Family stories to get through the winter
Cute as can be as they try to master their first sliding steps on cross-country skis, budding skiers receive the encouragement of regulars who encounter them on the trails. Parental pride is matched only by the real satisfaction at having discovered such an accessible winter family activity. Fun on skis for all age groups!
But in order to get off on the right ski, why not slide into this overview with families who have decided to make the most of winter?
The natural choice
Jean‑François Bureau and Marie‑Christine Rousseau remember very well how they ended up on the cross‑country ski trails when their first daughter, Michaëlle, was not yet one year old. “We used to go downhill skiing and snowboarding, but then we couldn't anymore,” remembers the mother.
For these trail running enthusiasts looking for a way to play outside with their baby, the choice was obvious. “It was a no‑brainer,” states Jean‑François, who extolled in passing the influence of Marie‑Christine's brother. Equipment rental, advice, support... the kindly brother supported them in their learning process. “He coached us a whole lot,” confirms Marie‑Christine.
The arrival of Léonie, a little later, didn’t detract from the family fun. To the point that today, aged six and nine, the two young girls are now doing ski skating, belong to the Hus‑Ski Club at Station touristique Duchesnay, and follow mom and dad further and further afield every Sunday.
A game plan that’s clear…and flexible
It quickly becomes clear that each age group brings its own challenges and organization when it comes to taking up cross‑country skiing as a family. From toddlers who aren’t yet walking to independent teenagers who need to be pulled away from screens, and even rambunctious children whose energy needs to be channeled, cross‑country skiing offers something for everyone. Parents included!
For the Bureau‑Rousseau family, a clear game plan is established before each outing. “We plan long days,” sums up Marie‑Christine. From one weekend to the next, Jean‑François and Marie‑Christine take turns spending the first hour of the outing with the little ones. Meanwhile, the other parent can ski at full tilt if they so desire, alone or with friends. Then, by following the day's pre‑established circuit, everyone ends up getting back together on the trails.
Next the roles are reversed. The parent who stays with the children always skis with a backpack that contains all the essentials for the comfort and safety of the group. A thermos with a hot drink or soup, sandwiches, insulated jackets, extra gloves and mittens… everything is within reach for a morning in the forest. On this subject, parents who use a Thule trailer or a sled will appreciate their cargo capacity.
As loyal visitors to the trails and facilities of Station touristique Duchesnay, the family members then complete their days in different ways. Sometimes, there’s another round of skiing in the afternoon. Other times, the lunch break is extended at the cabin and they take advantage of the downtime to bust out a deck of cards. If they choose plan C, it means that the skating rink or the slide has won the day. “We’re not exactly high performers,” admits Jean‑François.
Always trying to make the days memorable, like real mini adventures, the couple cooks up evening outings with headlamps or walks with a stay in a hut. “We don't want to have to convince any of our gang,” specifies Marie‑Christine. And the strategy works like a charm!
A moment to recharge their batteries
Before the arrival of Augustin and Léonard, Marie‑Julie Amyot was already a cross‑country skiing enthusiast. The mother started again when she was looking for an activity to share with her two boys, now six and nine years old. “I had seen an ad for courses,” recounts the south shore resident.
That’s all it took for the little ones to land on skis around their fifth birthdays.
“Cross‑country skiing provides a moment to recharge your batteries in nature,” observes Marie‑Julie, also the mother of Marguerite, four years old, who hasn’t started skiing just yet. But her turn will come! “I want it to remain an easy activity,” explains the outdoor enthusiast, who particularly appreciates her visits to Camp Mercier, in Réserve faunique des Laurentides. She likes to head there as soon as the family’s schedule allows it. “It’s the go‑to scene for those who love piles of snow!” she insists.
Courses (and the right skis) to forge ahead
It only takes the slightest interest in cross‑country skiing to understand that the activity is a bit more complex than it might seem. Especially if the parents are neophytes, courses or signing up the youngsters at a club are very good ideas indeed.
“It’s more technical than I thought,” admits Marie‑Julie about the courses taken by Augustine and Léonard. In this case too, the goal is not performance, but learning with skis on their feet while having fun. “It’s done a lot through play,” notes the mom. Skiing delights the children, but also the parents, who can take advantage of the kids’ lesson time to go skiing on their own.
A classic irritant when cross‑country skiing, with or without children, is that darn waxing! A bad grip can actually ruin the general good mood. While children normally use scale skis to get around the problem, parents often shun them, for performance reasons.
But recently, skin skis have kicked off a mini revolution. No more hesitations in the morning to identify the right kick wax! All you have to do is strap on your skis and hit the trails! “If you’re not doing competitions, you don’t have time to manage all that waxing when kids are on the scene,” affirms Jean‑François Bureau, more than satisfied with the sliding capacity obtained. Especially with a child carrier, a sled, or a ski trailer, it’s more critical than ever to choose the right wax.
Back to childhood
Cross‑country skiing is truly a family affair for Sarah Moore. “I started very young with my parents,” she recalls. And at just two and a half years old, her pretty little Anna is already racking up kilometres of trail time, sometimes with grandma and grandpa in tow! “It’s really a blast,” asserts Sarah.
The early days, when Anna was just under one year old, were made possible with a child carrier backpack. It’s Jonathan who, cautiously, transported the precious cargo, despite his rookie status. “At the beginning, we didn't go on big outings. We stayed on flat terrain,” recalls Sarah, who’s expecting a new baby in the very near future.
Sarah and Jonathan then switched to the Thule trailer on skis. “It's like another sport,” the young woman describes. A slower pace, “less about performance,” she points out. And when she wants to go on more intensive outings, Sarah takes advantage of her lunch breaks when doing remote work to go skiing alone near her home.
Skiing without breaking the bank
The fact that the sport is inexpensive really boosts the popularity of cross‑country skiing. When it comes to both new and used products, equipment is easy to find and generally affordable. A number of shops and clubs offer seasonal rentals, which makes sense since children grow up in the blink of an eye. Classified ad websites are also great options for purchasing reasonably priced gear.
In addition, access rights to a number of well‑established cross‑country skiing centres remain within the typical family budget. This is especially true for Sépaq establishments and national parks, where access and equipment are free of charge for those 17 and under. Sépaq offers a great way to check out the activity – ideally more than once, to really get a feel for it – without breaking the bank.
Catherine Lefebvre’s children are now all grown up. The trailer and small rental skis are long gone, but the sport has left an indelible mark. Today, aged 16 and 19, Raphaëlle and David continue to enjoy cross‑country skiing.
“Last year, my boy geared up to get into skiing with his girlfriend,” enthuses Catherine. Because despite all the other sports he dove into so intensely, such as basketball, the cross‑country skiing outings were inspiring enough for the young man to get back into the winter sport without a nudge, accompanied by his girlfriend.
As for Raphaëlle, she regularly "steals" mom’s equipment to set off on the trails, notably with dad, Catherine’s ex‑spouse. The Québec City resident also believes that this sporting heritage is worth its weight in gold. “Seeing us head outdoors, leading an active life... we must have been role models for our children,” rejoices the mom, who never misses an opportunity to go and play outside.
Dressing for action
For all outdoor activities, your choice of clothing makes all the difference. And for an aerobic sport like cross‑country skiing, you simply have to ensure the comfort of youngsters both on the move and at rest. However, this goal can be achieved without costing an arm and a leg!
If, at the beginning, an insulated snowsuit can be very well suited for little ones, it’s nevertheless better to favour the multi‑layer approach as soon as the speed, range, and age of the child increase. An increasing number of big box stores are offering inexpensive and versatile clothing that’s entirely fit for purpose. “It really isn't necessary to choose high‑quality outdoor gear," declares Marie‑Christine Rousseau.
A polar fleece jacket, spare socks, hand warming pouches, and other additional accessories… Marie‑Julie Amyot prepares for every eventuality, no matter the weather. “I carry around a lot of stuff,” laughs this young mother. And don't forget that in the company of the little ones, parents also have to stay warm. “We don’t ski at the same pace with the kiddies in tow,” Sarah Moore reminds us in turn.
Snacks and other treats are also very important cargo in any ski bag. And each parent has a personal blue‑ribbon recipe. Hot chocolate, jujubes, muffins… or spruce beer! “Sure it’s a weird choice, but it works,” notes Marie‑Julie about this surprising tradition that she reserves for Augustine and Léonard ’s after‑ski pit stop.
For the older offspring, it’s often the presence of friends that will make the kilometres fly by more easily. Imagine if they could also chill out, so to speak, in a cabin in the middle of the forest. “The proverbial lunch in a hut…it’s always a winner,” confirms Catherine Lefebvre.
Question of rhythm
All parents repeat it incessantly… family skiing requires a whole different mindset than hitting the trails with adults. With the family, there’s no room for competition or even concerns with performance. What comes first is the interest and fun of the children.
“It’s for the pleasure of sharing a moment in nature,” states Marie‑Julie. She sees the family outing as a break that’s particularly beneficial at a time when children are too often glued to a video game.
From sleds to skate skis to small white plastic skis for toddlers who are just starting to walk, the Bureau‑Rousseau couple have tried all options during their youngsters’ learning curve. The trick, say all the parents, is to adopt a gradual and supportive approach.
Don’t set overly specific distance or time objectives; respect the child, the terrain to be skied, and the conditions of the day… and the rest will come naturally, regardless of the age and experience of the youngsters. “What makes me happy is simply being outdoors,” states Sarah Moore, who quickly turned her little Anna on to the pleasures of these forest adventures.
So, here’s the most beautiful gift to offer to your family: a way to easily get through the winter with a smile.
Five tips for better outings
- Always plan for distances and for the difficulty of the trails, slopes, and weather before venturing out with the kids. You’ll need to prepare a number of scenarios to face unexpected situations. And as much as possible, keep the more downhill segments for the return trip, when fatigue is sure to have set in.
- A towing lanyard? Now that's a smart move! As simple as a cord or elastic strap linking parent and child, this accessory can energize tired little legs when needed. For example, the harness that Jean-François Bureau uses on occasion makes it possible "to go further,” while providing the child with a sense of balance and speed.
- A seemingly insignificant detail, the fact that the straps on some ski poles are detachable, transforms the experience for busy parents. “It literally changed my life,” asserts Marie-Christine Rousseau, who spends her time making all kinds of adjustments. No more frustrations of struggling with wrist straps and gloves. Click! That's it, mom's hands are free!
- For teenagers, cross-country skiing outings can quickly turn into adventures during which autonomy and decision-making are a challenge. So much the better! Show them that you believe in them and let them explore on their own.
- A child carrier backpack, a sled, or a trailer? The choice will depend on the age of the child, the experience of the parents, and the conditions of the outing. The child carrier backpack is to be used with caution, at a low speed on flat trails without obstacles. Otherwise, a fall could have unfortunate consequences.
However, have clear instructions as part of your game plan before you go your separate ways. If necessary, try out walkie-talkies to keep in touch with younger children who are beginning to be a little more independent.
As for the sled, make sure that the child is isolated from the ground, from the cold, and from shocks. And beware of exposure to wind and frostbite. Vigilance is required. A model like the Baby Glider, with its integrated windshield-type protection is the best option.
For families who ski regularly or with older children, a raised Thule trailer closed on all sides seems to be the unanimous choice. Easier to pull when technique and confidence are lacking, it’s “smoother and there’s less rebound,” specifies Jean-François Bureau, who even learned ski skating by pulling one along!