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Bring Snowshoes Into Your Physical Education Classroom Program

Note: This article originally appeared in the January/February 2004 (Vol 17, No 3) issue of Strategies: A Journal for Sport and Physical Educators. All rights reserved. Copyright owned by The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. To photocopy for educational classroom use, contact the Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923; 978-750-8400.

Teaching activities that encourage students to increase their skill level all year around is particularly important when one observes the troubling health statistics, poor self-image and social isolation related to obesity among the young. All too often children gravitate indoors once the weather turns cold, unless they are encouraged to play outside. Snow sports have long been popular after-school and weekend activities, but now an increasing number of school districts are beginning to integrate snow sports into their physical education programs. Snow sports build on the same aerobic, cardiovascular and weight-control activities as warmer weather activities. Walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming and in-line skating lay an excellent foundation for snow sports. Students who already concentrate on exercise that builds endurance, strength, and flexibility will enjoy snow sports to the fullest. However, students who are not in peak physical condition can benefit greatly from a more leisurely pace.

Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding are the most popular snow sports. However, snowshoeing is fast increasing in popularity. It is an easy sport to learn, and adapts well to a physical education program. Snowshoes are easy to put on, take off, and store. What makes the sport attractive to physical educators is that the learning curve is almost immediate. Students do not have to be in peak physical condition or learn fancy footwork in order to participate and benefit from the activity. Muscles used in snowshoeing are similar to those used in walking or hiking hilly terrain, although hip flexors and quadriceps get more use due to the lifting motion of each step. The use of poles gets the upper body moving and helps condition arms, shoulders and back muscles.

As skill levels increase, snowshoeing offers even greater fitness benefits. Studies at the University of Vermont, Ball State University and Indiana University found that snowshoeing is a low impact way to develop and maintain cardiovascular fitness. It burns up twice the number of calories as walking at the same speed and is an ideal form of cross training. Individuals who substitute snowshoeing for running during the winter months actually improve their running performance level more than those who choose to only run as their primary source of winter training, and climbing in snowshoes work the muscles crucial for cyclists.

Information (see resources) on how to integrate a curriculum-based snowshoeing unit, and other snow sports, into a physical education program is readily available, as is information on how to integrate winter activities into classroom subjects (geography, science, social studies). These units offer instruction on the proper nutrition, attire and conditioning essential to the enjoyment and safety of the students. For fund-conscious school districts, there are non-profit organizations that partner with schools to help finance programs and provide national and state standard-based teachers guides. One example of a partnership program is Snow School. They combine teaching snowshoeing with a science-based education program that allows students to explore state and national forests and parks. Another is WinterKids, a non-profit organization that originated in Maine. Their program is aligned with recommended national and state educational standards, and their goal is to help children and young adults develop life-long habits of health, education and fitness through winter activities.

Website Resources – A comprehensive website focused on the health, fitness and social aspects of snow sports. A section is dedicated to educators. (Note: This is the Winter Feels Good website, so we have not created a link. All other links will open a new window; just close the window to return to the Winter Feels Good website.) – WinterKids National Outdoor Learning Curriculum, aligned with National Education Standards, offers interdisciplinary active and scholastically challenging outdoor winter lessons for grades K-12. – Website is a unit of Atlas Snow Shoes, and offers curriculum based on physical education standards and combined with science and environmental programs.