Snow days

Outdoor fun for kids

Kids learn how to ski at Tahoe Cross-Country.

Kids learn how to ski at Tahoe Cross-Country.

photo by Tim hauserman

Sure, downhill skiing is fun with the kids, but after you have spent all that money, how will they go to college? How do your kids get to have a blast in those mountains loaded with snow without breaking the bank? Here are some reasonably priced alternatives for families to enjoy the best winter has to offer:

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country ski resort tickets are about one-third the price of downhill ski tickets, the crowds are much smaller, and everyone gets a great aerobic workout. While some kids prefer sitting on a chair to skiing up a hill, most children learn to love cross-country skiing. Here are the best resorts near Reno:

Tahoe Cross-Country in Tahoe City has views of Lake Tahoe and provides three trails where you can take Rex the dog. If you live at North Tahoe, your kids can become a part of Strider-Gliders, the after-school cross-country ski program at Tahoe Cross-Country. For just $80, kids can ski with instructors and a bunch of new friends once a week for eight weeks between January and March. The price includes use of equipment and free passes for the entire season. In addition, experienced kid skiers between third and fifth grade can sign up for Tahoe Cross-Country’s biathlon. Just like adult biathlon, kids ski a lap, shoot targets, then ski penalty laps if they miss shots. The difference is the kids use safe laser rifles that shoot a red light at the target instead of bullets. Nothing motivates a kid to ski faster than the realization that the faster they ski, the sooner they get to shoot a gun. (530) 583-5475,

Tahoe-Donner Cross Country in Truckee grooms about 100 kilometers of trails for all ability levels. If your children are up to it, take them down into the beautiful and secluded Euer Valley where a huge meadow and several warming huts await. If that is too far, several easy trails are found near the lodge. (530) 587-9484,

At Spooner Lake Cross-Country, on Spooner Summit, you will find easy terrain around Spooner Lake and in the meadows nearby. For the super hearty, a ski up to Marlette Lake could be the highlight of your winter. 749-5349,

You can also rent, borrow or buy skis and take the kids touring through the woods anywhere you can find snow on public lands. Tahoe Meadows at the top of the Mt. Rose Highway and Page Meadows on the West Shore are both good spots for beginners. Go for a ski on a full moon night with a thermos full of hot chocolate for a true mountain experience.

Ice skating

Every child should have the opportunity to skate on some not so thin ice, if only so they know what those black-and-white people are doing in all those old movies. It’s good for them to fall on their butts and have to get back up again and again. Cold early winters with little snow will sometimes freeze some of the local water bodies hard enough for skating. Boca Reservoir, and portions of the Truckee River near Tahoe City are two favorites. But for kids, a better bet is trying out one of the several available ice skating rinks. These outdoor rinks are dependent on weather conditions, so be sure and call ahead to make sure they are open:

Northstar-at-Tahoe, Truckee. Right in the center of the village, the Northstar rink is surrounded by eating and drinking establishments and cozy outdoor fire pits. (530) 562-3689.

Truckee River Regional Park, Truckee. With rentals, snack bar and lower fees, the Regional Park is a locals favorite. It’s located just a half mile from downtown Truckee on Old Brockway Road (530) 582-7720.

“Look ma! We’re balancing!”

Photo by Tim hauserman

Olympic Ice Pavillion, Squaw Valley. The good news is that this Olympic-sized ice rink is at the top of the Cable Car at 8,200 feet, where the views are awesome. The bad news is that you have to take the time and pay the hefty price of getting there. If you go, bring the bathing suit and make a day of it by following the skating with a dip into the pool and hot tub. (530) 583-6985,

Rink on the River, Downtown Reno: And then of course you can always skate right in Downtown Reno. 334-6268,

Sledding or tubing

How about flying down a groomed slope on a big tube or saucer instead of skis? Several parks are available:

Soda Springs Mountain Resort calls itself “Tahoe’s best snow park for kids,” and tubing is a big part of their small scale operation. In Tube Town you can ride the magic carpet to the top and glide down more gentle terrain or head to Super Tubercross with bumps and rollers. Tubes included. (530) 426-3901,

Boreal Mountain Playland. You will find Playland at the far end of the Boreal Mountain parking lot near the Auburn Ski Club. They have a magic carpet, groomed tubing lanes, and tubes are included. (530) 426-3666,

In Tahoe City, Granlibakken provides groomed terrain for sledding. You are required to use their saucers, but the price is just $10 for the day. There is also lodging and food adjacent to the snow play hill, so you can make a weekend of it. 581-7533,

Sled dogging

Wilderness Adventure Tours lead dog sled tours throughout the winter out of Resort at Squaw Creek. While more expensive than some of the other activities described, it is a once in a lifetime experience. They have one-hour tours on the Squaw Creek Nordic trails with nice views of the mountains of Squaw Valley. If you have a little dog lover in your house this would be a special treat. (530) 550-8133.

Snow angels, snow balls and snow people

Perhaps the most fun of all is to get the kids dressed up in warm, waterproof clothing, make sure it is a powder day with lots of freshies, and just go play. They will figure it out on their own, but if not make snow angels, throw snow balls, make snow people, run and jump and fall and laugh.

My now 21-year-old daughter fondly remembers being 10 and spending hours in the backyard with friends building what they thought of as huge snow forts and obstacle courses for sleds. For the perfect snow person, bring along pine needles for hair, rocks for eyes and mouth, a carrot for the nose, and branches for the arms. You will know that teenagers are officially grown up when they add a certain level of anatomical correctness to the bodies of the snow man or woman.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, get kids out there. They belong in the snow.