Looking Forward to Winter, during the Depths of Fall
Dryland Skiing Fun for Families
Growing up in Vermont, the end of summer was always a bittersweet time. The air would get crisper, school would loom and then arrive with the thud of a heavy textbook, the leaves would bronze and redden, and the days of splashing in the river and eating dinner outside at an 8 o’clock dusk would come to an end. But then the anticipation would kick in: fall quickly becomes an interlude, whose only purpose was to bring about winter, snow days, and Nordic skiing. For kids, or at least for my kid self, dread turns to excitement on a dime. And this is a good thing: especially with the uncertainty and anxiety kids and parents are feeling as this second COVID-cramped school year starts, it can be critical to look forward to the endless fun and adventure that winter can bring.
But how to keep the momentum of this excitement up through the doldrums of late October and November? Sure, there’s Halloween and Thanksgiving, but focusing all one’s energy on a single day of celebration isn’t exactly a sustainable source of joy or of healthy daily habits. If you’ve got kids that are already into cross country skiing and snow sports, or hope that this will be the winter to check it out, the fall can be a great time to get some basic skills and have a blast outside. This isn’t about training kids to be world-class ski racers, or even racers at all. Just like any game that parents and educators keep in their back pocket, “dryland” ski activities are about being active, and more importantly just playing. I remember getting together with my ski team of fellow ten-year old’s a couple times a week in the fall to go for a hike with poles in hand, or to play the soccer-handball hybrid “speedball,” or to create obstacle courses and one legged races and all manner of outdoor movement.
Some things, like running around with poles in hand or running slalom lines down gentle hills were great tests of our imaginations. We had to picture snow beneath our feet and got to enjoy pretending we were sliding along smoothly, stepping around turns and jumping over obstacles. As I got older, I started to love the similarity between trail running and skiing.
As the fall got a little damp and the trails a little muddy and water-ridden, I run along jumping over streams and bounding up and over hills, all the while imagining the swoosh and smooth scrapes of skis against snow, and poles into powder. For lesser impact, many also do their regular walks with poles, sometimes referred to as Nordic walking.
Even if you’re not imagining skis on your feet, there are plenty of activities that can be social, thrilling and also secretly perfect prep for the winter season. Take one of my favorites, Speedball. With both the rules of soccer and of handball combined into one game, Speedball feels odd and special enough to excite all the players; since you can’t pick the ball up from the ground with your hands, you’re forced to figure out clever maneuvers with your legs to pick it up. And since the rules are fairly loose, we used to play with however many folks we had, within very vague boundaries. While remaining distractingly fun, speedball ups kids endurance, requires teamwork, and constantly builds agility and mobility.
If the first snowfall is highly anticipated date in your household—that spells endless cross country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and the like—then fun dryland activities are a great way to channel that anticipation into healthy, active habits. Consider a weekend hike with family and friends: though you might frame it as a preseason ski outing, really it’s an excuse to enjoy one another’s company, get outside, and move your bodies for a while. What better fall fun could you ask for?