Want your Kid to Love the Backcountry?

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 25, 2006      

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.



15 Responses to “Want your Kid to Love the Backcountry?”

  1. Michael Kennedy October 25th, 2006 11:18 am

    A great topic and fantastic overview, Lou. I won’t add much except to second the ideas of having fun and keeping the pressure off.

    The biggest thing, though, is the example we set as parents. Kids may not do exactly what you do (or want them to) but they know when you’re getting “joy and value” from the path you’ve chosen. They’ll be a lot more likely to aspire to a healthy, balanced life if we, as adults, are modelling the sort of “good behavior” we want them to engage in. We’ve got to walk the talk.

  2. Lou October 25th, 2006 2:39 pm

    Hey Michael, thanks for the comment! You hit on the exact thing I missed!

    I guess I frown enough at my desk and smile enough in the backcountry so my kid won’t become a desk jocky (grin).

  3. Scott Stolte October 25th, 2006 2:54 pm

    Thanks Lou for the great topic. As a brand new dad with a four month old son I am already counting the days until our first shared BC turns. I have often wonderd about this topic and fretted a little about the possibility of Jack not sharing our passion for skiing and the backcountry in general. You have some great advice and it made me think back to my first experiences in the outdoors and how they were presented to me. One question….do anyone have any advice as to what the “best” age is to start kids on skis? I know you want to start them early but still have it be a positve experience overall. I’ve got a few years before we’re there, but I wondered when you started your
    son sliding on snow?

    PS- Your pics from last weekend really got my juices flowing for some skiing. It’s snowing here in Jackson as I type this, but I’m afraid we have aways to go before we catch up to you folks in CO. Get out there and enjoy it for me!

  4. Lou October 25th, 2006 3:23 pm

    We took the Scandinavian approach: once they can walk, start on a pair of little kid’s play skis, the ones with a basic strap binding and a free heel. Just push the kid around the yard, build some 10 inch high bumps to slide off of, etc. Make if fun. Laugh. Roll around in the snow, etc.

  5. Frank October 25th, 2006 3:51 pm

    Wow, wonderful perspective and comments.

    My wife and I are lucky enough to have three kids under 10 that we share our love of skiing with. Not much backcountry so far, at least not on skis, but we’ll get there.

    I love seeing how they learn from each on skis. Technique sometimes, though usually not consciously. More, how to have fun on skis. They all come up with new stuff everytime we’re out. We love being just two big kids along with them giving and learning as much as they are.

    So much freedom, yet we’re together. Hard for us to image anything better!

  6. Tom October 25th, 2006 6:17 pm

    Reading your story makes me think back to the skiing I did with my family. Grams house at Tahoe on the south shore or staying in a cabin midweek in Yosemite and “chaining up” were a regular event every winter. I had the pleasure of reintroducing my dad to skiing at the age of 75. All the kids had grown up, the tahoe house was gone and he was more interested in golfing. But I convinced him and my brother to meet me in Tahoe for a ski vacation (my addiction to skiing had brought me to Co to ski pow and not sierra cement). Of course the first day was blizzard conditions and he wasn’t sure what he got himself into. The second day was bluebird and he was smiling all day long. I was incredibly happy to bring one of the greatest pleasures in my life back around to the man that introduced skiing to me.

  7. Steve Seckinger October 25th, 2006 6:46 pm

    We’re only 14 months into the baby world so far, but the Chariot sled has been great to get the baby out into the fun, snowy world. Looking forward to reading any ideas about what to do next…

  8. Mike Marolt October 25th, 2006 7:20 pm

    Hi Lou: Great writing here. I know that growing up with a family of Olympic skiers, my father had a total hands off approach. He never pressured us to skiing or anything outside of being “good kids”. He was always there if we wanted to go skiing, but he never bowed to the pressures that he got to “get your kids skiing”. As such, i am in no rush to get my kids going. My oldest at4 and a half just last year finally asked me to go . So i took her. And some days she loved it, other days, the hot c was more important. In any event, he did put a bit of pressure on us at age 12 ish. But he always said i am going and if you want to go it will be really fun. That was it. And then, I remember him getting us up to ski independence pass. It sucked getting up at 5 but it was always worth it once we got going. And then he would drag us up Montezuma where he once had a ski racing camp and actually owned a mining claim that contained some of the snow fields up there. As we got older, we dragged him out. So that was the fuel that really fired up my passion for all this stuff. I see you out with your son, and it really hits home. The few days i have had with the Lou guys has been really great and i hope to have more. And it reminds me of what dad told me when i became a father. He would say that you have to remember that if you are a good father, your kids will eat glass if you ask them to; so don’t push them. Rather, show them the variety there is in life, support them, and then follow their lead in whatever they decide to do. But your advice to keep it outdoors, to show our kids what is important to us as parents is really great. Its about recreation, but it really is about a lifestyle which is key. That is taught by example, not coaching or pushing. So you have hit on some great concepts. And I know that all this has forced mom to her knees more often than not, praying for us kids to be safe, but she wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Thanks, M

  9. Lou October 25th, 2006 7:51 pm

    Tom, that makes my heart leap!

  10. Scott Stolte October 26th, 2006 7:15 am

    I guess I’ll just have to wait for your next gear review of the “little kids play skis” to start my research! The free heel aspect sounds like a great starting point to me though! haha…….

  11. Alex October 26th, 2006 9:14 am

    It is fantastic getting your kids into skiing at a young age, especially backcountry skiing. Such skills are harder to learn in later life, especially when a little thing called career gets in the way!!

    I wish my parents had got me into snow at a young age, it has taken me 21 years for my first snow experiences. I saw snow for the first time last christmas in the UK and could not believe what I had missed out on all this time!! So many wasted uni-student vacations! Since then, however I have been on a skiing trip and a winter hiking trip and I am completely hooked – absolutely clamouring to do all things snow.

    Fantastic to introduce your kids into snow activities – I know I will when i have ’em 🙂

  12. Brent Read October 26th, 2006 11:56 am

    Thanks Lou, this is an excellent topic.

    As a young father, I appreciate hearing what others are doing to share their joys with their kids. When or son turned 1, we got a backpack to carry him along on adventures. We have done short backpacking/hiking trips, and some easy backcountry touring with him in it. Now a year later when I set the backpack on the floor to pack it in the car, he climbs into the pack and gets excited about going for the ride. Our 6 month old daughter also enjoys riding in a baby carrier, and we have all enjoyed some great hikes together. I think all of the outdoor experiences you can take them on helps them appriciate the outdoors year-round.

  13. David George October 26th, 2006 7:26 pm


    What a great article, it brought tears to my eyes. Both my kids, now 23 and 27, were raised skiing, hiking, camping and climbing and they still love it today. Back country skiing on our backs at age 6 months, on skis at 2 (play skiing), real skiing at 3 or 4, snow camping at 8, Wind River rock climbing at 9, Baldy Chutes at 10… the rest is history. I do think that some of the key steps are:

    Making it fun…for both parents and kids. It is not the time to push.
    Expose them to the elemnts with excellent equipment…it makes them shrug off the bad days.
    Bring friends.
    Teach them safe behavior…beacons at 8 yrs. (Drills are great fun for kids)
    Huge rewards at the end of the day.

    BUT remember the three most feared (and cherished) words to a skiing parent…


    Best regards,


  14. Todd Goertzen October 27th, 2006 2:12 pm

    I agree with a lot of what’s been written. Regarding pushing or not pushing… Our kids are 12 (F) and 10 (M). We started them skiing (alpine – ski area) young 3-4, car camping at -1, hiking/exploring out doors in a pack and walking themselves as soon as they could (Ben learned to walk while camping on slickrock), backpacking at 5-6, rockclimbing 6-7ish, XC skiing 7ish, etc… Every year we do a collage of photo’s with a Christmas letter. The photo’s show a lot of outdoor activity. I give a copy to my office. Our front office is made up of middle aged woman who do very little outdoor activity. Last year one of them asked “What would you have done if your kids weren’t athletic, if they weren’t outdoorsy?�. My response was, “They never had that choice�. Truth is we love our kids and most often chose to take them with us when we recreate verses leaving them behind. I’ve seen the power of the outdoors help them deal with their various moods. Often one or the other of the kids won’t be into going wherever were going but their not given the option to stay home alone – 99.9% of the time – once they’re out, stripped down to the basics of walking, caring their lunch, setting a goal (a peak, lake, “the bridge�…), achieving the goal. Something clicks then something changes. They’re more their base self. More happy, more confident. Some day you younger parents will hear your kids say “thanks for making me go. I didn’t want to, but I’m so glad I did�. Once they start to realize the joy that being active and “outdoorsy� brings – they start to want to push themselves outdoors and will start pushing you to follow along.

    Pushing your kids to do something way beyond their interests or to allow you to live vicariously through them is wrong. However – Prompting, prodding, cajoling,… can have some wonderful benefits. My daughter still laugh’s about the trip where I taught her “Pain is my friend, pain is my friend, pain is my friend…â€?

  15. Jody Lowe November 14th, 2006 12:32 pm

    I just moved to Montrose, CO from NC and I have 10 & 8 kids. I am wanting to introduce them to bc skiing and want to know some kid friendly trails in the area if anyone can help me.



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