Winter Fun For Less Than A Lift Ticket

by: LiLing Pang

I remember our 3 year old’s first reaction to snow.  He was stunned into silence.  At first, the falling snowflakes appeared to be simply mesmerizing.  Soon thereafter, he burst into peals of laughter and squeals of joy as he touched it, grabbed at it, slipped on it, and sank into it.  If you have the opportunity to drive a short distance for your kids to enjoy the snow this year, you don’t need to spend a pretty penny for a load of fun.  Or if you’re snowed in with kids on a blizzard day this year, there is lots you can do to explore around the neighborhood.


Here are a few ideas for enjoying the snow for substantially less than the cost of a lift ticket.  

Sledding and Tubing

Most places that receive lots of snow have sno-parks where you can sled for free or nearly free.  Locals often have favorite sledding hills in all manner of places. For young kids, any slope with few obstacles and a 20-40 degree incline will do just fine.

Slipping and sliding down a hill is some of the best fun that can be had for free.  Forget about purchasing a sophisticated sled that can cost as much as $350.  Kids can have just as much fun riding down on just about anything flat – food trays with rounded edges, foam pads, tarps or even cardboard boxes.  Mom and Dad on the other hand might appreciate some additional cushioning.  My personal favorite is the inner tub of a truck tire.  It makes for a perfectly cushy ride for just $10-30.  Buy them used and pay less. Stores like Les Schwab carry truck tires.  But you can also purchase them online from  Smaller car sized tires for smaller bodies work well and are even less expensive.  Tie a thin rope to the tire to make it easier to drag up the hill.  Irregardless of what you use as your “sled”, all ages can enjoy this simple but fun activity.


More and more ski resorts are building tubing runs that take tubing to a whole different level.  Using special equipment, they carve out runs with high walls that allow you to slide down at really high speeds and make sharp turns.  It is a definite thrill ride that doesn’t require skill.  Everyone of any age can enjoy this.  Many of the ski resorts also have tow ropes or magic carpets to save you from having to climb back up the slippery hill.  Most charge between $10 to $20 per person.



Cross Country Skiing and Snow Shoeing
Children who are 6 and older can start learning to cross country ski.  Trail passes are either free or less than half the price of downhill skiing lift tickets.  In most resorts, children get free trail passes.

Search Out Some Hot Springs
After enjoying the snow, a dip in a hot tub is a treat.  But even more interesting to kids is a trip to a hot spring.  Beyond just being fun it can be a lesson in geology. Be careful allowing really young children to soak in a hot tub or hot spring, as their skin is sensitive.  Always test the water temperature and be water safe with your kids.

In the Lake Tahoe Area, Grover Hot Springs State Park only costs $4 per adult and $2 for kids.  Sit in a hot pool and gaze at the trees.

Other Snow Play Activities

Snow play does not need to be high intensity or high energy all the time. Simple activities in the backyard can provide hours of fun and discovery:


  • Dig a snow cave or trenches: Give the kids large and small shovels.  Got a snow-covered hill?  Dig a cave.  If you don’t have a hill, dig deep trenches.  They can hide and play all sorts of make belief games.  Add to the fun by bringing out some hot chocolate and sip it in your cave.
  • Snow painting: New snow is a whiter than white canvas.  Fill a few spray bottles with different colored food coloring and water.  Kids can paint on their large snow canvas.  Get creative and decorate a snow cave or snowman.
  • Build a snowman: Always a lot of fun.  Wait till the snow is a bit wet to get the snow to stick. Get creative with decorating your snowman and give him some personality.
  • Make Maple Snow Taffy – a Vermont and Canadian tradition. Recipe for Maple Snow Taffy
  • Caramel Snow Flakes: Purchase some caramel from the store, heat it up and then pour it slowly onto clean snow, creating a thinly laced snowflake pattern.  It’ll harden quickly and you can pick it right up and eat it.  You can do the same with chocolate.
  • Snow bricks of different shapes and sizes: Add a little water and it’ll harden up nicely. Use different shaped containers to make snow bricks and kids can build anything their heart desires with the snow bricks.
  • Snow treasure hunt: Hide an object in the snow and have the kids find it.  For younger kids, hide the object with a little bit of it showing and keep the search area small.  Don’t hide anything valuable, like your car keys!
  • Take a short hike through the woods with the kids especially after new snowfall:  The trees are amazingly beautiful draped with snow.  If the snow is really powdery, rent some snowshoes.  A nice snowball fight along the way is always great fun.

updated: January 16 2013 by LiLing Pang

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