Kids Want to Play
My wife, Karen, and I have been running a Nordic skiing program for elementary age kids for about seven years now. Prior to that we both coached Minnesota high school teams. Along the way, we have come to believe that the most effective way to teach kids Nordic skiing skills is to do it without their knowledge.
I am also thoroughly convinced that the Euros dominate the sport in world competition partly because they have a general comfort level on their skis that is unmatched – a direct result of learning, at an early age, how to have fun on their skis.
When we first started the kids program, we found that some of the most popular activities included goofing around on the little hill near the Nordic Center, and playing sharks and minnows on the widest trail we could find. Right away we started grooming a flat area that we call the “soccer field” just so we could keep the kids from blocking the trails while they played their games. Soccer is actually one of the games we play, with one ski and no poles. The kids “scooter” around and kick the ball with their free foot, all the while learning to kick and glide without anyone actually telling them how to do it.
A flat play area like this is easy to groom, and if you have ever watched hockey and dreamed of being the Zamboni driver like I have, you already know how. Just make an oval, turning the tightest radius at each end that you can. Keep moving the oval over one groomer width with each pass until you have covered in the center area of the oval you started with.
Two years ago, we also started grooming what we call our “terrain park”. This varies somewhat with our imagination and available materials, but basically consists of the following: A short, but very circuitous, single classic trail through the woods with lots of tight turns and little ups and downs. We usually have some “hoops” made from ½” black poly tubing set up on one or more of the down hills that the kids like to “limbo” through.
We usually have a gentle open down hill area that we build some jumps on. We also have a “king of the hill” that we make by piling snow, which usually means that it isn’t very high until at least January. I am considering making a wood chip pile this year so that it is usable with minimal snow.
Other props include some snow fencing that we make into a “maze”, poles for slalom gates, and traffic cones that are useful in setting up relays and defining game boundaries. Finally, a bunch of parallel classic tracks are great for races and relays.