I’m a father. If there’s one takeaway from my own childhood that I’ve incorporated into my own kids’ upbringings is getting them involved in outdoor adventure sports. They’re the perfect way for kids to test their limits and gain life experience in a less stressful and astoundingly beautiful environment. As in most of the sports you can challenge yourself and fail without being judged by peers, but the adventure sports like backpacking, climbing or backcountry skiing add an additional element of unknown and teach kids how to cope with unexpected and unpredictable events. Where we are going to set up a camp, which route is the best to ski, how hard is this climb, can we do it etc… I’ve found it’s definitely worth it to be more adventurous and take the kids off the beaten path it will make them ready for the life in so many ways.
Some of the more memorable trips I’ve done with my family were climbing the Grand Teton; then there was a three day backpacking trip along the John Muir Trail, from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite; one year we took on a four day hut to hut backcountry skiing tour in Colorado; and, we always make time for backcountry ski runs in the Chamonix valley. My daughter was 14 and my son was just 11 when we went on some of these more adventurous multi day trips!
To this day, my kids are also my best partners for outdoor adventures, there is no one else I would rather go skiing or climbing that with them. They are strong, skilled, fearless and super fun :). They’re always ready to explore new places and try new things. These outdoor trips have become integral for us because they keep us close as a family, but to get where we are now took years of effort and thorough planning.
Here’s my advice for anyone interested in getting into outdoor adventures with their kids:
1: Make it about their social recognition
If your kids can brag about something to their friends, they’ll be more motivated. I always carry my camera and make sure my kids have amazing photos for their Instagram accounts. By now their reputation amongst their peers is firmly established and they are recognized as the best skiers, climbers and backpackers in their school. Whenever anyone needs advice about anything outdoor related, my kids are the go-to source for info, whether it be about skis, backpacks, or even which outdoor summer program to sign up for.
2: Make sure you cover the basics
I figure all of the gear for the kids. I read tons of reviews and I make sure they have high quality clothes right down to their socks. Before we go on a trip I sort all the gear and make sure each kid has everything he or she needs during the day when we are most active but also, even more importantly, for cold nights or bad weather. Kids younger than 14 are more sensitive to cold weather, especially wind, so never underestimate hypothermia. I always carry additional layers and two additional emergency bivouac sacks just in case the weather surprises us.
Ideally, you should go on longer trips when the weather is perfect. A good long-term forecast is your best friend and you don’t want to ruin your kids’ experience with wet, cold weather. Also, think about what you want to achieve in the long run, not just that one trip. Your priority is to take it one step at a time, make them love the outdoors and soon, with time, your kids will learn how to enjoy a little bit of suffering too.
3: Take it easy
Grand Teton can be climbed in a day or two day, but we planned for three easy days. Even though my kids are in great shape from playing sports year round, I didn’t want my goals to be too ambitious and overwhelm them. For any trip, you need to take lots of breaks, have plenty of snacks, enjoy the views, and talk with your kids. It’s a great time for bonding and to learn about what’s going in their lives, what’s happening in their school – all the stuff that sometimes gets brushed aside. After a day or two your kids will open up and start talking about all kinds of stuff. You’d be surprised. Plus there’s so much you can learn from them, so I try to stay silent and listen to what they have to say.
4: Plan for the worst
You don’t want your wife or kids to hear too much about everything that can go wrong, so keep it to yourself. I always read accident reports from the American Alpine Club and other sources to stay educated. When the time comes on a trip where things need extra attention, that’s when I’ll tell them what to look out for and why. I “dose” them with the necessary info in small amounts whenever it’s appropriate.
Other necessities for any trip are a satellite phone, updated emergency contacts and trip insurance. It is also super helpful to have some basic training in self-rescue or avalanche rescue. My daughter is now learning on her own so I get more support from her, but, initially, this kind of responsibility will be solely up to you. I made sure that I read all the relative trip information possible. I research all the issues people have on a specific route, say, and make sure we know where we are going and what we are doing and why we’re doing it the way we are.
For the Grand Teton climb I watched all the available videos on YouTube and pretty much memorized the whole route even though I’d never been there. I had a strategy for every single pitch, and an escape plan for any point in the route.
For backcountry ski touring routes I’ll find track them on GPS and load them on my Gaia app and Garmin watch. Other items like headlamps, a comprehensive first aid kit, and an emergency shelter are absolute musts.
I also suggest hiring a guide that would follow you during your outdoor activities but also help you to discover some hidden gems or give useful (safety) tips. Nowadays, with apps such as 57 hours, it is very easy to find an appropriate guide since you can do it with just a couple of taps on your phone!
5: Make it worth it – incentives never hurt
Steak, ice cream, a pool and a hotel room with big beds are always welcome at the end of a big day. Our family tradition is to check in into a nicer hotel and have a really good dinner, hit the pool and relax. The first time I did this, it was to win back some love from my family after having them hike, climb, and camp for three days. Now it’s mandatory! Combining the outdoors with healthy doses of civilization keeps everyone happy. Tried and true.