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Cold-Weather Adventures

Michael Davis Photo


I’ll only do this ‘til spring!” my son shouts as he whizzes by on the scooter we gave him for Christmas. “Annie got to ride hers in the house last year, remember?” No, we had forgotten that bit of family history until the new scooter was unwrapped on Christmas morning.

It can be hard for kids and parents to find fun activities during our many, many weeks of winter here in Central New York. It’s tough to say stay off the scooter until spring. But we do try to find other ways of having fun indoors, and weather permitting, many parents and children turn to the outdoors for fun.

There’s snow, there’s ice, there are the woods, and then there’s the great indoors. For sledding, as the kids grew so did the hills we found for a fun run and a not-too-steep walk back to the top. 

Our favorites are hidden next to school parking lots in DeWitt, near Syracuse University’s South Campus, and golf course hills that border low-trafficked roads. Official spots include the little hill in our backyard, Highland Forest’s Skyline Hill in Fabius and Long Branch Park’s sledding hill in Liverpool. With good snow conditions, Long Branch’s hill is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The park, which is 6-year-old Ella Smith’s favorite, is located at the northern end of Onondaga Lake, off John Glenn Parkway. 

“It’s got a rope hold for when you walk up the hill,” notes Ella’s mother, Kate Smith of Baldwinsville. “The main hill is good and fast,” she adds, and the side area is smaller for younger kids. “It’s good to get the kids out in the snowy weather and get some fresh air for all of us,” says Smith, who also has a 3-year-old son, Ben. Ella won’t say sledding is her favorite winter activity: “I have lots of good things to do in the snow.” And they’re often followed by hot chocolate.

At nearby Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool, cross-country skiing is available. Although the wind can be brisk off the lake some days, it’s always interesting to stop at the park to see what it’s like in winter when more snow than birds covers the area. 

Cross-country skiing is available throughout Central New York. Whether along the creek’s edge in Syracuse’s near east side, at Green Lakes State Park in Fayetteville or at Battle Island State Park’s golf course north of Fulton, cross-country skiing is great exercise for the whole family. Highland Forest features 20 miles of trails and offers lessons every weekend through February. The one-hour lesson begins at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays. The $20 price includes a 90-minute rental, $10 if you have your own equipment. Call 638-5550 to register. 

Beaver Lake Nature Center in Baldwinsville makes seven trails available for the sport. Beaver Lake will offer a beginner’s clinic from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 4, and 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 21. (Preregistration is required by calling 638-2519 and participants must bring their own skis.)  

Where there’s cross-country skiing, there’s usually snowshoeing. Try out this sport at a clinic at Beaver Lake, too. The one-hour introduction is offered at 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in February; registration is required beginning at 8 a.m. the day of the session. Snowshoe rental by the hour is available there and at Highland Forest, which has four trails dedicated to snowshoeing. 

These sports don’t end at sunset either. During the weekend of the full moon, Friday, Feb. 6, through Sunday, Feb. 8, Beaver Lake offers Moonlight Skiing and Snowshoeing. Like nighttime downhill skiing, moonlight adventures at Beaver Lake can be truly magical, according to my friend Trish, who’s tried them with her daughter Briana. Let the moon be the guide until the trails close at 9 p.m. each night that weekend; regular trail hours are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

I love hearing about the traditions families have started, especially those not connected with a holiday. My friend Maria’s family likes to end the workweek with ice skating on Friday evenings at Tennity Pavilion on the Syracuse University campus. After skating on one or both of the indoor ice rinks there, they and whichever friends have joined them head across the road to the Inn Complete. This tall, red barn sits atop the South Campus hill of SU, off Colvin Avenue, and is open to the public for food, hot chocolate and other drinks most days and nights. Although a connection as employee, student or alumnus is necessary for entrance to the skating rink, the Inn Complete is open to the public.

My kids still remember the day I surprised them by picking them up after school and announcing we were going ice skating. We drank hot chocolate from two thermoses in the car, munched on some after-school snacks, and then tied on our skates for a fun hour or so on the ice. We haven’t made it to downtown Syracuse’s Clinton Square for outdoor ice skating yet, but that’s their next request. They missed a birthday party at the rink last winter and skating there (and having hot chocolate in the snack shop next door) is one of our goals for this winter.

Other friends swear by Syracuse’s Meachem Ice Rink on West Seneca Turnpike in the Valley, or Tsha’HonNonyen Dakwha’ (the Onondaga Nation Arena) on Route 11 off exit 16 of Interstate 81 south, and many others prefer the large rinks at the Cicero Twin Rinks, located off Route 11 in Cicero (752-7465). 

Ice skating for novices is less scary these days thanks to the availability at most rinks of “chairs.” Resembling a chair’s structure without the seat, or a walker for the ice, these supports allow children to stay upright while getting their balance on skates. This frees up parents’ hands and arms to help maintain our balance on the ice that didn’t feel so hard 30 years ago. Although not required, many children choose to wear their bicycle helmets when skating or at least when learning how to skate. Clinton and Tennity ice rinks even have some helmets on site that children may use.

Next we’ll have to try bumper cars on ice at the Skaneateles Community Center, which also offers indoor swimming. Sue Murphy, office manager at the SCC, says bumper cars are like big inner tubes that can hold a parent and child. Riders steer the controls in the bottom of the tubes that guide the tubes along the ice. The center offers this fun whenever the schedule permits; check activities calendar for times and dates. “Tweens really enjoy doing this,” she says. Rides are $4 each or three rides for $10. 

If people have their favorite ice rinks, they also have their favorite skiing hills. Some schools even offer skiing lessons and trips during after-school hours. We’ve got to choose from, among others, Toggenburg Ski Center in Fabius, Song Mountain in Tully, Four Seasons in Fayetteville and Greek Peak in Cortland.

We’re excited to try snow tubing early this year! Eleven-year-old Ranya Shannon of Syracuse says it’s her favorite wintertime activity. “When you go down the hill, it’s all like ‘ahhhhhhh!’ and everyone’s screaming and everything,” says Shannon, who has only tried it during daylight hours. There are a few bumps, but she holds on tight to avoid falling out of her tube. Four Seasons in Fayetteville even offers a conveyor to give tubes and their occupants a ride up the hill before tubing down. 

Some towns offer special days at these locations for skiing and tubing. The town of Lysander, for example, sponsors one evening (Feb. 21) during schools’ winter break that is dedicated to its residents riding the tubes at Four Seasons for a discounted rate. Check community recreational activities calendars for your area’s special day.

Through the winter families can also take old-fashioned sleigh rides at Highland Forest. The park offers a 30-minute ride to the woods each weekend, and visitors can stop back at the lodge to get warm in front of the fire or to try pancakes or a snack. The horse-drawn rides go from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends through March 15 and also on Monday, Feb. 16. Children under 5 ride free; others pay $5 a ride.

Indoor activities also help the winter pass more quickly. When my children were very young, Shoppingtown Mall in DeWitt was one of our regular stops each week. “I see you’ve found the indoor park,” one friend remarked when I ran into her with her children at the mall one snowy day. The mall offers room to run around and relative warmth. I enjoyed those times at the mall when they were happy to climb on the “rides,” before they learned that the rides would move if Mom deposited 50 cents or more. There’s also a play space in the food court, for young children (under 42 inches tall). 

Recently, we discovered CNY Gymnastics Center, which used to be housed in East Syracuse, has relocated inside Shoppingtown. In addition to regular gymnastics classes and parties, it offers playtime for children by the hour and half-hour on a drop-in basis. My kids begged for more at the conclusion of their half-hour of mostly jumping, climbing and sliding out of an enormous bouncy house. The fee is $10 per hour for the first child, and less for each sibling, while I got to shop in peace.

What else can one do to keep the kids, and yourself, sane during these cold months? My children like to ask for a “sleepover.” In our family’s lexicon, this usually means we all take pillows and favorite blankets to the family room, open up the sleeper sofa and futon couch, and climb on board. Put in a good movie, and the kids get to stay up late and fall asleep where they are. The next morning is as much fun as they continue to watch TV in bed, and then start jumping from couch to couch. A little cost-free change can go a long way, especially before we head back out into the snow.

Michael Davis Photo

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