Winter Sport Part II: Family Fun

Family Fun & Exercise

Okay, if you’re just joining us, you’ve missed Part I and you need to go back and start there – at least if fishing means anything to you.  If you’re not into the entire fishing thing, well, you can start here I suppose – though I can’t imagine fishing meaning nothing to anyone reading here…

Here are a few fun things to do in the winter months for those trying desperately to keep the kiddos from driving you batty, or those exercise/fitness enthusiasts amongst you.


When I was a youngster my sisters and friends looked forward to winter trips to the mountains with great anticipation.  The first started during Christmas vacation and continued as long as snow held (and parents were willing to provide transportation), sometimes well into early spring.  The object of all this anticipation was, of course, sledding, or if not sledding in the classic sense of the Classic Flier sled or wrapped-wood toboggans, at least careening down some slick hill atop an inner tube, “trashcan lid” or other improvised slippery platform.  The more kids we could pile onto a single sled the better – better for exciting pileups at the bottom of the sliding hill.

You can relive those fond childhood dreams by chauffeuring your own children and their neighborhood friends into surrounding hills.

But make sure everyone is bundled up first, into waterproof bibs and jackets or jumpsuits, hats gloves and cold-weather boots.  That is also part of those childhood memories from winters long past; numb appendages and painful thawing sessions in hot bathtubs on our return from the hills.  It didn’t seem to detour us, but staying warm is still preferred.  All Tri-State and Sportsman & Ski Haus locations offer a bevy of warm, waterproof duds, togs that help you stay warm and dry and looking stylish no matter your wintertime pursuit, be that skiing, snowboarding, or bonsai-ing down a slippery slope atop some sort of sledding platform.

And those platforms are highly varied.  We have single-seater units just big enough to accommodate the average posterior and with handles to each side (Merilcan Missile or AirHead, as examples), to super-slick, super-light foam boards with handles, to plastic sleds with room enough for several kiddies (SnoSprint or Family Toboggan), plus inner-tube arrangements that double as boat-towing tubes come summer.


The first time I snowshoed, trekking high into an island of roadless mountains otherwise surrounded by roads, chasing late-season elk who had taken refuge in the relatively-small primitive area, wearing small “bear-paw” shoes in light powder snow and towing a plastic sled (to deposit meat in after the kill), I thought I might die.  With each step I sunk to my knees in white fluff, and being a stubborn type (and desperately wanting an elk; which, actually, I did manage to tag), I trekked too far while tracking fresh spoor and ran out of fuel, completely spent but forced to carry on to see civilization again.  I was laid up with shin splints for a week after getting that elk out of there — and I was running full marathons in those days.

I swore I would never step foot atop a set of snow shoes again.  But I had made a common mistake (actually two), which when I moved to North Idaho and eventually did try shoe shoes again I would not repeat.  Firstly, snow shoes must be chosen based on the weight of the person wearing them, and the conditions at hand.  Those small bear-paws where too small for both the conditions and my frame.  Second, I quickly learned that poles are a necessity for efficient snow-shoeing.

Petite women and teens, at one end of the spectrum, will normally choose a much smaller shoe (say an 18, for instance) than the biggest men (who’ll automatically need a 35) at the other extreme.  Those in the middle, say 140- to 160-pound men or women, can choose something in the middle (like a 25).  Crusted, wind-packed late-season snow will generally allow you to use a smaller shoe, though beware the crusted snow you head out atop in the cold of morning can become soft and unsupportive after a few hours of full sun.  This is why the best Mountain Survival Research (MSR) shoes include instant-snap-in extensions or “tails,” allowing you to adapt to changing conditions.  Talk to one of our experts at any of the Tri-State or Sportsman’s locations to help you with your exact snowshoeing needs.  Names to look to include Yukon Charlie‘s and Tubbs on the most affordable end, Redfeather and MSR at the higher end.

Poles like those from Alps Mountaineering or MSR – one in each hand – are important because they allow you to better keep your balance and “push” yourself ahead while waddling along.  Believe me, you might not sense it at the time, but without poles you’ll expend much more energy fighting to keep your balance, especially in light powder or slushy snow.

Snowshoeing is a great way to get some quality exercise, see some country in its winter beauty, and even get around while hunting small game such as mountain grouse or snowshoe hares.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross country skis are available only in Montana’s two Sportsman & Ski Haus locations (Kalispell and Whitefish) and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho for rent or purchase, but if you’re lucky enough to live in or be visiting the area this offers an exciting way to get out and witness some of the Inland Northwest’s most gorgeous backcountry, including Glacier National Park in Montana.  Backcountry trails and copious logging skids closed to motorized vehicles are common throughout the region.

No matter what you have in mind in way of outdoor activities, cross country skiing is much easier to get the knack of then its alpine, downhill counterpart because you have more control over locomotion and with scant familiarizing it becomes as natural as walking.  But then again, you can keep this as leisurely (sticking to gentle trails and open meadows) or as challenging (tackling steeper terrain and telemarking down steeper hills) as you wish.  Cross country skiing can also act as an avenue to other pursuits, such as wildlife photography, small-game hunting for grouse or hares, or reaching that secluded, extra-super-secret ice-fishing lake or pond that sees little pressure.  Still, most people enjoy cross country skiing as a way to simply get out and stretch their legs and perhaps work up a sweat.

So with winter months upon us there’s no need to remain indoors.  Dress the part, get out and enjoy our great outdoors.

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