Note: Winter recreation in the back-country comes with inherent risk. Avalanche education and gear is a must. Visit the Utah Avalanche Center or your local center for more information.
All tours embarked on with our kids so far were in low angle and safe terrain, free from avalanche hazard.
While we’ve been skiers for many moons now, and teaching our kids to ski for roughly the last 4-6 years, we haven’t embarked into the backcountry on anything other than snowshoes.
It wasn’t for lack of desire, but for lack of funding… If you are new to the backcountry scene, the price of gear roughly makes up for the cost of lift tickets. But last year we got really lucky. We found touring set ups, skis, skins, Dynfit bindings, and Black Diamond boots for a crazy good deal at REI. They are backcountry rentals that they were selling off and perfect for Chris and I!
The trouble is, after only a few tours at the end of last season, we fell in love with it! It has a whole different feel than resort skiing. Now you might think we are crazy. And I get it, why would you want to hike up when you can take a chairlift?!
But the mentality is entirely different. Have you ever hiked a peak and wished you could just float back to the car instead of hike the rocky, knee killing, feet aching miles back to the car that you can barely see as a speck in the distance?
It is like that, only you do get to float back to the car!
So naturally, this season, when all three of our kids (ages 4, 6, and 8) reached a point where they could skillfully or at least manage to get down blue runs in control, we began teasing around the idea of touring with them.
But let us go back to the cost issue… even if they did make kid sized touring boots, the bindings alone are $500 and very very difficult to find used for much less.
So we ditched the gear idea (at first) and went with hiking instead.
Backcountry Tour Trial 1
Our first backcountry adventure was up Millcreek Canyon.
Millcreek is a fantastic place to go for a wintry stroll or cross-country skiing. We can bring our dog and stop at many of the picnic areas for snacks or lunch. For this reason, we figured it was a great place to start our grand backcountry experiment. We picked a cloudy and not-so scenic day to go. But hey, any day out is a good day. 🙂
My husband loaded the kids skis and boots, (thank goodness they are small) into his Deuter 50 liter pack. We hiked 2 miles up the canyon, transitioned to ski mode 🙂 and cruised the downhill.
Our bitsy one needed a few minutes of reprieve on the way up. But all in all it went well. And the kids asked over and over when we could do it again!
Backcountry Tour Trial 2
When trying new things, con another family into joining you!
It wasn’t too hard in this case, our adventure family buddies are not to hard to talk into trying new things, especially when you offer to carry their youngest on the way up or down when needed. 🙂
For our destination? Grizzly Gulch up by Alta Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon. So far we’ve had a high priority on easy and safe terrain with the kids. Grizzly Gulch is awesome not only for safe and easy-ish terrain, the views are epic and the access is very convenient.
We put Yaktraks and micro-spikes on the kiddos who were hiking in snow boots to assist on the steep, icy snow. The kids did decently well on the uphill. We stopped a few times for a little exploring through the forest.
Once again our kids had a blast. And we learned that even without touring gear for the kids, we could sort of make this work! Having friends along and ample trail bait in the form of sugar always helps too. 🙂
The descent was easy, as we stayed on the road with the kids. Two kiddos got a ride down on the daddy-porters.
The whole family had a blast, despite a few complaints on the way up. And sure, we were moving at a snails pace, but I learned long ago to change my expectations when we adventure as a family. Maybe backcountry touring as a family really is in the cards?
If you want to see how we retrofitted some BCA alpine trekkers to the kid’s boots/skis, check out part two, coming soon!