Do you consider yourself a Grinch when it comes to those chilly Swiss winters?
Maybe you cannot wait for the snow to melt, just so you can pack your picnic and hit the trails with your little ones. Winter walks with children are, in fact, not impossible. They might even turn you into a fan of those winter months. Snow trails are clearly not as popular as ski slopes. But most of the ski resorts in Switzerland have mapped out all the trails that are fit for avid hikers and families with small children. Some walks can even accommodate a sturdy stroller and those toddlers just learning to take their first steps.
These recommendations are for young families who are not used to visiting the mountains during winter. If you are not sure where to start, read on!
What to consider about distances and terrain.
The distance an average adult can cover in an hour is about 3 km. So, choosing a trail that is also slightly downhill and no longer than 5 km will occupy most any family for an entire afternoon. If you are not particularly accustomed to walking such distances, especially in the mountains (or at altitudes higher than 1000 m above sea), or if you have preschoolers along who no longer fit into carrier backpacks, 3 km is already tops.
Remember: They will 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.
How to properly gear up for winter
Snow boots are a must - especially for children. Dress them in layers and warm winter gear. Children are known to easily feel overcome by the impulse to jump into heaps of snow and ice. They will roll around until they literally turn into snowballs. It would be a pity to find your children soaked and freezing in their cotton coats.
Parents may opt for normal hiking boots, but be warned that adults' feet also need some insulation. Unless you look forward to defrosting your toes in a hot bath, water resistant hiking boots are probably the better choice. Especially so 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.
Unless you are with other adults and are maintaining a pace, hiking and trekking with toddlers has a rhythm not unlike dancing: Three steps forward, two steps back, side step here, side step there and slide...
Dressing yourself warmly could keep your patience at bay while playing and trekking with your children in the snow.
Bring some trekking poles. They are especially helpful if you are dealing with slippery terrain and are carrying a toddler on your back. Poles take a load off your knees and keep you balanced up and down hills. They distribute the weight throughout your entire body and lessen the likelihood of sore legs.
Do not forget to pack some snacks. Chocolate bars and dried meat keep the little ones motivated on the way to the next mountain restaurant.
Drink lots of water. Even though it is cold and you do not sweat as much, walking in the snow uses up at least twice as many calories as walking on dirt trails and sidewalks.
Respect the weather
Make it a point to check the weather forecast a day or two before your hike. For instance, search.ch offers an hour-by-hour forecast, helping you to avoid a blizzard with a toddler in tow. Still, be ready for all kinds of weather. Even on a good day, the temperatures can vary greatly between shady or sunny spots. And a morning starting out cloudy could easily turn into a sunny, blinding afternoon.
Bring sunglasses and wear sun lotion, because the cold wind and wet sun can do some damage to your kids. The reflection of the sun rays on the snow can be a nuisance in the least, a health hazard at worst... That goes for the parents, too!
Half a day is an entire day
For any kind of walking tour with small kids, I advise you to plan an entire day for your field trip. It is a fact: Everything takes twice as long when you are doing it with children.
This includes eating, packing, traveling and walking. When you come across a mapped out trail in a tourism pamphlet, a walking time of 40 minutes is more like 80 to 90 minutes for a family. This does not include the breaks you will be taking to eat, play, take pictures or just to stop and enjoy the views.
After all, you are visiting the Swiss mountains where the view is always breathtaking!
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