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Cold-Weather Sports and Your Family

Looking forward to the snowy season and all it has to offer? Winter can be a great time to get outside and keep fit — for you and your family.

But what if everyone in your house believes that winter is a time for hibernating in front of the TV? Don't despair: the whole family can do lots of fun things once the weather turns frosty.

Beating the Cold-Weather Blahs

Once a chill is in the air, our bodies begin to want to conserve energy to use as heat. We tend to eat a little more and become less active. Being cooped up inside and being more sedentary can lead to the "cold-weather blahs." Kids might feel more tired, lethargic, or even a little bored.

A good way to kick this feeling is to get them out into the snow to play! Winter can be a great time for family activities that allow you to spend time with your kids while being active.

Types of Cold-Weather Sports

Skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and snowshoeing are just a few sports that everyone in your family can try.

Skiing. Alpine (downhill) skiing is an easy sport to try, but novice skiers should take a lesson first and get instructions on staying safe. Many ski resorts have reasonably priced lessons for first-timers. A competent instructor can show kids the proper techniques while also ensuring they start on a hill that's appropriate for their skill level.

Cross-country skiing. For cross-country skiing, long, thin skis are used. This type of skiing uses a binding system that holds the ski boot to the ski by the boot's toe. This lets the heel move up and down naturally, enabling skiers to travel long distances and climb hills. It's a great cardiovascular workout and a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors. Virtually any flat or near-flat snowy surface works.

Snowboarding. Snowboarding is also popular. Kids especially love this type of snow "surfing," and many resorts offer the equipment for rental along with traditional skis. Snowboarding uses different techniques than downhill skiing, so your family should take a few lessons first. If you've been on a surfboard in water, you'll find the snowboarding style familiar.

Snowshoeing. Snowshoeing doesn't require any particular skills or specialized equipment, and it can be done almost anywhere there's snow. The snowshoeing technique is as easy as walking, so anyone can do it. If you like walking, hiking, or running, you'll find that strapping on a pair of snowshoes is a great way to work out. The slower pace of snowshoeing also allows family members to stay together. Traditional snowshoes can be strapped onto any pair of boots without heels and can be rented from an outdoor equipment retailer.

Ice skating. You may remember struggling with weak ankle support when ice skating as a child, but great improvements in skate design have improved the skating experience. Take your family out to the rink for an afternoon or evening of ice skating. Many rinks rent molded fiberglass skates that have more ankle support and warmth than figure skates.

Cold-Weather Getaways

If you've decided to make the best of the cold weather, why not plan a weekend escape? You can easily fill your trip with plenty of fun cold-weather sports that will appeal to everyone in your family.

The Internet is a good way to begin your search. Online travel reservation services can help with resort guides. Many communities host consumer shows that focus on cold-weather activities; keep an eye on your local paper for places and dates.

A travel agent will also have listings of resorts that specialize in winter activities. Another good place to check is your state tourism bureau; these agencies usually have free brochures that list events in your area.

Staying Safe

As with all sports, it's important to take the proper precautions to stay safe. Helmets are a must when kids are skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling, and should be considered when sledding and ice skating. Knee pads, wrist guards, and shin guards also should be worn during winter sports. Even a low-speed spill can be damaging to delicate bones and joints.

To avoid hypothermia and frostbite, be sure that your family is well protected against the cold. Layers work best: begin with an undergarment made of a synthetic fiber that will wick away perspiration. A light shirt or turtleneck can go over that, followed by a sweater or fleece for warmth. Kids can always remove or add layers if needed. Don't forget a hat, gloves, and sunglasses.

And apply use sunscreen — snow functions as a reflecting agent and can intensify the sun's rays on skin, so kids can get a sunburn even during winter.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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