Not a fan of the chilly Swiss winter months? Or can’t wait for the snow to melt to pack your picnics and get your hiking boots on and hit the trails with your little ones? Well, winter walks with children are in fact not impossible. They might even make a winter-fan of you. With the last few weeks of the season dawning, it might be the perfect opportunity to try out some snow walks to warm up those legs in time for spring and summer hiking!
Although not as popular as the ski slopes, most if not all of the Swiss ski regions usually map out the snow-trails that are fit for avid hikers but also appropriate for families with small children. Some walks can even accommodate a sturdy buggy and little toddlers just learning to take their first steps.
I’ve put the following basic considerations together for young families who would also like to visit the Swiss mountains in winter with their small children, but are not sure where to start.
Distance & Terrain
The distance an average adult can cover in an hour is about 3 kilometers. So choosing a trail that is also slightly downhill and no longer than 5 kilometers will preoccupy any family for an entire afternoon.
If you’re not particularly accustomed to walking such distances, especially in the mountains (or higher than 1000 meters asl) or if you’ve got preschoolers along who no longer fit into carrier backpacks, 3 Kms is already tops. Remember they’ll need to take more steps than you to cover that same distance. And the terrain is undeniably different, whereas dirt and pavement will resist stomping feet, snow will either let them slip or sink. Each step will require more energy to regain balance or dislodge that foot from the snow, only to take the next step to slip or sink again…
Snow shoes are a must. Especially for children. Dress them warm, in layers and winter gear because children are known to easily be overcome by the sudden impulse to jump into heaps of snow and ice and roll around until they become snowballs themselves. It would be a pity to find your children soaked and freezing in their cotton coats.
Parents may opt for normal hiking boot, but be warned that adult feet also need some insulation. Lest you look forward to defrosting your toes later in a hot bath, water resistant hiking boots are probably the better choice, especially when you discover that the snow has melted into ankle-deep sludge. However, in the worst case, woolen socks in your summer hiking boots could work wonders.
Unlike when you’re hiking with other adults and maintaining a pace, hiking and trekking with toddlers will have a rhythm not unlike dancing: three steps forward, two steps back, side step here, side step there and slide… So dressing yourself warm could keep your patience at bay while playing and trekking with your children in the snow.
Bring some trekking poles. It’s especially helpful if you’re dealing with slippery terrain and carrying a toddler on your back. It takes a lot of load off your knees, keeps you balanced up and down the hills, distributing the weight throughout your entire body and lessening the likelihood of sore legs too.
And don’t forget to pack snacks: chocolates and dried meat for little children who can’t wait for the next mountain restaurant to replenish their energy are most cooperative when they’re kept happy and fed. Drink lots of water—even though it’s cold and you don’t sweat as much, walking in the snow uses up at least twice as much Calories as walking on dirt trails and sidewalks.
Lastly, it would be wise to check the weather forecast a day or two before your hike, of course. It could save from battling through a snow blizzard with a tired toddler, two kilometers uphill. But also be ready for all kinds of weather. Even on a good day, the temperatures can vary between just being in the shade or out under the sun. And starting out on a cloudy morning could easily turn into a sunny, blinding afternoon. Don’t under-estimate the cold wind and wet snow even under blue skies. So don’t forget sunglasses and sun cream for the kids, as the reflection of the sunrays on the snow can be a nuisance in the least, a health hazard at worst… That goes for the parents too!
Half-day is the Whole Day
As a last and final consideration, for any kind of walking tour with small kids, it is advisable to allot the whole day for your family field-trip. It is a fact: everything takes twice as long when you have to do it with children. That includes eating, packing, traveling and walking. So when you come across a mapped out trail in local pamphlets or home page, 40 minutes walking time easily equates to 80 to 90 minutes of walking with your family. And that doesn’t include the breaks you’ll probably need to take, to eat, to play, to take pictures or just to stop and enjoy the view, you are afterall visiting the Swiss mountains, the view is always breathtaking!