During the rainy season, like many Northwest parents, I begin a quest to keep my kids moving and having fun despite the weather. Activities we like best combine both exercise and thrills, from rock climbing to swooshing down a snowy hill on inner tubes.
Here are six thrilling activities to get your family moving this winter.
And because we know safety is always a concern, we’ve included safety tips from Dr. Douglas Diekema, director of education for the Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics at Seattle Children’s Hospital, professor in the Department of Pediatrics and attending physician at Seattle Children's ER.
>First: iFly indoor sky diving
iFLY indoor sky diving center
Talk about thrill! IFLY in Tukwila offers an indoor skydiving experience in a vertical wind tunnel chamber. It’s so realistic that world champion freefall skydiving team train in iFLY wind tunnels. Kids as young as three (as long as they are potty trained) can “fly.” Eleven-year-old twins Emma and Kate Inge from Seattle recently "earned their wings," describing the experience as "awesome and the best experience ever.”
Lysa Adams, co-owner of iFLY Seattle, says that “kids do exceptionally well at learning to fly in the indoor vertical wind tunnel chamber,” but “anyone can learn to fly.”
Costs: For $60, first-time flyers can “earn their wings” in a 90 minute session that includes a class, followed by two sessions in the wind tunnel. There are other packages as well, such as a family package for 10 flights in the wind tunnel and a DVD of the experience ($249.99). Also, for kids ages 6 to 12, check out Little Ninjas Night on Wednesdays and Thursdays, just $39.95 a week.
Safety Tips: Safety is a top concern at iFLY. An instructor is in the wind chamber at all times with students, while another instructor “drives the wind,” as Adams puts it, controlling the speed at which air pushes the student above the chamber’s floor.
“In the tunnel we are taking away many of the safety issues associated with sky diving from a plane,” Adams said. She added that the likelihood for injury is very low and her instructors are highly trained.“
Photo courtesy of iFLY.
>Next: Sledding and inner tubing
Sledding and inner tubing
No skills needed, just an appetite for zooming down a snowy hill at top speed, screaming with delight.
Where to try it: Most well known is the giant hill at the famed Tubing Center at the Summit. Reserve your two-hour session online. Tickets are $20-$22, depending on the session. Prices include tubes. Children 5 and under are only $5.
Also on the Pass, you can visit the popular sledding hill of Hyak Sno-Park; you’ll need to bring your own sled or inner tube and a Sno-Park parking permit as well as a Discover Pass.
For a fun day trip, head east to Leavenworth’s Tubing Park at Ski Hill and use the rope tow to easily climb back up after you tube down, ($17 for 90-minute session with inner tube provided).
Find more sledding spots, from Mount Rainier to Hurricane Ridge, in this sledding article.
Safety tips: Ideally, kids should wear a helmet if speeds are going to be high. Dr. Diekema also says, “Parents should always look at the environment to determine if there is anything a child could hit on the tubing run. If the child flies off the tube, will they land anywhere or hit anything that could pose a risk to them?”
>Next: Indoor rock climbing
Indoor rock climbing
Beyond the thrill of the climb, the sport has some serious benefits for kids. Lisa Thomas, Redmond mother of two girls who have been climbing for years, says her girls have learned a great deal from the sport. “It's a great full body workout with no impact and it's made both my girls really strong, physically and mentally.” Plus, she says, “The climbing community is so fantastic for kids. It's positive, empowering and the kids really learn to support each other, literally and figuratively.”
Where to try it: Your kids can rock climb year round at indoor local climbing centers such as Vertical World, with locations in Redmond, Everett, and Seattle. You can drop in during open hours and try low-level bouldering as well as roped climbs (as long one of your group is a belayer who’s passed their test). Formal youth programs start at age 3 with the Rockin’ Tots program.
Stone Gardens Climbers Gym in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is another option, with a 16,000 square feet of indoor climbing and a new bouldering floor. Stone Gardens also has a location at Bellevue’s Crossroads Shopping Center.
Seattle Bouldering Project is a gym in South Seattle with a number of youth programs and drop-in climbing sessions.
Costs: $12-$20 for a session for non-members at a gym like Vertical World; rental of gear and harnesses is an additional small fee. A monthly session of classes starts at $60 for members.
Safety Tips: Climb at a professional operation with experienced staff, and if you’re climbing with ropes, make sure the belayer has passed a test (as they are required to do at places like Vertical World). Dr. Diekema recommends making sure you’re working with someone who is experienced and understands how to fit the harness, secure the knots, lock the carabiner, etc. correctly.
>Next: Indoor swim centers
Indoor swim centers
Even when it's pouring, you can have a blast with your kids at an indoor swim park with giant slides, lazy rivers and other features that will amp up the winter excitement level.
Where to try it: There are several affordable indoor swim centers open to the public including the Lynnwood Recreation Center, which renovated and expanded in 2011 and now offers two giant water slides, five pool areas, a lazy river, water playground and hot tub. The Mountlake Terrace Indoor Pool, which has a shallow-water leisure pool with beach-like entry and padded floor, lazy river and spray toys, is a great option, especially for families with babies and toddlers. Newer fantastic pools include Rainier Beach in South Seattle and Snohomish Aquatic Center. Find the one nearest you by visiting our full list.
Bainbridge Island’s Aquatics Center offers a water slide, lazy river ride, tot pool and play area ($4-$5 a visit).
And for a splurge: Spend the weekend at Great Wolf Lodge in Ground Mound, just south of Olympia, where admission to a full size, indoor water park is included in your room rate. Or head east to Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, which offers two full-size water slides as part of their indoor recreation center, along with options to cross country ski or enjoy a rope tow inner tubing hill for an extra fee. You can sometimes find great money-saving deals for both Great Wolf Lodge and Suncadia on deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social.
Safety Tips: Drowning is the biggest risk at these parks. “Very attentive life-guarding is the most important aspect.”
Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge
>Next: Indoor trampolines
Indoor trampoline centers are popular with kids of all ages for good reason: There are few other activities that offer such a thrill for such an affordable price. And our region is blessed with a number of centers that offer a variety of trampoline experiences.
Where to try it: Trampoline centers around the Sound include SkyMania Trampolines in Kirkland and the Absolute Air Park in Arlington. Both offer special weekly sessions for toddlers (kids ages 2-5), and other activities such as trampoline dodgeball. Elevated Sportz in Bothell offers trampolines, a giant kids' play structure and cafe with free wi-fi. Federal Way’s Trampoline Nation also offers a fun, clean jumping environment for kids with comfy seating and free Wi-Fi.
Safety tips: Dr. Diekema notes that three quarters of trampoline injuries occur when there are multiple children on the trampoline at the same time. He says that “Younger children are generally at higher risk than older children on a trampoline. Somersaults and flips also increase the risk.”
Photo courtesy of SkyMania Trampolines
>Next: Zip lines
Zip lines (and the obstacle courses that are sometimes paired with them) are enjoying a boom in the Northwest. A number of them can be enjoyed year-round.
Where to try it: For a forest adventure by zip lines, consider taking Canopy Tours’ guided zip line tour through a sustainably managed forest on Camano Island. Open all year round, the course includes 6 zip lines through the trees, plus short trail walks and a 47-foot final rappel. Weight range requirement is 65 pounds minimum to 300 pounds maximum and guests 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
Many local parks offer smaller zip lines where kids can zip for free using swings or low to the ground treks with handles including Bellevue’s Wilburton park, Redmond’s Anderson Park and (in Seattle), Maple Leaf Playground, Discovery Park, Lincoln Park, Madison Park Playground, Mt. Baker Park, Cowen Park, Seward Park, Jefferson Park and Salmon Bay Park.
Costs: Professional-run zip Line and challenge courses can be a splurge – Canopy Tours charges $85 a guest. Courses in city parks, obviously, are free.
Safety tips: “Stick with zip lines run by a well-regarded company with an impeccable safety record,” says Dr. Diekema. He notes that the equipment should be in good shape and not worn and recommends going with a company that’s regularly checking and maintaining their set-up. “The backyard zip line at a friend’s house is probably a lot riskier than the commercial operations. There are no safety standards for backyards.”
Photo courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
This article was written in November 2012 and updated in November 2014.