We get asked for advice A LOT! At this time of year snowshoeing is a pretty hot topic, so we asked our Thunder Bay store manager (and mother of two young snowshoers), to answer one of our most common questions:
There are a lot of factors you could consider, but for me the answer is simple, “as soon as they are independently walking and running!” Both of my boys were 'snowshoeing' at about 2 years old. I use air quotes, only because at this age these excursions were not what I recognized as snowshoeing. Our first trips were short, simple trips that didn't take us far from home. In fact, we were in our own back yard, and our adventures often took us just down the back lanes of our neighbourhood. The most important thing at this stage was for them to have fun! The mounds of snow at the end of the unploughed lane-ways turned out to be the most exciting parts of our adventures and soon the boys would be sliding down these mini-mountains using their snowshoes as tiny toboggans.
While we didn't cover much distance, spontaneous mountaineering up snow banks was more fun than just trekking though the back lane. Plus, it keeps the sense of adventure fresh while developing essential snowshoeing skills. Unplanned adventures can be so much fun, they won’t even know they’re learning!
From there our outings got a little bit longer: visits to the tree farm, Mission Marsh Conservation Area, never anywhere too far. Seeing as our outings were still fairly short-lived, it didn't make sense to drive for longer than we would actually play.
I try not to have too many rules as they become hard to remember for little ones. Our big one: stay within sight of mommy. This let them roam off the beaten path – but not too far.
I found very quickly that staying on the trail was pretty boring; there was so much to see just off the trail and they loved looking at the tracks that they made! At times they just wanted to see a cool ice formation, or sometimes we would follow a set of animal tracks in the snow just to see where they led. We never went very far from the path, but to a 2-year-old we were great explorers! These first excursions were short, maybe a kilometer if we were lucky, but each time we would go a little further.
My boys will soon be eating me out of house and home. They are always hungry, and in the cold we need even more fuel to stay warm. I always pack granola bars, and high-calorie snacks like cheese or gorp. If it's really cold and we think we will be out for a while I stash some of these inside internal jacket pockets. Insulated lunch kits also help to keep them from freezing. Don't forget water. My kids will eat snow before they ask for water (Bonus tip: teach them when it is ok to eat snow, and what kind is safe to eat). I often pack warm water to help it last a little longer before it starts to freeze, keeping water in liquid state in the winter is its own conversation!
As the boys get older and our trips become longer, a few things have helped us along the way. By being spontaneous, adventurous, and nutritious, snowshoeing is becoming one of our favourite winter activities. With all this in mind, my final piece of advice is to be adaptable. Weather and attitudes can change quickly, so be prepared to change with them. And when things get tough, a cup of hot chocolate can be the best motivator; my kids never let me forget the marshmallows.