As the region's ski resorts prepare for the carving season (slopes, not turkey), winter is already in the air on a recent Saturday morning in Chantilly. Resorts and manufacturers have set up booths at the Dulles Expo Center to provide enthusiasts with a taste of what's to come on the mountains. And one exhibit goes a step further, allowing attendees to strap equipment to their feet and take a spin beneath a cascade of snowflakes.
The Winter Feels Good program, sponsored by SnowSports Industries America (SIA), aims to get children and their parents involved in winter sports by introducing them to one of the easiest of outdoor winter activities: snowshoeing. To that end, the Winter Feels Good pavilion is providing demo snowshoes, a carpeted obstacle course for trying out equipment, and an overhead snow machine to get everyone in the mood.
Makenzie Williams, 4, of Ashburn, leads youngsters through the "snow" at the Winter Feels Good snowshoe display at the Dulles Expo Center.
"The idea is to encourage people to get out in the wintertime and participate in snow sports from a health perspective," says Mary Jo Tarallo, SIA's director of education. "Having the snowshoe park at the Expo is a way to show kids and their parents how easy it is to get involved in the sport. If you can walk, you can snowshoe."
As a trade group representing snow-sport equipment manufacturers, SIA hopes that snowshoeing will eventually funnel kids into a variety of winter sports, such as downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing. The immediate challenge is simply getting them out the door and into the snow.
Winter Feels Good is also part of a pilot program introducing snowshoeing as an element of the physical education curriculum in six Fairfax County schools (Marshall High School; Liberty and Franklin middle schools; and Flint Hill, Great Falls and Dogwood elementary schools). Four snowshoe manufacturers (Tubbs, Atlas, Mountain Safety Research and Redfeather) have donated more than 100 pairs of snowshoes for use in the program. And even though Washington area winters don't always promise voluminous snowfall totals, PE instructors promise not to be deterred.
"We're trying to find ways within our curriculum to address childhood obesity," says Mary Marks, health and physical education coordinator for Fairfax County schools. "One of the great things about the snowshoe program is that it can involve the whole family. Each school involved has agreed to hold one family event this winter."
The snowshoes will rotate from school to school during the winter. Each of the participating schools already had a one-week taste of the activity this fall, trying out the equipment on grassy areas. Since no sliding is involved, students can still get a feel for the sport when the white stuff is absent.
Although the area has yet to see its first real flakes of the season, a snow machine is blowing foamy replicas through the air at the snowshoe pavilion. Jeannie Trautman and her 3-year-old son, Cole, are among the first people to strap on shoes and take a test run across the carpeted obstacle course, which looks like a snowy campsite.
Cole tramps around with ease on his kid-size shoes, leading Trautman on a multi-lap excursion. Modern snowshoes, even adult models, are small and lightweight. They have supportive bindings and a crampon system for traction. The snowshoes provided for the Fairfax County program are oval shape, which improves balance.
Trautman, of Leesburg, is a PE teacher at Great Falls Elementary, one of the schools in the pilot program. A longtime skier who has also done some showshoeing, she plans to take Cole on his first ski trip during spring break.