Kids sledding in the snow

How to enjoy winter activities with kids

If you love playing outside in winter, chances are you want your children to love the snow as much as you do. Organizing winter activities for kids takes a little more planning and effort to make sure everyone has a great time, but the snowy smiles will be worth it.

Here are some strategies to introduce your kids to snowsports, including ideas and tips for winter activities, plus advice on winter gear for kids.

Ideas to get kids outside in winter

The best way to get kids out on a cold day? Keep things fun and active (which also keeps everyone warm). Here are some ideas:

1. Snowshoeing

Since it’s fairly easy to master, snowshoeing is a great winter activity for kids of all ages. Visit designated snowshoe trails in your area, or check out a local park or hiking area to see how different it looks under a blanket of snow. Snowshoeing is also a great activity for families with toddlers, since they can ride along in a child carrier.

“My nephew is two and a half and barely walking but he loves to get snowshoes on!” – Mireille M., MEC Vancouver

2. Downhill skiing or snowboarding

Young child learning to ski

How many powderhounds start on the bunny hill? Many ski resorts offer ski and snowboard schools for kids as young as 3 years old, and kids will enjoy learning the ropes along with others at their same level. While they learn to carve and snowplow, you can go enjoy the slopes yourself.

In addition to warm layers, boots and skis or a snowboard, you’ll also want a helmet for young skiers. Not only are they essential for safety, they also help keep little noggins warm on sub-zero days. For more kids’ ski tips, check out how to make your kids hate skiing.

3. Cross-country skiing

For a little less hustle and bustle than a downhill resort (and cheaper tickets), try cross-country skiing. Many towns and cities have nearby Nordic trail networks, often with shelters that make great lunch spots and destinations. To find a local cross-country skiing club, check the Cross-Country Canada club list.

“Bring along chocolate and a thermos of hot chocolate – it’s a surprise treat for little ones who’ve just worked so hard to ski into a cabin.” – Irene V., MEC Ottawa

4. Fat biking

Fat biking in winter

Also known as snow biking, fat biking is a growing winter activity for an obvious reason: it’s super fun. Like mountain bikes, snow bikes are designed to tackle rough and slippery terrain. Their massive tires offer great traction on ice and snow, so you can explore your favourite mountain-biking trails in a new season. Check with local ski resorts and trail networks to see what’s in your area (along with fat bike rentals). Make sure to wear a helmet!

“For winter fat biking, winter boots, gloves and wool base layers are key! You’ll be fine in the correct gear.” – Anna M., MEC Burlington

5. Ice skating

Whether you’re on a local pond, a flooded backyard or a community rink, skating is a fantastic family activity. Check the calendar at your local rink or arena for public skating hours. Some cities open temporary outdoor rinks, as do many ski hills.

Hockey skates or figure skates? It depends on what kind of skating your child wants to do. In general, figure skates have longer blades that offer better balance, but their toepicks can trip up newer skaters. Hockey skates don’t have toepicks, but balancing might be tougher. Either way, make sure to try them on with the warm socks your child will wear on the ice.

6. Winter camping

Kids bundled up in a tent

Your camping season doesn’t have to end with the onset of chilly weather. With a four-season tent, warm sleeping bags and lots of layers, your family can explore a winter wonderland – and you can even start in your own backyard. For more know-how, check out our article on winter camping tips: 26 things beginners should know.

“With kids, keeping busy is how you keep warm! Try building a quinzee or go for a hike in search of some fresh powder to toboggan on.” – Rachel M., MEC Ottawa

7. Snowball fights

Head to a local park, or just into your own backyard, for an epic battle. Bring along hot chocolate for the end so you can all be winners.

8. Sledding and tubing

All you need is a good slope and something slippery, like a toboggan, a plastic saucer or an inner tube. Your local ski hill might even have a special tubing area with a rope tow back to the top.

“Always have extra mitts and hats… if you’re winter hiking, a crazy carpet will make the hike back down so much fun.” – Andréanne B., MEC Quebec City

9. Get creative

Make “lart” on winter nights with your headlamps. Play snowball-bocce. Create a winter Olympics sport for kids (snow-pit longjump, perhaps)? Make maple candy in the snow. Winter is time to get creative about ways to play outside… for some more fun ideas, check out 103 ways to make this your best winter ever.

Tips: winter gear for kids

Young boys snowshoeing with parents

When it comes to activity-specific equipment and quickly growing kids, consider renting gear for your first few outings. Your local MEC store rents snowsports gear from cross-country skis to winter tents, so you can see if your family likes the activity before you invest in your own gear.

Buying secondhand is also a good option. Check out the MEC Gear Swap, local ski swaps, online buy-and-sell groups, and MEC store bulletin boards. Just remember to buy a new helmet for safety reasons.

Once you get your kids set up with the basics below, you’ll be ready to set out in the snow:

  • Winter jacket and snow pants: Different types of outerwear will suit different activities and weather; a soft shell might work for snowshoeing on a sunny day, but for downhill skiing in a snowstorm, a waterproof-breathable jacket is a better choice.
  • Good winter boots: No running shoes allowed. Winter boots keep feet warm and dry, and offer traction on slippery snow. Boots above the ankle also prevents snow from getting in the top of the boots.
  • Synthetic or wool socks: Warm, dry socks keep little feet from getting cold, and synthetic or wool options help move moisture away from the skin. It’s a good idea to carry an extra pair or two. Cold, wet feet feel miserable.

“Warm feet are a must for taking kids out. Stock up on toe warmers, extra dry socks and spare plastic bags. If the boots leak unexpectedly you can line them with plastic to keep socks dry in a pinch – I learned that the hard way.” – Stania J., MEC Head Office

  • Hand and toe warmers: When frigid fingers and toes threaten to derail your plans, a handwarmer in each mitt and boot can save the day.
  • Gloves or mitts: Warm gloves help keep little fingers toasty. Mitts keep hands warmer than gloves, since all four fingers can warm one space.

“Bring extra gloves or mittens. They’re likely to lose one, or get their hand completely soaked. Backups are always nice.” – Josh K., MEC Burlington

  • Base layer: This crucial next-to-skin top and bottom help wick away sweat and prevent chills. Seamless and flat-seamed items help prevent uncomfortable chafing. Learn more about how to choose base layers.
  • Mid-layer: This warm layer traps body heat and helps move moisture outward. Fuzzy materials like fleece and wool are good options, as are lightweight insulated jackets or pullovers.

Other useful gear

Kid eating snack outside in winter

The littlest members of your family might not be able to snowshoe yet or keep up for long distances. A child carrier backpack allows the whole crew to adventure together.

Snacks and hot drinks are also a must. Granola bars, trail mix and dried fruit are easy options that won’t get squished in a backpack. And a surprise hot chocolate at the halfway point is a great way to restore morale. If you’ll be out for a longer day, bring a camp stove to create a hot drink whenever it’s most needed.

“Take it up a notch and bring some chocolate wafers and a camping stove, and make a double boiler out of two camping pots (water in the big one, chocolate wafers in the smaller one). Equipped with some containers of pre-cut fruits and you’ve set a high bar for mountaintop chocolate fondue.” – Steve I., MEC Service Centre