Kids on cross country skis or snowshoes? It is not only about child obesity, nature deficit disorder, and better brain function – it's about fun. What can the kids do after school or on the weekends? Have you set your plans for the school breaks this coming winter? The winter can be snowy yet mild and great for a weekly program or a family winter vacation with plenty of cross-country (xc) skiing and snowshoeing, so gather up the kids and head to the hills. There are xc ski resorts that are exceedingly kid-friendly with fun activities to enjoy on the snow. And xc skiing and snowshoeing not only delivers great times for kids, they create memories they'll have for a lifetime.

We know about the calorie-burning effectiveness of xc skiing and snowshoeing. We understand that kids should get outdoors more often. And according to Dr. Majid Fotuhi, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore, studies support the idea that exercise can improve learning efficiency for kids. In short, exercise and better fitness are associated with better brain function. Here are some samples of the unique xc ski and snowshoe programming at xc ski areas this winter:

Great Glen Outdoor Trails Center in Gorham, NH has the weekly Bill Koch Club with an emphasis on having fun and improving XC skills. The Trail Tracker program is free everyday scavenger hunt at Great Glen, which is a big hit for kids to track down cartoon animals out on the trails. When they find the animated creatures, they stamp a card and upon return to the lodge they get a treat.

Lapland Lake in Northville, NY has the Reindeer Rally season-long program for kids supervised by skilled, kid-friendly, incredibly entertaining PSIA-certified instructors. The program, which is for kids aged 5 – 11 runs 90 minutes on weekends and holiday weeks. The "on-ski" games include Toilet Bowl Tag, Limbo, Spider (flag tag), Soccer on Snow, Relay Slalom, Caterpillar Relay, Sharks & Minnows, Scavenger Hunt, Elephant Hunt & more!

Jackson Ski Touring nestled in the Jackson Village in the NH's White Mountains has a kid's terrain garden and the Thursday After-School Program. Kids are encouraged to ski or snowshoe to a 3-kilometer destination to the Cocoa Cabana, which is open on weekends. Upon arrival kids that ski around a little Anklebiter's Race Course and get a medal. Jackson has created a variety of incentives to help parents get their kids enthused about XC skiing.

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The Snow School program has snowshoeing for kids in more than 45 locations across the nation such as Cable Natural History Museum in WI; the Willows Ecology Center in Lapeer, MI; Glacier National Park, MT, Craters of the Moon National Monument in Arco, ID; and the Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center in Nederland, CO. Some of these programs include games, ecology, wildlife tracking, outdoor skills and more. Go to the Winter Wildlands Web site or Facebook page for a list of Snow School locations.

The Loppet Nordic Ski Foundation runs one of the largest introductory kids cross country ski programs of its kind in the country at the Theodore Wirth Park, just minutes from downtown Minneapolis, MN. Group lessons are also held at Hiawatha and Columbia golf courses. Some 600 kids from six elementary and two middle schools learn to ski each year through the Foundation's programming. Kids are taught how to ski and use the equipment as well as given info about fitness and nutrition. The Foundation grooms a small trail at each school, so that the kids can ski right out the door in their physical education classes.

Breckenridge Nordic Center in CO has one of the best equipment exchange programs for kids whereby kids can trade in their old equipment for similar or upgraded equipment or gear in a different category. The Frisco Nordic Center, which is on the way to Breckenridge, will hold a Kid's Festival Fun Day in March.

Methow Trails in Winthrop, WA has two StorySki trails that feature 1 km loops with illustrated story book pages on large panels displayed along select trails for kids to read as they ski or snowshoe. And the trails are free for kids under the age of 17!

Tahoe Donner Cross Country Center in Truckee, CA has three kids programs between January and March for different age groups. An 8-week After School program is for kindergarten-grade 5.  Third to fifth graders have a Junior Racer program while second to eighth graders can learn how to race and shoot a rifle in the Junior Biathlon program.

A number of states conduct statewide programs to encourage kids to get outdoors in the winter. The Ski New Hampshire "4th and 5th Grade Passport" offers trail passes for one visit at the state's XC ski resorts. The Michigan Snowsports Industries has the "Cold is Cool Passport," which requires that an adult paying full price must accompany the kids and there is a $15 cost associated with the passport for XC skiing. In the Burlington, VT area, the Catamount Trails Association is conducting the Ski Cubs youth program for building skills, fitness, winter ecology and fun adventure. The program is free and provides kids with gear for skiing and snowshoeing. The WinterKids organization in Maine also has a variety of programs for thousands of kids each winter.

Smuggler's Notch Resort in VT is known for family programming. The one and a half hour XC ski lesson for kids happens in a special terrain park that has snowy roller bumps and other features for kids to learn balance and increase confidence while having fun on skis. Snowshoe programs at Smuggler's include the Cider Walk and the Sugar on Snow Trek.

Also in VT, the Bolton Valley Nordic Center's kids program focuses on the development of basic Nordic skiing skills as well as natural history, games, and orienteering. There is a three week session held for kids aged 6-10 on Sundays this year at the center at 10 AM -1 PM on Jan 17, 24, and 31.

These winter programs feature ways for kids to learn balance and increase confidence while having fun on skis or snowshoes. And they're committed to helping kids develop lifelong habits of health, education, and physical fitness through participation in outdoor winter activities…and as the kids can attest they are also just plain fun. Photos: XC Ski Kids by Fischer Nordic; Snowshoe Dad & Kids by Smuggler's Notch Resort.