But baby, it’s mild outside. Winter sports for Southern kids.

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A Canadian Mom’s Guide to Winter Sports in the South

I grew up in a northern winter wonderland, where snow piled up in sugary heaps from Christmas to Easter. As an adult, I don’t miss it much, but as a kid, I loved it. Winter time was like having a theme park delivered annually to your front door. All season long, there was skating, sledding, skiing, snowmen, snow forts, and snow angels. And of course, epic snowball fights.

To my own kids, it sounds other-worldly — a magical realm I once visited through the back of the coat closet, sealed off from them. I always feel a bit sad watching them get excited over the occasional hard freeze we experience here in the mid-South. It’s hard to frolic in ice pellets. But bless them, they try.

On the more rare occasion that it actually snows a few inches, they are frantic to make the most of it. A few years ago, I took them to Quebec for a family ski trip, and had to keep them from falling over each other in their efforts to hoard all the snow they saw as soon as they got off the plane.

“Relax,” I had to assure them. “This snow will still be here tomorrow.”

As a parent, I don’t even want to think about what it would be like trying to launch three boys to school every day in snowsuits, boots, scarves, hats and mittens–much less shoveling our car out of the driveway every day–but Southern kids really do miss out on the fun. Mine spend all winter praying for a good snow day, and I hope they get it.

In case we don’t, here are a few ways to enjoy winter sports in the South, when the temperatures stay above freezing.

 1. Ball hockey.


One of the familiar sounds of summer evenings of my Canadian childhood was the shout, “CAR!,” followed by the scraping of an aluminum frame on asphalt as the hockey net was dragged out of the street to let traffic through. I wouldn’t trust distracted and careless drivers to slow down for children playing in the street, but if you’ve got a large driveway, or access to an empty parking lot, you’ve got yourself a hockey rink. For less than $50, you can buy a street hockey set containing a goal, sticks and  no-bounce ball. We had one for a while, until inappropriate use of sticks led to an indefinite suspension (see also, “boys and croquet”).

2. Grass sledding

Granted, grass sledding may not be as exciting as jumping on a waxed plank of wood with four or five friends and pointing it down a steep, icy hill dotted with trees, while screaming, “LEAN! LEAN!” But what it lacks in life-threatening danger, it makes up for in sheer fun. Here in Little Rock, the thickly-turfed slopes surrounding the Clinton Presidential Library are perfect for careening downhill on a piece of cardboard. I keep thinking someone is going to shut this popular family activity down, out of concern for erosion, but the turf seems to handle it without visible wear or tear. Which is more than I can say for my calves after climbing back up to the top countless times.

3. Ice skating

There is something utterly magic about ice skating. Especially if you can do it outdoors, on a frozen pond or lake, surrounded by snow clad fir trees, with lightly falling flakes. But even on an indoor rink, under florescent lights, with “Gangam Style” blaring over the speakers, it’s still utter magic. I took my crew to the Arkansas Skatium ice rink for the first time on a Sunday in November, and we all had a blast. All except my husband, who couldn’t be persuaded to put on ice skates for the very first time in his 49 years.

“Easy as falling off a bicycle!” I assured him. (I am notorious for mixing up my idioms. I meant easy as falling off a log, or like riding a bicycle.)

“Falling off a bicycle HURTS,” he pointed out. “And falling off a bicycle onto ice hurts MORE.”

The younger boys took a couple of spills, but they were well padded by their pride at being able to eventually get around the rink. If you have never been on ice skates before, the trick is to resist trying to walk in them. Just work on standing in place and shifting your weight from foot to foot. Trust me. It’s as natural as riding a log.

From my family to yours, have a wonderful winter holiday, whatever color the ground may be.

(PS. There’s a current deal for skating passes in Little Rock at Groupon. We used a similar voucher for our ice-capades.)

Kyran Pittman is the author of Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life. She is a frequent contributor to Good Housekeeping magazine, and continues to chronicle her semi-domesticated life at Planting Dandelions.com.

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