A common theme in the WildSnow related emails we get is that of parents wondering how kids end up loving the backcountry, specifically skiing in the backcountry. They see the shots and descriptions of our and friend’s kids out yucking it up in the wild, and want their own young children to perhaps grow into the same love of the sport.
That’s indeed a noble concern, as most parents just want what makes their kids happy. Thus, if backcountry skiing makes parents smile, they figure their kids could get the same benefit. Of course parental pride enters in as well, and motives can be tainted by living vicariously through your child’s tennis serves or cliff hucks. But from what I’ve seen, parents usually have pretty much unselfish intent — they know backcountry skiing can yield a lifetime of fun, fellowship and even spiritual succor — and simply want that for their children.
So how did our kids get where they’re at? How did some come to love the sport? First, I’m here to tell you that you’re looking at a biased view. We blog about the kids who backcountry ski, not the ones who stay home playing Nintendo all weekend. Plenty of the latter exist in mountain towns just as they do everywhere else.
As for details I can only speak for our family, and can’t share everything out of respect for our privacy. But I can write about a few things I believe contributed to our son’s love of backcountry recreation.
First, we didn’t do what I’d call ADD recreation, having him jump between a number of sports and never develop a deep involvement in any. Instead, while he was a young child we lived a skier’s life in the winter, with weekends at Ski Sunlight (a small inexpensive Colorado resort) and the occasional backcountry trip with emphasis on easy goals and fun. For example, we’d just go to a backcountry hut and hang out building snowcaves and whatnot.
Second, I can honestly say that the pressure was off. All throughout our boy’s younger days I was totally okay with wherever his passion would lead. If he’d went the music route that would have been fine, or become a science fanatic, or another kind of athlete. At the same time I wasn’t shy about myself being a ski mountaineer, and shared my joy and knowledge whenever possible.
Third, since backcountry skiing has numerous components that attract different personality types, I’ve always been careful to watch what the young man is enjoying, and help encourage those parts of the sport. For example, if your kid turns out to be an aerobic athlete who enjoys the Zen of hard breathing, you can support them doing x-c ski racing or long backcountry tours. If they like gadgets and fiddling with tech, you can play around with all the backcountry gear. Or if they like performance downhill, you can seek out backcountry experiences that involve interesting terrain, reasonable cliff hucks, etc. Even the mechanized side comes into play. If the kid is a motorhead, perhaps involving snowmobiles in the mix will make backcountry skiing more attractive.
Fourth, I was always careful about pushing too hard with technique and skill. My philosophy was always “what’s easiest is best.” To that end I started our boy out skiing on regular alpine gear, then touring on lightweight AT gear that mimicked his alpine gear, even to the extent of having identical skis with different bindings. This was back in the day when telemark gear was mostly junk, so going with AT was a no brainer. Nowadays a telemark parent could start a kid with free-heel since the equipment is better (provided they could figure out a system for small feet), but they’d want to make sure the gear was lightweight, efficient and as easy to use as alpine, otherwise they’re pushing an agenda rather than being practical.
Lastly, I believe a degree of focus has helped keep our family aligned in interests. Since marriage more than 20 years ago, we’ve tried to live a backcountry lifestyle that included a variety of activities in every season. Everything from mountain biking to elk hunting to back packing filled the dance card. By enjoying the vast variety of outdoor recreation, it was only natural that our kid would find some part of this he could make his own.
But again, if he’d gone the path of something like a musician or computer guy that would have been okay as well — so long as he received joy and value from his path.
I’d love to hear from you parents out there. Where are you at with all this? Comments are on.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.