The Snow Play Gateway

We took our son up to Mt. Spokane to ski for the first time when he was a month shy of his 2nd birthday. It was darling to watch him all bundled up sliding down the hill for the first time, but also a little terrifying when he took off down the hill away from us. We got a harness system to keep ahold of him after that. Thankfully, he seemed to have fun that first day and only cried when it was time to go home. Return visits were a mixed bag of fun and some tears, and we never pushed him. Now, at age 8, he loves skiing with friends and likes to go off of small jumps.

What Age is Right for a Child’s First Day Skiing or Snowboarding?

When is the time right to introduce kids to the slopes? It all depends on the individual interest in snow and snow sports, tolerance of the cold and aptitude for physical activities. It also depends on at least one parent’s interest and ability to get their child set up with all of the gear and up to a local ski hill.

In the meantime, playing in the snow with your child is the best way to help them to learn to love being outside and physically active in the winter. Eventually, all of that winter outdoor time may grow into a healthy, life-long love for skiing or snowboarding. Before heading out in the snow, be sure you dress your little one warm enough for the conditions. Then get out there and enjoy winter together!

Photo Courtesy Shallan Knowles
  1. Play in the Snow: When kids are having fun playing in the snow and are dressed appropriately to keep warm and dry, they usually don’t notice cold, wet conditions as much. This time in the snow can develop a higher tolerance to the cold. Have a snowball fight, build a fort or igloo, or make a snowman or snow angels.
  2. Visit a Local Sledding Hill: Walking up and sliding down a safe, age-appropriate sledding hill is great fun and exercise. It’s also a good way to introduce kids to how much fun it is to slide down hills on snow.
  3. Go Snowshoeing: Hiking in the snow on plastic snowshoes can be done in any park or natural area when there is a few inches of snow. You likely won’t travel very far from the car as the experience will be more about playing in the snow along the way than covering distance. Many local outdoor gear shops sell or rent snowshoes for kids and adults, including Rambleraven, REI, and Fitness Fanatics in the Spokane area. You can also check out snowshoes at some Spokane County Library locations.
  4. Visit Your Local Ski Area: Before snow falls in town, there’s often plenty of the white stuff up at our ski hills. Take an outing to your favorite mountain with your child to find a safe and appropriate place to play with them in the snow. Then, show them people and other kids loading a chairlift and having fun skiing or snowboarding down the mountain.
  5. Go Tubing at a Ski Hill: Silver Mountain and Schweitzer have tubing hills where you get to ride down fun yet safe tubing hills and get a ride back to the top (ticket required). If you go tubing at Silver, you also get to ride the famous gondola! Please note that Bear Creek Lodge on the way up to Mt. Spokane has new ownership and tubing will not be offered this season.
  6. Try Cross-country Skiing: Cross-country skiing (also known as Nordic skiing) is a great way to introduce kids to sliding on boards strapped to their feet. It helps build strength and skills that make alpine skiing easier in the future. Cross-country skiing is a fun family activity that just about anyone can do. Mt. Spokane, 49 Degrees North, and Schweitzer have groomed Nordic ski trails and offer gear rentals. There are also lower-elevation areas closer to town that get groomed for skiing when there’s enough snow. The Spokane Nordic Ski Association also has a kids lesson program for ages 5-12 called Nordic Kids.
  7. Go Ice Skating Outside: Downtown Spokane has a great winter skating rink and there are many small lakes and ponds around the Inland Northwest that can make for a fun, safe place to skate once the ice is thick enough. Skating helps build leg and ankle strength that translates well to alpine skiing or snowboarding.
  8. Ski at a Local Park or Sledding Hill: Curlew, Wash.-based Altai Skis ( makes a kid’s Nordic ski called the Balla Hok that has a climbing skin embedded into the bottom of the skis. This allows kids to ski up mellow hills and then slide back down. You can get them with universal, free-heel bindings that work with normal winter boots too. Stick to mellow slopes well away from any avalanche danger.  

Cover photo courtesy Shallan Knowles

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