December 6, 2009 in Outdoors

Here’s the skinny

Lower cost, fewer injuries lure families to ski cross country
By The Spokesman-Review
RICH LANDERS photos photo

Syringa Barenti and Zane Barnwell lead their group in a warm-up ski along the set tracks at Mount Spokane cross-country ski area at the start of a Nordic Kids session last winter. More than 100 kids participate in the weekly winter cross-country skiing program run by parents and sponsored by the Spokane Nordic Ski Education Foundation.
(Full-size photo)

Sign up for Nordic Kids

What: Nordic Kids cross-country skiing program.

Who: Parent- and volunteer-driven activities for kids ages 5-15.

When: Saturdays, Jan. 9 through Feb. 27, noon-3 p.m.

Where: Mount Spokane cross-country ski trails.

Cost for first child is $50 and $45 for additional children. Kids must have own equipment. Spokane Nordic Ski Education Foundation family membership required, $20.

Info and applications:

Contact: Tom or Dawn Schaaf, e-mail

A parent-driven youth nordic program that’s been teaching kids the lifelong enjoyment of cross-country skiing is gearing up for its 28th year at Mount Spokane. Registration is open for youths ages 5-15 in the Nordic Kids winter sessions that will start Jan. 9 and run almost every Saturday through February.

Dawn Schaaf, the Nordic Kids co-coordinator for the Spokane Nordic Ski Education Foundation, recalled watching a remarkable transformation in her son’s skiing and independence. In the first four years he’d been with the program, starting at age 5, she said she’d seen him “progress from the snow-eating gang to the take-off-and-go gang.”

Maybe 10 percent of the Nordic Kids eventually launch into competitive cross-country skiing with the club’s Junior Nordic Team.

“We added skate skiing as our boys started looking for something faster and more interesting,” she said.

The Nordic Kids program combines skiing lessons with building a peer group of friends with whom they can enjoy the sport.

Having grown up as a downhill skier, Schaaf has leaned toward the cross-country skiing environment for raising kids.

“It’s much more low-key and reasonable compared to the big expense of downhill skiing,” she said.

“It’s great exercise, something you can do all your life, and the kids go for it instinctively because it’s also good fun. They love the social part of it.”

Knee injuries, common in alpine skiing, are rare in cross country, she said.

All parents sign up for jobs in running the Nordic Kids program, including leading – or following – the groups of skiers through the woods each weekend.

“Some non-skiing parents have enrolled their kids and pretty soon we see most of the parents on skis having a good time, too,” Schaaf said.

Registration is completed in December. Starting Jan. 9, the Selkirk Lodge and the groomed 35-kilometer cross country trail system will be flooded with young skiers, their parents and siblings almost every Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.

Kids are assigned to groups by age and ability with parent leaders who use games to teach skiing basics and love for safely enjoying the winter outdoors.

Spokane’s Nordic Kids is part of a loosely organized national program that originated in the 1970s as the Bill Koch Youth Ski League. The program was named for America’s only skier to win a medal in an Olympic nordic event.

The Spokane program started before grooming at Mount Spokane, with a few families and a handful of kids breaking trail with their skis.

The developed trail system and construction of the warming lodge enabled the program to grow to more than 160 kids in the 1990s, ranking the Spokane’s program among the five largest in the nation.

Last year the program had 112 kids enrolled.

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