Don’t Let Winter Get You Down!
cabin fever (noun): an unhappy and impatient feeling that comes from being indoors for too long. – Merriam-Webster
Used in a sentence: This long Boston winter has left my kids with a bad case of cabin fever.
I don’t know who originally coined the phrase “cabin fever,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someone from New England. Let’s face it, while we do get a taste of all four seasons here, each glorious in its own way, none compares to the grandeur of a long, cold, Massachusetts winter!
Scientific proof exists that wintertime, with its ice and snow and shorter daylight hours, causes a depressive disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Surely, this is a time of year when our children tend to be less active and social – two important attributes for their physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Rather than give in to the urge to hibernate in flannel pajamas under quilts for the next few months, there are many reasons to embrace the myriad athletic opportunities the resplendent New England winter graciously serves up. Try health, fitness and fun! Getting some exercise locally or going on an action-packed getaway to a nearby ski resort might be just the remedy your family needs.
Favorite Wintertime Sports
Alpine Skiing – A quintessential New England pastime since the mid-1800s, skiing is a sport synonymous with snow. While our region has its share of world-class runs, it also offers abundant beginner-friendly slopes within close proximity of the city. Children can start to ski pretty much as soon as they are able to walk (depending on your child’s interest level and motor skills). However, lessons typically start at age 4.
Skiing provides more of a cardiovascular workout than you might think for a sport that mostly involves gliding downhill. It requires the use of an assortment of muscles in your back, core and legs that typically don’t get a lot of exercise. Since it’s difficult to re-create the activity in the gym or on a machine, skiing is an exceptional cross-training opportunity for young athletes focused on getting fit for spring sports.
Cross-Country Skiing – Perhaps not as popular among children as alpine skiing, cross-country skiing offers a wonderful way to experience nature while getting a terrific cardio workout that builds arm, leg and abdominal muscles. Plus, you can start your kids as early as they are interested. A handy attachment called a pulk, similar to the little buggies people use to pull their kids behind them when biking, even lets you take the littlest ones along when heading out for a family outing.
A real boon of cross-country skiing is you can do it just about anywhere there’s snow. The Nordic terrain found at ski areas commonly offers a more diverse landscape and rigorous workout than what’s typically available in cities and suburbs. Freestyle cross-country skiing has become popular for those looking for a more dynamic, faster and athletic experience. It’s a blend of skiing and skating that’s great for runners; however, it does require a groomed surface and specialized equipment.
Snowboarding – Kids love snowboarding, but experts say it’s best to wait until they are around 7 or 8 years old before trying it. The sport requires a bit more coordination than skiing, especially since your feet are awkwardly locked onto your board. The common belief is snowboarding tends to be more daunting for beginners, but in the end it’s much easier to achieve a level of mastery.
As with skiing, snowboarding promotes balance and flexibility and builds muscle strength through the abdominals, calves, hamstrings and quads. Kids can have a blast on the mountain while building stamina and overall athleticism.
Ice Skating – If you can stand up and walk, you can start skating, but like anything else, some kids are ready for it earlier than others. One thing great about our region is it provides the opportunity to ice skate outdoors in natural settings; but make sure the ice is marked as safe, at least four inches thick throughout. All around Boston, there are also numerous indoor rinks where kids can play hockey, practice artistic routines, learn speed skating and have fun, all year long.
The physical benefits of ice skating include both cardio and aerobic fitness. It’s a major calorie burner that’s surprisingly low-impact. Skating builds strength and flexibility in otherwise rarely impacted stabilizing muscle groups in your hips, knees and ankles. The result is greater agility, endurance and explosiveness that translates well to sports involving running and jumping.
Snowshoeing – A wintertime activity on the rise, snowshoeing allows kids from the youngest ages all the way up to be more mobile on snowy terrain. The snowshoe offers “flotation” enough to hike along trails without getting stuck in a snowdrift. It’s become a favorite activity for families who appreciate nature and want to enjoy an inspiring perspective.
The great thing about snowshoeing is, like hiking, you can make it as rigorous as you like depending on your pace and the trails you choose. It’s low-impact, burns twice as many calories as walking at the same speed and is sure to get the heart rate up. Plus, it’s a full-body workout involving your legs, arms and core. Those who really want to feel the burn can also try snowshoe racing, which requires specialized shoes and a relatively strong level of fitness.
Tubing – More and more mountain resorts are offering tubing for the simple reason that it’s loads of fun. On the rise since the late 90s, tubing is an activity that doesn’t require skill or special equipment. It’s extremely popular among families looking for a break between ski sessions or just out for a good time. Tubing lends a bright boost to the spirit during the shortest days of the year.
Since there’s typically no age limit, families decide when their children are ready. Tubing is a single-rider activity for safety reasons, and the size of the tube is specifically matched to the rider. However, multiple tubes can be tethered together for a shared experience.
Where to Go
If you’re ready to have your fill of cold-weather events and entertainment, our region offers plenty of opportunities for families to step outside, breathe the fresh air and get physical.
“People are coming just to get away, but they also like to be able to spend time with their kids and do something outdoors,” says Andrew Mahoney of Purity Spring Resort in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. “In the winter, you don’t always have the opportunity to do that comfortably.”
Mahoney, who directs the winter kids camp and is a member of the family that owns and operates the historic resort, says heading to a location with an array of activities and amenities at your fingertips gives parents the chance to offer new experiences to their kids that might not exist down in the city. “We are a great place for kids to learn how to ski (or snowboard),” he explains, adding many families choose to return year after year, if not multiple times a winter.
Whether you are going for the day, the weekend or all season long, you have the luxury of choosing from a variety of winter getaways in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Driving distance from Boston: About an hour.
Atmosphere: Warm, cozy lodge offering classic skiing.
Special attractions: Inviting event schedule ranging from a WinterFire Celebration that kicks off the winter season to fun vacation clubs for kids. – Princeton; wachusett.com.
More on the next page!
Nashoba Valley Ski Area
Driving distance from Boston: Less than an hour.
Atmosphere: Full-service resort with a rich tradition in ski racing and snowboarding.
Special attractions: Excellent ski and snowboarding terrain park with continually rotating features and a separate tubing location with onsite lodge. – Westford and Littleton; skinashoba.com.
Blue Hills Ski Resort
Driving distance from Boston: About 30 minutes.
Atmosphere: Situated in a historic location, Blue Hills is the best place to learn and sharpen skills within a half hour of home.
Special attractions: The Old Iron Sides Terrain Park, vacation camp for kids and a variety of lesson programs. – Canton; bluehillsboston.com.
Red Jacket Mountain View Resort
Driving distance from Boston: Under three hours.
Atmosphere: Family resort in the middle of a lush wonderland of winter activities. It’s the perfect place to launch into outdoor adventures in the legendary White Mountains.
Special attractions: The Kahuna Laguna indoor water park, exceptional spa, luxury dining and accommodations. – North Conway; redjacketresorts.com.
Purity Spring Resort
Driving distance from Boston: Just over two hours.
Atmosphere: Old school, more than 100-year-old resort that’s small, friendly and great for beginners.
Special attractions: Value lift tickets that cover the slopes, Nordic cross-country/snowshoeing terrain and beautiful enclosed, outdoor ice skating rink. Additional features include skating on the pond, night skiing and horse-drawn sleigh rides. – Madison; purityspring.com.
Driving distance from Boston: About four hours.
Atmosphere: Full-service, value resort for families. Features an award-winning children’s program and adaptive skiing and riding program for children with special needs.
Special attractions: Airboarding! Similar to tubing, only on a smaller, more controllable inflatable sled (sort of like a water raft), it’s the latest craze on the mountain. – Smugglers’ Notch; smuggs.com.
Driving distance from Boston: Approximately three and a half hours.
Atmosphere: True mountain getaway, top-of-the-line amenities and some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the East.
Special attractions: The Jay Peak Pump House indoor water park, all-new Ice Haus skating arena and year-round live music series. – Jay; jaypeakresort.com.
Tips for Outdoor Comfort & Safety
The following tips are courtesy of Red Jacket Mountain View Resort and Purity Spring Resort.
• Dress warm and in layers. Depending on your elevation and the wind, it can get cold fast.
• Pre-hydrate and bring along plenty of drinking water. The winter is actually drier than summer, so be prepared.
• Wear goggles or glasses with UV protection and apply sunscreen to exposed skin. The sun may not be out for as long or shine quite as strong, but it’s still powerful enough to leave a burn and damage your eyes.
• Rent equipment for first-timers and learners. Unless your kids are going to be doing the sport every week or competitively, renting equipment typically makes sense. There’s no reason to buy expensive ski boots that are going to be too small by the end of the season. Many packages offer gear plus lessons and a lift ticket.
• Get there rested. Lifts start around 8 a.m. and early morning is often the nicest time to hit the slopes and trails.
• Opt for a lesson when trying something new. Your kids will not only learn the basics of how to ski or snowboard, but also proper etiquette, such as paying attention to the signs, yielding to other skiers and riding the lift.
• Make sure equipment is tested by a professional. Ski bindings are specifically set for the boot and skier’s height and weight to keep you safe by releasing when you fall. Ice skate blades should be sharpened regularly.
• Schedule breaks. The combination of physical, mental and emotional fatigue associated with winter sports can really sneak up on you. Check in with your kids to see how they are feeling and make times for breaks and meals.
Brian Spero is a frequent writer for Boston Parents Paper.