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7 ways Pittsburgh kids find outdoor winter fun

winter outdoor
Candy Williams
January24/ 2018

During winter months, it’s so easy to act like a hibernating bear and snuggle up on the couch.

But a lack of outdoor playtime during winter’s cold weather and shorter days can take its toll on kids, report the pediatric experts at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Kids only burn about half the calories in winter as they in summer months. That lack of exercise can have a negative effect on their physical health.

So, as the thermometer dips and rises, layer the kids accordingly, bring along a Thermos of hot cocoa, and head for some of these close-to-home places that will keep the family active and having fun together.

winter outdoor
Tiny Tots Ice Skating class at North Park gives kids an early introduction to the thrill of gliding on ice.

Ice Skating

The 2018 Winter Olympics gets underway Feb. 9, putting figure skating and ice dancing back in the spotlight for two weeks. It’s the perfect time to head to one of Pittsburgh’s most popular ice skating rinks.

The newly renovated South Park ice skating rink currently will open Jan. 27. Improvements will include a new NHL-size rink and a cool skate trail outside the rink.

The magical setting of the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place, Downtown, is home to special events, as well as daily skate sessions. Little girls will love to take part in the Princess Skate with the Snow Queen and other fairytale princesses from on Jan. 28. Teens can bring their favorite squeeze to the Valentine’s Day Skate on Feb. 10. Discounts are offered every Tuesday for Family Nights, with Wednesdays dedicated to Student Nights special pricing.

Beginners are welcome at North Park rink, which offers kids skating lessons. Open stick time is available for future hockey stars to work on their skills.

At Schenley Park in Oakland, Children’s Learn To Skate Lessons are offered for ages 5 and up. Family Night Skate is scheduled every Thursdays when one kid is admitted free with each paid adult admission.

winter outdoor
Whee! Tubing at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is more fun than riding a roller coaster.

Snow Tubing

Even if there’s a warming trend in the city, chances are the snow-making machines are blowing snow at our local mountain resorts.

The snow tubing park at Seven Springs is the largest in the region with 11 chutes ready to send screaming tubers plunging down the hills, only to be easily whisked back up the hill again on a Magic Carpet ride. Families are welcome for Tube-A-Palooza Parties on Tuesday nights beginning at 6 p.m. Between runs, kids can gather by the bonfire to warm up and enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet with pizza, hot dogs, and hot chocolate.

At Hidden Valley Resort, Tube-A-Palooza Parties are scheduled on Thursdays.

Both tubing parks are open to kids ages 10 and older on their own. Age 4 is the minimum age to tube. Kids from 4 years to 9 years must be accompanied by an adult.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort provides specially designed tubes to navigate down its 800-foot tubing park. Tube. Riders are carried back to the top of the hill by a surface lift for multiple rides. Reservations are required for the 2-hour sessions. Kids must be 42 inches tall.

Closer to home, snow tubing season at Boyce Park typically runs through mid-March, weather and conditions permitting. Call ahead for a 24-hour recording on snow conditions.

These Alaskan Husky dog sled teams race through snow-covered trails.

Dog Sledding

So you can’t make it to the Iditarod Race. You can have a chance at playing a musher without traveling to the Great White North. Dog sledding at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort presents a rare opportunity for the entire family. The experience consists of a kennel tour in which kids will meet their dog sled team, followed by an exhilarating 30-minute ride led by Alaskan Husky sled dogs. Can you holler “mush”?

winter outdoor
Some outdoor adventures end with cookies and hot cocoa. Perfect!

Winter Walks

No special sports equipment is needed for these two events sponsored by Venture Outdoors – only a good pair of walking shoes or boots for each member of the family. On Feb. 17, the “Cocoa and Cookie Adventure” features a hike through Riverview Park, followed by a snack of hot cocoa and sugar cookies. Watch the calendar for more family events.

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy schedules lots of outdoor escapades year-round in Pittsburgh’s city parks, including nature hikes, story walks (“Two Blue Jays” on Feb. 10), plus an Owl Prowl with a Naturalist (Feb. 18). Some events fill up quickly, so be sure to register early.

winter outdoor
Cross-country skiers glide through wooded trails.

Cross Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is ideal for beginning skiers or those who prefer to avoid the steep slopes. There are many regional spots for novice families to try out the sport without investing in equipment. Swooshing along a forest path provides a great cardio workout for all ages.

Mystic Mountain and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort have offered cross-country skiing since the 1970s. Rental equipment is available at the Sundial Ski Lodge with beginner and intermediate lessons available on weekends.

Other places to try the sport include Laurel Ridge State Park along the Laurel Mountain in Cambria, Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland counties. Laurel Ridge is known for its 35 miles of trails for cross-country skiing. The trails are color-coded according to difficulty and maps are available. Equipment is available to rent.

Blue Knob Resort in Claysburg, Blair County, offers a wide terrain of trails for Nordic cross-country skiing enthusiasts, including gently sloping open and wooded trails.

At Moraine State Park in Butler County, the Pleasant Valley and Sunken Garden trails provide about 6 miles of trails for any skill level. Venture Outdoors will offer a Beginner Cross Country Skiing outing on Feb. 3 for ages 13 and up at Kooser State Park in Somerset.

And Allegheny County Parks have cross-country ski trails, with equipment available during scheduled group outings.

winter outdoor
Kids find confidence and exhilaration in mastering new skills.

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

With its mountainous terrain, Western Pennsylvania is a no-brainer destination for skiing and snowboarding. Kids gravitate toward the combination of surfers and skateboarding. What could be cooler than working your way from a skid-turn to a slash?

The Snow Sports School at Boyce Park trains kids from age 7 and up in skiing and snowboarding skills. At Seven Springs, kids as young as 4 can take lessons. It is amazing how quickly those little guys adapt to this sport.

At Hidden Valley Resort, group lesson packages can get first-timers started and help define skills for those with experience. The 60-minute lesson packages include practice on the Fun-Based Learning System, which uses sculpted snow to create a fun learning environment across different terrains.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort‘s Mystic Mountain offers 25 acres of downhill skiing and snowboarding on 6 slopes ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. The trails are 100-percent illuminated for night skiing. Newbies can take advantage of beginner lessons. Experienced kids from 4 to 12 years will have the chance to make new friends on the slope at Children’s Snow Camp sessions. The day-long programming includes lunch, lift ticket and equipment rental, along with interactive indoor activities during breaks.

Candy Williams

Candy Williams is a freelance writer and journalist whose articles have appeared in national and local publications. She lives in the South Hills.

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