the future. The tips below are all designed to help kids cross country skiing be more enjoyable for everyone in the family.

Teach Kids How to Get Up FIRST

cross country skiing with kids falling down

The best skill you can teach your kids as quickly as possible is how to get up. Not only will it save your back, but will help avoid a lot of fussing over the fact that they feel stuck in the snow.

The first skill that you need to teach your kids about cross country skiing is how to get up. This will eliminate so much of their frustration and will make your ski day go smoother. We actually recommend teaching them before you start xc skiing in the backyard.

If you have younger kids you can even have them wear a ski harness with a handle on the back to help them stand up to save your back.

How to teach kids to get up on cross country skis

  1. Lay down on your back and put your skis in the air
  2. Roll onto your side and put your skis right next to each other, facing the same way.
  3. Kneel and get your hands on the snow close to your skis
  4. Use your hands to push yourself up!

Start Skiing on Groomed Trails

groomed cross country skiing with kids

While cross country skiing can be done just about anywhere, it’s easier for kids to start learning to cross country ski where there are groomed trails. It is really helpful to go on groomed trails for their first time. This gives them a safe and easy place to explore the new sport and allows them to gain confidence in their cross country ski skills.

Keep your Expectations for Skiing with Kids LOW!

cross country skiing with toddler

When we start our kids on any kind of skis, we keep our expectations for what they can do REALLY LOW. If you’ve got a toddler, maybe it’s just that they can just stand up and ski a little while you’re holding them, this is perfect. For older kids, maybe you want them to be able to ski a short 0.5 mile loop. Whatever they can do when they’re learning to cross country ski, praise them for it. Remember, you’re not training an Olympian (at least not yet), you’re just trying to get your kids to love the sport.

Play Games while Skiing with Kids

cross country ski games

Games keep the fun alive and help kids feel like cross country skiing is so much fun, instead of the pressure to learn something new. Here are some of the best ski games with kids that will help your kids improve their cross country ski skills:

Red Light, Green Light
Mr. Fox, Mr. Fox, What Time Is It?
Disappearing Steps (Head here for instructions on this kids’ ski game)
Chase The Rabbit (Head here for this cross country ski game for kids)

Don’t Have Kids Use Ski Poles

learning to ski without ski poles

While all kids love the idea of ski poles (they look pretty cool), don’t teach your kids to ski using poles. When kids learn to ski with poles, they often focus so much on “playing” with their poles that they don’t focus on proper mechanics of their ski movement. Once kids are solid cross country skiers and can turn, stop, and climb small hills, then you can introduce kids ski poles.

Teaching Kids to Ski Down Hill on Cross Country Skis

A great way to teach your child how to go downhill on cross country skis is by putting their hands on their knees. This makes them bend their knees and lean forward so that they’re better balanced. Often, skiers lean back when going downhill and eventually end up flat on their behind. When kids learn to balance going down a hill with their hands on their knees, then they are more likely to be in a good position to control their weight and not fall.

Keep Skiing with Kids Positive

learning to cross country ski with kids

Skiing with kids is HARD! Trust me, we’ve been doing it for 13 years with our 5 kids and there are plenty of days where I’ve been on the verge of tears. When you give ski tips to your kids, keep the things you’re telling them positive. Focus on the things that they’re doing well first and then only give them one suggestion at a time of something to work on.

Encourage Kids to Cross Country Ski with Snacks

Cross country skiing with kids (or really anything with kids..) is really a lot about the snacks. You’d be amazed at how much energy your child who is “so tired” will have at the promise of some gummy bears just around the corner. We love small bite-sized treats for skiing with kids and gummy bears, Mentos, Tic Tacs, and Skittles are our favorite treats to pass out to skiing kids.
If you’re looking for good ski lunch ideas, check out our top ski lunch recipes.

Drink Plenty of Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate breaks are a must when cross country skiing with kids. Not only do they help to warm the kids up, but they give their little legs and minds a break from skiing so they can just relax for a bit. If you’re skiing a nordic center, head inside for some cocoa, but if you’re out on the trail, bring an insulated jug with you in your backpack to share when the kids need a break.

Waxless Skis are the Easiest

cross country skiing with kids

If you’re looking for the easiest cross country skis for kids, opt for a waxless ski for them (aka fish scale skis). Waxless cross country skis grip the snow well on their own without the complicated kick wax that competetive skiers deal with. If your child wants to get into competitive nordic skiing, get them a pair of skis that’s suited for racing after they’re at least 10 years old.

Dress in Layers for Cross Country Skiing with Kids

Consider how damp and chilly it may be when you’re climbing on a wet day. Light layers of clothing will make you feel more at ease, and if you get too hot while going up slopes, you can always take off a layer. A good quality base layer worn underneath a light-weight synthetic top layer helps to keep you dry and transports any perspiration away.

A middle layer that provides insulation like a shirt or sweater with a shell on the outside is good. You should also wear a lightweight hat and thin gloves (not regular snow gloves or you will overheat).

If you want you can have them wear their ski boots and ski socks in the car and bring snow boots for afterwards. That way their feet will stay warm.

Check out these articles for dressing your kids while skiing:
Best Kids Base Layers
Best Kids Ski Coats

Best Kids Fleece Jackets
Best Kids Puffy Coats
Best Kids Snow Pants

Don’t be Afraid of Falling

Tell your kids that it is okay to fall on skis and that most people fall A LOT. If someone falls down, they have to work harder at something they are doing. Let them know that every time they fall down on skis, they get stronger and more capable of conquering things the next time.

falling down while skiing

End the Day with a Smile

Our goal when skiing with kids is for everyone to end the day with a smile on their faces. When the day ends happily, kids are much more likely to want to go again. Don’t push your kid if he or she is genuinely ready to stop. Don’t force your child to keep skiing if they are tired or want to call it a day and go home. When you pressure your child too much towards it when they really don’t want to go, they won’t be as excited about skiing next time. If you’re wrapping up on a rough note, go inside the lodge to warm up and have a treat before you head home!

warming up while cross country skiing with kids

Tips for Cross Country Skiing with Toddlers and Preschoolers

2-year-old wearing Veyo kids mittens

Cross country skiing with preschoolers and toddlers is different than skiing with older kids. It takes a lot more work and patience, but the reward of seeing your little kids skiing is absolutely worth it!

Have Toddlers Ski Wearing a Harness

We are huge fans of ski harnesses for downhill skiing, but they also work great for cross country skiing. We use them to help younger kids get up when they fall down and also to help control their speed when they’re learning how to go down hills. Toddler ski harnesses are also great for pulling kids across flat areas when they are out of energy.

Use a Trailer or Pulk When Cross Country Skiing with Young Kids

parent skiing with a ski trailer

If you’ve got young kids who are new to cross country skiing, I highly recommend taking a pulk or ski trailer with you when you go cross country skiing with kids. It’s not at all uncommon for your kids to suddenly burn out on the trail, and ski trailers are the easiest way to prevent meltdowns and give their little legs a rest. A ski pulk can also be a great option when you have kids of different ages and abilities so that as soon as the younger skiers get tired, they can just hitch a ride without the family ski day having to be over. That way everyone can have a good time.

Written by Jessica Averett

Hi, I'm Jessica! After meeting my husband on a chairlift, we now live in the mountains of Utah with our 5 kids. As a former ski instructor and mom, I'm here to help you make your family ski trips as easy, and FUN, as possible!