When is the right age to introduce a child to skiing or snowboarding? That question is best answered with more questions. Will your child be walking by this winter? Does your child like the snow, tolerate the cold, and enjoy new challenges? Are one or both parents motivated to drive the child up to the mountain to spend rewarding yet occasionally frustrating hours on the bunny hill teaching them basic skills? Is another family member or trusted mentor willing to take that task on? Is your child old enough for lessons?

If you answered yes to the first two questions and one or more of the following ones, then this winter, when we may be cooped up more than normal, might be the perfect time to get them started on the slopes. If it doesn’t feel like the right time or the financial stars aren’t aligning this winter, getting your child outside to play in the cold and snow as much as possible is a great backup plan. Playing outdoors in the winter will get kids accustomed to having fun in cold, wet conditions and prepared for learning to ski or snowboard next season. Here are a few ideas for having outdoor winter fun.

Playing in the snow. // Photo: Shallan Knowles

1. Play in the Snow.

The best way to help distract kids from cold and wet weather is to play with them in it. Have a snowball fight, build a fort or igloo, make a snowman or snow angels, make your own sledding hill out of piled up snow, visit a local sledding hill, or hunt for wildlife tracks in a local park or natural area.

2. Go Snowshoeing.

Hiking in the snow on plastic snowshoes (available in kids and adult sizes at REI and adult sizes for rent at Rambleraven Gear Trader in Spokane) doesn’t require a lift ticket and is easy for just about anyone to learn. Snowshoeing can get the whole family enjoying winter outside together at a minimal cost and is a great start for a family looking to eventually get into alpine skiing and snowboarding.

Snowshoeing in Fernie, British Columbia // Photo courtesy Tourism Fernie

3. Go Tubing.

Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park, Silver Mountain Resort, and Schweitzer Mountain Resort all have tubing hills where tubes and a pull back to the top are included with a ticket. The great thing about tubing at a resort is that kids also get to experience the mountain environment and watch people skiing, snowboarding, and riding chairlifts. Bear Creek Lodge on the way up to Mt. Spokane also offers tubing.

WINTER 2020/21: Due to COVID public health precautions, some tubing hills may not be operating; be sure to check business websites. Mt. Spokane’s tubing hill is not open this year. At Silver Mountain, reservations are strongly recommended for Snow Tubing and Silver’s Mountain House has limited occupancy. Schweitzer’s Hermit’s Hollow Tubing Center opens on Dec. 20, 2020; reservations required. Minimum height and footwear requirements for most tubing hills.

When there is snow in town, visit a local public park or field known for its tubing hills. Learn more here and here.

Dad & daughter snow tubing hill in Spokane. // Photo: Amy McCaffree

4. Try Cross-country Skiing.

With simple cross-country ski gear that you can pick up new or used from many shops around the Inland Northwest, including Rambleraven Gear Trader and Fitness Fanatics in Spokane, or rent from shops like REI, a family can get great exercise and have quality time outdoors. It’s also a great way to introduce kids to sliding on boards strapped to their feet.

5. Backcountry Skiing for Kids

If you are concerned about taking your child up to the resorts on busy weekends during the pandemic, consider buying a pair of Balla Hok skis from Curlew, Wash.-based Altai Skis (Altaiskis.com). These ski/snowshoe hybrids for kids have a climbing skin embedded into the bottom of the skis. You can get them with universal, free-heel bindings that work with normal winter boots. Throw in some ski poles and assuming you have your own backcountry gear or a pair of adult Hoks, you and your child can explore safe, mellow slopes well away from any avalanche danger in a local park, resort sidecountry, or snowy forest road or rolling hills.

Originally published as “Playing In the Snow” in the Family Winter Sports Guide special section in the Nov.-Dec. 2020 issue.