Winter chic

Outdoor family fun has Jon Willing rethinking his cold-weather wardrobe


Jon Willing and his son Miles prepare to zip down the hill at Carlington Park in Ottawa. Photo credit Nicole Willing

Jon Willing and his son Miles prepare to zip down the hill at Carlington Park in Ottawa. Photo credit Nicole Willing


I might get a second pair of snow pants this winter. 

Oh, I’m sorry. Are snow pants uncool?

Somewhere around middle school, snow pants became a fashion faux pas for young teens as we tried to shed our primary-school styles. Winter boots, toques and snow pants didn’t look cool, so we extended our autumn apparel by five months. Gobsmacked parents watched us leave home and trudge through a foot of snow in sneakers and windbreakers.

Pre-offspring adulthood comes with even less interest in snow pants, especially for those of us who prefer sand dunes over ski slopes. No one is going sledding. No one is walking across a snowy field, dropping flat-backwards to do a snow angel.

But in parenthood, those are cornerstone winter activities and they call for fashion sensibility.

There might have been a long period in your life when you didn’t own snow pants, but when your first born arrives, within three years you’ll be knee deep in snow and there’s no relying on your khakis to keep you warm and dry.

This is especially true in a wintery city like Ottawa.

Since our five-year-old son is winter-positive—unlike his winter-skeptical parents—we spend weekends climbing monster snow piles created by plows and plod through the neighbourhood lugging a plastic sled. Inevitably, we end up sprawled on a small snowy heap or jumping into powdery drift.

Each of the first five winters of Miles’ life has progressively brought more time sitting, sliding and shovelling in the snow. 

Granted, the first two years are lower on the snow-pant necessity scale. At the beginning, winter parenting is more about traversing roadside snowbanks with strollers and keeping dirty snow out of kids’ mouths. (This, by the way, has been one of the wonderful challenges we’ve experienced as new parents, since Miles’ favourite thing about winter is, and I quote, “eating the snow”).

Kids become snow-curious by three years old and by the time they reach kindergarten, they realize snow isn’t just a great light snack, but also a construction medium. This is the time when parents really start reconsidering their positions on snow pants and, like us, are racing to jump back into a pair after the first family-built snowman sends jeans to the dryers.

Despite the obvious advantages to wearing snow pants, there are parents who are snow-pants holdouts and most of them are exposed at the sledding hills, careening down the face of an icy-wet slope on “flying saucers” and toboggans with their tykes. Some are also wearing sneakers. 

Eventually, you’re like me, eyeballing retail websites for another pair of snow pants. I won’t plunge into the dull details of snow-pant design, but I’m currently weighing the merits of a bib-and-suspender format and whether it would provide maximum support for aggressive snow play, beyond my simple button-and-fly style.

So yeah, I’m in deep.

Our family’s winter activities haven’t included skiing or snowboarding. There’s no sport-related reason for me to own a pair of snow pants. Just existing as a parent in Ottawa is enough reason to own a pair… or two.