Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Adventures in Motivation on the Ski Trail

We went cross-country skiing in Kananaskis a couple weeks ago, and my goal was to tackle a 10km loop as a family in preparation for a big backcountry trip we have coming up. And while I knew my 9-year old was strong enough, I still worried that motivation would be a challenge. After all, let's just admit that cross-country skiing might not be the most "exciting" of winter sports (especially when you've been spoiling your child with downhill skiing every weekend.)

Figure out the motivation that works for your child, and enjoy smiles like this

I love cross-country skiing but it has to be worked for, and the rewards are a little bit less obvious than with other winter sports. You have to climb the hills before you get to fly down them, and endless trudging or shuffling along flat (or slightly uphill) terrain is just not terribly exciting for most kids.

Fortunately, we had a fabulous time in West Bragg Creek on our last outing, and we skied the 10km loop I wanted to ski (making it around the Moose Loop, accessed from West Crystal Line and the Moose Connector, and finishing with a ski back along the Mountain Road.) We also nailed the motivation and there was very little complaining or whining.

Good ski days are magic! 

Below are the motivational tools that we used on this particular outing: 

1. We chose which battles we wanted to fight (and which ones were just not worth it) 

Noah did not want to wear long underwear and really wasn't enthusiastic about getting dressed in ski gear at all. Fortunately he has a very warm onesie snowsuit and so we let him skip the long underwear. He wore fleece pants, a warm long sleeve polyester shirt, and the smart wool socks that we did convince him to wear. He was happy, and it really wasn't the end of the world that he didn't want to wear long underwear. 

It's just not worth fighting the small stuff.

2. We got creative with the "lunch battle" 

Noah did not want to go skiing at first, and I couldn't figure out why he was so reluctant to go. I finally figured out that he just didn't want to have a cold sandwich for lunch. Well, fortunately there are plenty of alternatives for that once we figured out the problem!!

We made a pot of Kraft Dinner, put some of it in a thermos with extra melted cheese to make it extra yummy, and then we ate in the trailhead warming hut before starting our ski. My husband and I still ate our cold sandwiches, but Noah had the hot lunch he wanted. The rest of the time we snacked on granola bars and lots of candy. We finished off our ski with a stop at our favourite bakery in town and refueled again with more treats.

Again, we did not fight the small stuff but worked around the very small problem that threatened to ruin the whole day. 

3. Yes, CANDY

I know that candy isn't every family's choice motivational tool, but it works for us. And the biggest thing I will tell ALL families with motivation is to do what works for YOU. If it works for your family, own it and enjoy!

My son only gets candy when we are skiing, hiking, or biking as a reward for good effort (and a positive attitude.) We save the Halloween candy all year and pull it out for our weekend adventures.

Without our "candy junctions" there's no way my son would have skied 10km. I carry a small bag of candy in my pocket and pull it out at every sign, junction, or intersection. He then gets one or two small candies (that's it.)

And while it's not much, it's something that kids look forward to at the next junction, and it keeps them moving. And if you can't give your children candy for whatever reasons, find something else that will work. A girlfriend of mine carried Pokemon cards with her on one backpacking trip and gave them out at key points along the trail - which worked just as well as candy for the kids.

4. My son skied for his weekly tablet time 

Here's another one that could potentially start a comment war with this post, but again, do what works for YOUR family. If your kids don't get to use tablets or IPads, then find something else that they can earn with their skiing or hiking. If you disapprove of screen time, reward the kids with a new book or a new board game.

For us, we told Noah that he would earn 20 minutes of tablet time for the week per kilometre skied. He skied 10km and so earned 200 minutes to play Minecraft for the week. (which is roughly 40 minutes per day, not counting the weekend when we had a long 7 hour drive to Jasper and made special exceptions.) Divided into two segments, Noah got to play his beloved game twice a day for 20 minutes (which is really not that much screen time for a 9-year old.)

While we won't be doing this every weekend, it worked for this trip and was initiated because we'd been having challenges around how much tablet time Noah should have (and how addicted he was to his Minecraft game.)

5. We set a BIG reward for the 10km goal

We promised Noah that we'd take him out for dinner that night if we actually made the full 10 km distance. We knew it would be great motivation for him, and we all wanted to go out for pizza. It was a really nice treat for our hard work on the trail and made for an extra fun day.

Will ski for pizza! 

Other Motivational Tips for the Trail 

  • Pack extra special snacks or treats for the hard kilometres. On our way into Lake O'Hara one winter, I packed 11 individually packaged treats, one for each kilometre. It was great and really helped us to knock off the distance.

  • Have different options in mind for your ski loop or hike. My goal for our recent outing in West Bragg Creek was to ski 10km, but it didn't have to be on a certain trail. I had various options in my mind before starting (some trails with more hills than others) and I knew I could always customize our loop as we went (and as I saw what energy was looking like.)

  • We LOVE ending our day at a local coffee shop for cupcakes, cookies, treats, and for coffee of course! It's my ultimate reward and I'll ski 20km if you promise me a good cup of coffee at the end.

  • Choose your trail wisely with your child's personality in mind. My son hates gradually climbing for endless kilometres. He prefers short punchy hills that he has to quickly power up, with alternating downhill sections. We kept this in mind on the recent ski trip and skied our loop in the best direction for our son's preferences. He also hates flat trails so we really try to make sure our ski trips are interesting with lots of variety.

  • Get good at storytelling on the trail. My girlfriend memorizes legends and stories to tell on the trail. Her rule is that "if you keep walking, I'll keep talking." And it works very well. My son likes to also make up his own stories and will tell them to us as we ski. (They always have a good adventure theme to them with potential for disaster, accidents, or wildlife attacks - but it keeps him going as long as he's talking.) We also like to tell our son true adventure stories from previous trips before he was born. (the mountaineering story where Mommy fell off a large boulder on her face is a favourite!)

  • Bring a trail runner (or very fast skier.) I know several friends who like to hike,run, or ski ahead to leave treats for the kids along the side of the trail. And while this personally makes me nervous because I don't want somebody's dog to get into the chocolate I've stashed beside the trail, I do like it when an adult goes ahead, waits for the kids to catch up, hands out candies or treats, and then continues on ahead to wait again for the kids to pass by. We've jokingly named this benevolent adult "Trail Jesus."

  • Plan a fun scavenger hunt for the trail. The effort required in pulling this one off means I likely won't ever do it myself, but I have friends who plan great scavenger hunts and games on our big outings, and I love them for it!

  • Play fun alphabet games. We've come up with a few fun ones over the years but a new favourite is this: "I forgot to bring..." - and continues with items you forgot to bring with you on today's ski trip (in alphabetical order.) Bonus points if you can string several words together all starting with the same letter. For example, "I forgot to bring my amazing, awesome, apple cider." And extra bonus points if you can actually make it funny (which my husband rocks at.)

  • Hot chocolate in a thermos for the trail. (or in our case, it would have to be apple cider since I have the only child alive who doesn't like hot chocolate.)

  • Bring friends. This one sometimes works for us (and sometimes doesn't) depending on the dynamics of the kids involved. When you get that right match though, it's perfection! Give your child a friend on the trail, and you're giving him or her a superhero cape at the same time. Kids will generally ski (or hike) faster, longer, and with more happiness if they have friends along.

Candy Junction! 

I'm always eager to hear what works for other families so please leave a comment with your favourite motivational tips for the trail. 

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