I have very fond memories of getting out to do winter activities with my dad when I was little – all sorts of things like skating, skiing, sledding, building snowmen, to name a few. These memories are so precious to me, that I wanted to do the same with my kids. However, as I learned when I became a mother with a nine to five job, weekends quickly fill up with swimming lessons, gymnastics and other commitments, I found it challenging to find the time to get out and actually enjoy the winter months.
But life really changed once my second baby was born. My first child, unlike my second child was extremely colicky and fussy for the first year of his life and the only thing that calmed him down was taking him out for long walks, which was easy since he was a summer baby. Babywearing was a lifesaver. It quickly became an important part of our lives, and I soon realized that getting out for walks together was calming for both of us, and helped me shed the baby weight much sooner than anticipated.
When winter rolled around, getting out for walks was much harder because many of the sidewalks in my neighbourhood were not plowed. When I expressed these difficulties to my family doctor, he had some really great suggestions. My doctor is a huge advocate of getting children outside as much as possible, no matter what season is. He made reference to Sweden, where it is the norm to bundle up your babies, as early as the day they are born, and get them outside for their naps. He pointed me towards some additional information on this Swedish model on outdoor napping, that I found interesting:
In Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, outdoor napping is recommended by doctors and is common both at home and at state-run daycares. Research by Marjo Tourula, from the University of Oulu in Finland, has shown that napping outdoors in frigid temperatures improves quality of sleep and increases duration of sleep in babies and toddlers. Many Scandinavian parents believe that the fresh air helps children eat better, be more active and promotes better health by reducing coughs and colds. The sounds and smells of nature are also quite soothing and may boost brain development. It’s often quite common to see sleeping babies in the cold weather, all bundled up in strollers outside coffee shops.1
My family doctor is also a huge advocate of exposing children to all sorts of different outdoor activities from a young age and he went on to tell me some stories about when his daughters were young. He explained that he had taken both of his kids out cross country skiing when they were little and would strap the youngest to his back. Knowing that I had been an avid skier for most of my life, and that I was also big into babywearing, he suggested going out on the trails while carrying my youngest baby on my back.
I am so glad I did — my 6 month old LOVED it!
The first time I tried cross country skiing with my baby, I anticipated being out for about 20 minutes, as I was unsure how this would all work. Well that plan quickly changed as my baby immediately got comfortable up on my back in the carrier and dozed off. And meanwhile, I was having such a great time that we ended up staying out for an hour. I ended up going back out two more times that week because we both loved it so much! I would stay out for about an hour each session, however would keep going if baby was still napping at the end of the hour.
My baby’s favourite thing was looking over my shoulder, and with the motion and fresh air, he quickly fell asleep. And for me, I find it so incredibly calming to be outside in the middle of winter and magical when you are lucky enough to get out when it’s snowing! It’s also a chance for me to get some peace and quiet during the day. If my baby was is being a bit fussy (teething, tired, gassy, etc), usually a trip outside calms him down right away, and I can relax and not have to focus on soothing him or calming him down as nature does that for me.
Getting out cross country skiing is great exercise. When I first started skiing with my son, I forgot how many muscles were involved, and quickly realized that it truly was a full body workout. AND remember, you have that added weight on your back, so it really challenges you!
I was so excited about this new activity, that I perhaps overdid it a bit in the first week and did not listen to my body like I should have. My advice would be to start a bit more slowly, and try it 1-2 times in the first week and then see how your body is feeling. I was so sore after that first time that I ended up needing to take the next week off to rest. But the following week I got right back into it. It took me about a month to build up enough strength to make it more effortless. One of the great things about having a baby, is that they are constantly growing and getting bigger. So even when my body got used to using all the muscles involved in cross country skiing, the weight of an ever growing baby added a constant challenge, so it was never truly effortless. It was the perfect way to challenge me.
Another thing I loved about being able to take my son cross country skiing was that it is an activity that we do together, just the two of us. I grew up skiing, both cross country and downhill and am so comfortable being on skis, it’s like second nature to me. Since I never considered attempting something like this with my first son (mostly since I was not into babywearing the first time around), this will be a wonderful memory of something special that I did together just with my second son. We also got to see also sorts of cool wildlife. We saw bunnies, foxes and even a few deer!
I am so glad that I got into babywearing (especially back carrying), because it really opened up a lot of opportunities that I might not have attempted otherwise!
Want to hear some pieces of advice I wish I’d gotten? Go with someone.
The winter I spent on maternity leave was pretty mild so the cold wasn’t a major concern, but one time, my son lost his mitt and I only noticed this after taking him off my back when I got back to the car. If you’re just starting out, it might be useful to go together with someone else so you can help each other get your babies up on your back (as it can be challenging with carriers and snowsuits). This way, you can also spot check each other’s babies for lost mitts, hats, etc.
Later that season, once I was comfortable and had built up enough confidence skiing with my baby on my back, I decided to be a little more adventurous and take both kids out with me one weekend. My 3 year old had never been cross country skiing before, but I decided it would be fun to get him out to try it. What I did not anticipate was how often a 3 year old would fall over on his skis, and how challenging it would be trying to pick him up while carrying a baby on your back on your own skis! Many lovely strangers ended up coming over to help my 3 year old get up. But needless to say, that skiing session did not last long. Although the skiing that day was a bit of a failure, we still made the best of it as there was ice fishing nearby which my three year old was absolutely fascinated by. The next time I attempted cross country skiing with both kids, we ended up going as a whole family so that my husband could help our 3 year old.
I found it was easier than trying to get all the gear into your car and get out to the trails, and there are so many places you can rent your gear from, really simplifying getting out. I live near Gatineau park, and our Gatineau Plus cards offers free 1 hour cross country ski rentals at a few locations (we went to Lac Leamy near the Casino du Lac Leamy). And many times during the work week, there were so few people there that you could often take the skis for longer than an hour.
Since starting this activity with my youngest child, it has become a fun family activity. We even meet up with some friends and their families sometimes and get everyone out to enjoy the winter together. In the spring, we sometimes opt for snowshoe rentals instead, and bring along a bag of seeds and go out and feed the chickadees along the trail, which the kids absolutely love. This love of skiing and the outdoors has also paved the road into a trying out downhill skiing with my oldest. Last year, he was old enough to put him into downhill skiing lessons at Camp Fortune. I was amazed at how quickly he picked it up and within a month, we were able to take the chair lift up and ski together down the beginner hills, and eventually the intermediate hills by the end of the season. Much like cross country skiing was a special activity that I shared with my youngest, I am finding that downhill skiing is a special activity that I love spending together, just the two of us, with my oldest. I have also inspired others to get their children into skiing this winter, and will likely be joining up with some friends and family to go downhill skiing this winter.
I truly feel like this first step of getting out cross country skiing with my youngest has reignited my love of being outdoors in the winter. I have also realized that, especially with children, you really have to embrace the winter months and get out there. We have a small sledding hill across the street from us which I love taking the kids to every weekend, and love seeing their thrilled little faces, big smiles, laughter and happy screams of glee as they “rush” down the hill with all the other neighbourhood kids. I am really hoping that I am helping my children create wonderful winter memories and helping to create a new generation that loves experiencing our beautiful Canadian winters.
Suzanne is the mother of two children, living in the Gatineau area in Quebec.