7 affordable winter activities

We had that nice, long, warm fall. Remember? Shorts and T-shirts in November! So it feels a bit, well, complainy, to complain about the cold now. But it is cold! I don’t like it. When that jerk Jack Frost is out prowling the neighborhood, many of us feel tempted to set up camp in front of the TV or on the sofa with a book. But, deep down, all Minnesotans know that getting outside is the best way to survive the season. I know: Winter sports are expensive, especially for families! Thinking about all the fancy equipment, lift tickets, event fees and other expenses may conjure up images of dollar signs floating out of your home like heat through an inefficient window. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a handful of cheap or free ways families can get active during the winter.

1. Go geocaching. Try this outdoor treasure-hunting game in which you search for hidden objects using GPS coordinates and a GPS device or smartphone. Many of our state parks have hidden geocaches that you can hunt year-round, so you have the chance to take in some of the natural beauty of our state while entertaining the family. Pick up a device at one of 35 geocaching checkpoints in the Minnesota State Parks system, or use your own smartphone. Once you find a few treasures, let the kids hide one of their own. GPS devices are free to borrow, so the cost for a geocaching adventure is limited to a $5 one-day park permit ($35 for a full year). Learn more at tinyurl.com/mn-geocaching.

2. Snowshoe. Again, the Minnesota State Parks are a great resource. You can rent a pair of snowshoes for $6 a day at many parks throughout the state, and you’re off and shuffling to explore miles of trails. The parks even host guided hikes, including candlelight events. You can rent snowshoes for $6 per hour from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, as well as from REI and other sporting goods stores.

3. Have a dance party. This is a staple for indoor exercise — crank up some tunes and let the kids shake their thangs. Don’t forget to join them; it’s more fun for you, and a whole lot more fun for them to see Mom and Dad get down and look silly. While you’re at it, why not take this party outdoors? Pull on the snow gear, bring a mini speaker, and spin, jump, run in place, and get down with your bad selves until you’re ready to drop.

4. Go sledding. This is an easy one, I know. But it’s a classic you shouldn’t forget about. And if you have a sled, there’s no cost. Tubing isn’t free, but it’s usually cheaper than skiing and no experience (or fancy gear) is required. Parks, such as Theo Wirth in Minneapolis and Elm Creek in Maple Grove are usually less expensive than ski resorts. See a list of sites that offer tubing at tinyurl.com/tubing-mn.

5. Winterize summer sports. I’m talking about grabbing the Nerf football and playing a few downs of touch — all the better if the snow is deep and you stumble and fall into soft landings. Better yet is diving to make dramatic plays (even if they’re only dramatic in your kids’ minds). Other sports that might be fun winterized: Frisbee golf (make up your own age-appropriate holes), soccer (high-kicking over snow!), running races and beanbag toss. There’s no cost for any of these assuming you have the gear.

6. Make an obstacle course. You can use the play structures at the park or do it at home with your own obstacles made from toys or anything you have around. Jump over your old riding toy tractor! Crawl through this cardboard box! Run to the mailbox and put the flag up! Throw a snowball at a target on the fence! If you’re creative, you can make this last all afternoon.

7. Go swimming. No, I’m not talking about that polar plunge. Many gyms have a pool with open swim time (even for non-members), and there’s something about swimming in the winter that feels exotic to kids. See mnparent.com/directory for a list of water parks, including indoor options. (You’ll also find indoor play spaces.) Don’t let that punk Jack Frost intimidate you this year. Get outside and shake your thang.

Eric Braun is a Minneapolis-based writer, editor and dad of two boys. Send comments or questions to ebraun@mnparent.com.