There’s no denying that getting the family outside in the fresh air is easier done in the warmer months. We don’t know about you but around here, beaching, bushwalks, fishing and camping trips tend to go down better in short sleeves and fair weather. So yeah, it’s tempting to crank the heating, hunker down and park all weekend plans with mother nature ‘til September.
But if we did that we’d be missing out on one of the best things about winter. Whether it’s snowball fights, snow angels, building fortresses, sledding or maybe even having a crack on some skis, kids go mad for a day on the bunny hill, and after that first taste, they’ll be begging to go back year after year.
Snow may be a tried-and-true kid-pleaser, but let’s not pretend that hitting the slopes with the family is quite as, shall we say carefree, as carving the piste with mates in your, shall we say, before years. With kids in tow you’ll probably be more concerned with a) immune systems and b) not losing them, than anything else – but as with beaching, camping and fishing, all it takes is a bit of planning and the right gear for everyone to go home smiling.
Ski holidays are notoriously expensive, but they don’t have to be. Most little kids would be more than happy to play in a patch of roadside slush! Just pile them into your 4WD, pack some food and go find your own stash of snow in the bush. Depending on where you live, you could pull off a snow excursion in a day and be home for dinner, bank balance fully preserved.
But if distance demands staying a few nights, the best way to avoid the sting of accommodation prices is to stay at a nearby town and drive to the snowfields for day trips. A rental house can be surprisingly reasonable (especially if you’re going away with another family and sharing the cost), otherwise don’t rule out cabins and campgrounds. Holiday parks usually have seasonal facilities such as drying rooms, underfloor heating etc, so with the right sleeping bags and mattresses, camping in the cold doesn’t have to be a sufferfest.
If you need three layers of clothing on, the kids will need at least four – particularly when the youngest ones have a habit of suddenly wanting to peel layers off one at a time. Get thermal tops and bottoms for everyone. These’ll keep core temperatures warm, even if extremities are feeling the cold.
Thermals can be wool or synthetic; both options are lightweight and wick moisture away from the body, however the latter is generally more affordable. Polar fleece jumpers are great for the same reasons. A pair of snow pants and a breathable waterproof jacket are a good idea, as are insulated booties – however gumboots and warm wool socks will also do the trick on mild days.
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Be snack savvy
The only thing worse than a wet, cold kid is a wet, cold, hungry kid. And if you’ve ever seen the lunchtime queues at a ski resort cafeteria, you’ll want to BYO as much food as possible (and make sure some of it is warm!) One idea is to take a Thermos full of boiling water, add hotdogs before you leave home, take some rolls and you’ll instantly have warm hotdogs for lunch. On the way up to the snow, try to fill them up with healthy snacks like bananas – full of goodness and will keep them going for longer (supposing it doesn’t just get smeared in the backseat). When packing your picnic, just make sure nothing can freeze. Solid brick of apple juice, anyone? Nomomom.
Quench that thirst
It’s easy to forget to drink water when the weather is cold and cloudy, and the last thing your family will feel like drinking is cold H20. But it is important to make sure everyone stays hydrated, particularly when you’re burning off so much energy – maybe even overheating – while you’re climbing up the toboggan hill for the tenth time. On sunny days, snowfields can be very sweaty places! We’d even suggest having sports drinks with electrolytes on hand, and a Thermos full of premade hot chocolate is a nice surprise after lunch – not to mention significantly cheaper than the mountain offerings.
When nature calls
A toilet training toddler + snow pants = a lot of hassles and probably some yellow snow. Take a few extra pairs of pants for these kids, because believe us, snow pants can be super hard to get off quickly (particularly if it’s a onesie), and an accident may be inevitable. If you can get your kid to co-operate, a pull-up just for the day is an option that’ll save you a lot of grief.
Science time: snow is frozen rain – whoa! It goes without saying but waterproof gloves or mittens are a must for all that hands-on snow play. Mittens are a lot easier to get onto little hands, but they do compromise dexterity. This won’t be much of an issue when it comes to building snowmen and making snowballs, but if you’re snacking outside, you’ll want to make sure food is easy to grab.
Be sun smart
We reckon some of the worst sunburn we’ve ever had happened at the snow, not the beach – and don’t get us started on the glare. Sunbeams reflecting off snow make sunglasses or snow goggles essential. Snow blindness and sunburn are both horrible, and can catch you out easily in an environment where you’d expect your biggest concern would be staying warm. When applying sunscreen, pay special attention to their nose, ears, and under their chin.
Remember the carrot
Who can believe it’s been five years since Frozen stole our hearts and made every little girl aspire to be a reclusive ice queen who lives in a pimped out igloo? Even if Moana is the new #princessgoals, the Olaf obsession lives on. When asked: do you want to build a snowman, the answer is yes, always yes. And we promise you, there will be hell to pay if you forget the carrot.
Pimp your ride
Kids go nuts for tobogganing. And seeing the tribe happy is definitely the most important thing – the fact that tobogganing is cheap as chips definitely has nothing to do with it. Because many other parents also take this view, you’ll want to take a brightly coloured ribbon and tie it to your sled. This saves a lot of frustration when there are 50 identical toboggans left outside the café. If your regular stomping ground has recently decided that sleds are, in fact, death traps, check our guide for a toboggan-friendly snowfield near you.
Make them match
When there’s 100 kids all wearing the same rented snow suits, picking your puffballs out of the crowd can be a bit like a panicked game of Where’s Wally. Short of putting your kid on a tether, buying the same beanies for the whole tribe will go some way to remedying this and will making counting heads a helluva lot easier.
Meet you where?
Unless you want to spend the day wondering how you’d fare on a Liam Neeson-style vengeance rampage, parents with older daredevils who like to go off skiing on their own will need to impose a non-optional rendezvous point and time – at least a couple of times per day. Even with this in place, expect a few extra grey hairs by the afternoon.
When so many of our snowy regions are at the end of slippery, mountainous roads, getting there can be half the battle. Remember to carry chains, even if you have a 4WD, in case there are areas of black ice. Turn your headlights on even in the middle of the day, and once you’ve parked, lift your wipers up off the windscreen so the rubber blades don’t stick to the glass.
Most of all...
Have fun and don’t forget to take lots of pics! When a toddler sees and experiences snow for the first time, their eyes light up and their smiles are infectious – which we reckon makes any other minor hiccups throughout the day worth a few extra greys.
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