Chill Thrills Winter Family Fun community

Chill Thrills: Winter Family Fun Beyond the Skating Rink and Ski Slope

When the temps dip, not everyone stays indoors. A hardy selection opt to find their fun out in nature, either with sports they already enjoy – but with warmer clothes – or exploring options they haven’t tried before.

Such as dog-sledding. Ice fishing. Snowshoeing. Ice boating. Or just sliding down a hill on a store-bought block of ice if Mother Nature doesn’t come through when you need some outside time.

  • You Get a Line and I’ll Get a Pole

Just as some people like to golf in any weather, some folks like to fish all year long. Cut a hole in the ice, drop in a line and make yourself comfy in a camp chair. (Don’t forget your sunscreen.) First order of business, though: Make sure you’re on at least 4 inches of clear, solid ice. It’s likely your family will need to make a weekend of it to find ice that thick. Deep Creek Lake in Deep Creek, Maryland, about 3 1/2 hours away, is a popular spot for ice fishing, according to Fish & Hunt Maryland, as is Piney Reservoir in Garrett County.

If being on a boat is more likely to hold the interest of your young fishermen [“fishermen” is preferred by both genders], winter is a fine time to fish for tautog from a chartered vessel, which comes with fishing equipment. The current world record of 28.8 lbs. was caught off Ocean City in 2015.

Also involving a big body of frozen-over water is iceboating, which began on the Hudson River and gradually spread across northern states and Europe. The “boats” are mostly sail, with a sliver of a hull perched on a cross piece called a runner plank and three skates (“runners”). Strictly wind-driven, the craft can go as fast as 60 mph on bare ice. There’s a youth division, but going to watch those regattas could involve a trip to Europe. Closer to home, you can find regattas in New Jersey and Connecticut. There’s even been ice boating on the Chesapeake Bay.

  • Snowshoeing

If you own snowshoes, you likely know that any fairly level hiking trail makes for a wintry wonderland walk in the snow. How much white stuff? The rule of thumb is 6-8 inches. Snowshoes are designed to distribute a person’s weight on top of snow, so they aren’t really needed until the snow comes up past your ankles. Less than six inches makes it hard to walk in snowshoes and can possibly damage the equipment and the trail.

If your family wants to try snowshoeing, plan on a weekend trip and make a reservation for lessons at the L.L. Bean in Grafton Lakes, New York (about 6 1/2 hours by auto). The store also offers classes for skishoeing – a cross between skiing and snowshoeing. Waterproof boots are essential, as is dressing in layers.

  • Cold-Weather Hiking

Don’t rule out a favorite family activity when the temperature dips below a certain degree. Why not explore how different the scenery of your favorite trail looks in a local park? Or take a day trip to a nearby mountain and see how much fun you and the kids can have even in the dead of winter?

“One of my favorite things to do with kids in really cold weather is to go on a hike – on a paved path, not a muddy mucky trail,” says Judy Kigin of Arlington. “Everybody walks fast because it’s cold! Nobody drags behind because they are soooo hot and sweaty and want a drink! And you can see through the naked tree branches into the sky to look for birds and squirrels.”

Among the American Hiking Society tips for winter treks: Wear a hat. Keep the breeze out with a hooded jacket. Keep your water bottle warm. Wear sunscreen to protect against the sun’s rays reflecting off white snow. Likewise, wear sunglasses. Pack snacks that won’t turn hard as rock in freezing temperatures (or put your chewy and gooey snacks in an interior pocket).

Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC
Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC

To get a taste of dog sledding with your kids, you need only go as far as Baltimore County. When the weather turns chilly, the Siberian huskies at Maryland Sled Dog Adventures are ready to run (October-March) regardless of what may or may not be falling out of the sky. Catherine Benson, a Maryland native, runs a micro-kennel of six to eight dogs, and she focuses on educating kids as much as giving rides. She stresses that families need to email about a reservation as soon as possible. (Slots fill up quickly when cool weather arrives, and people on the waitlist get priority for next season. Giving your kid – or the whole family – a gift certificate this year and getting on the list is a good way to make sure it doesn’t slip your mind!)

Benson says families often choose the Yappy Hour dogsled rides on the Torrey C. Brown Trail in North Baltimore County. People comment that they love getting to know the dogs as they learn what all goes into harnessing and tending to the huskies before and after the ride itself. “It’s not like going to an amusement park where you hop on and off a ride,” Benson says.

The website is clear about details – such as one person rides at a time, weight restrictions, children need to be at least age 5 and more.

Don’t despair if there’s no or not enough snow – like many dogsledding companies in variable climates, Maryland Sled Adventures also runs with dogs pulling a wheeled rig. Still lots of fun!

When you’re looking for family time in the great outdoors, remember to look beyond skiing, snowboarding and ice skating.


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