Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Two generations of happy backcountry skiers!
My previous post was on ski setups for kids (and other small people) and why skimo "near race" setups seem to make a lot of sense. This is about the concept in action.

My son had tried my wife's skimo gear a few years ago and kept talking about it so we got a setup for him. The first thing to think about was what length tour would give him a good experience. Im a huge fan of keeping kid experiences fun but requiring some real effort so they are proud of what they have done at the end. You have to earn that feeling but never want to push it too far or I fear kids will develop a severe aversion to whatever it is you are doing. Unless it involves chocolate- that helps!

Baseline kid fitness level

My son is just about 12 and is a super solid in bounds skier. He never skis out of control and can ski any terrain in the resort other than cliffs! He has decent cardio fitness and we go on moderate family backpacking and climbing trips during the summer so he mentally has a feel for multi hour efforts. I think this is important to set expectations and ensure that they dont get in over their heads. If he was not asking to go I would have probably waited another year or two to take him out. Our daughter is also interested but a little younger. She has better cardio since she is an avid swimmer and is a little bit more conservative on skis. Also, being smaller I think Im going to definitely wait a little longer to make sure it is fun.

Route selection

Route selection to me should involve 1-1.5 mile / 1k to 1.5k uphill efforts. These should be easy to ski out with nominal skating or other shenanigans. Simple, straightforward trips in other words. Snow conditions can probably be anything but crust which is demoralizing enough for adults much less kids! We have been out in choppy snow and hardpack (it was supposed to be corn but some unanticipated heavy clouds came in that morning).

 At the car

Help kids put skins on. Do one while they emulate and totally help out if they are struggling. Keep motivation high. Let them adjust bindings (lock the toe, set the heel etc) and only prompt if necessary. Think about carrying their water and giving them an empty pack just to put their helmet in and a spare pair of skins. Less weight should keep it more fun!


Kids muscles are different from adult muscles in their composition. Ive had a number of interesting talks with elementary PE teachers on this subject and the bottom line is that kids need to go in short spurts and then recover. Also, kids have a more difficult time regulating body temperature than adults. Because of this, I dress warmer than usual and my son may dress a little warmer than I would for a typical outing but not bundle up like he was riding lifts. We will go for about 10-15 minutes and then take a 3-5 minute break. On those breaks we laugh, enjoy the scenery, drink something and occasionally have a snack. It makes it all very fun. Steep or icy skin tracks are a bit more difficult for kids Ive discovered so any way to keep out of those stupid steep noob tracks is worth it. Breaking your own trail helps slow adults down so it isnt a bad idea!

The three skills we worked on were snowpack evaluation so my son will get in the habit of always thinking about it, kick turns and skin ripping. Kick turns take some practice and skin ripping will take even more since there is a strength factor as well as coordination. We did just a little of each and made sure that the up front understanding was they are tricky and take time to master but you have to be bad at something before you get good at it. Once again, laughter was important!
Going up on a cold day. Even in cold overcast conditions we learned that this ski jacket plus helmet was too much insulation. It is tricky since kids have a harder time than adults getting warm after starting off a little cold.
Steeper skin tracks are tougher for kids who dont have the upper body strength to deal with these OR the necessary adult vocabulary to properly chastise the clown who thought skinning up on your highest heel risers was a good idea...
Rest stop with an entertaining view of a jump some incredibly inept snowboarders were "working" in between snowmobile rides on a nearby road. Nothing makes you feel cooler than watching people who suck more than you do! Little known fact- as far as I can tell only Germans have a word for this. SCHADENFREUDE, the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, is a word that should be in all of our vocabularies.
More appropriately dressed for the conditions this outing! Hands were still a little warm and the helmet only went on for the descent. Learning to rip skins is hard for kids so keep it fun and laugh!
For some more #skiuphill (with kids) inspiration check out Scott Simmons thoughts on Boys in the Backcountry. His oldest son, Quinn (17) is now crushing in skimo races! The below is the one picture that really stood out from his blog and a technique I have yet to try but plan on using at some point as it would probably be fun for both of us!
Towing in spring conditions- great idea! Note the use of a harness, not pack strap for the towed kid!


Downhill is definitely easier. A few things are important though. First and foremost is talking about terrain assessment and what to be cautious about even if the conditions are super stable just so kids begin to think about safety all the time and prioritize it higher than what line looks the coolest. Also, practicing swapping out lead and talking about pulling into a safe zone and spotting others in your party is good practice even, once again in super stable conditions. An in bounds skier just wants to rip it!
Hunting for the soft stuff in variable conditions. Bringing the dog along is fun on such outings! This was my son's first time on his new setup and he ripped it with no difficulty adjusting to half the boot buckles and a somewhat different ski from his in bounds setup.

Super hard and fairly steep conditions. All that in bounds skiing pays off by keeping this fun!

Who wouldnt want to backcountry ski surrounded by so much beautiful scenery!!??!!


It takes some thought to make a bc outing with kids fun but it is definitely fun! Skiing wont ever bring about world peace so if you are doing it, finding ways to share it with those closest to you makes it a lot more meaningful than only skiing hard and fast (which of course has its place!). I have to say these were some of my favorite days of the whole year. I hope if you have kids that this helps you enjoy the bc with them a little more or a little earlier! If you do get out, Id love to hear about your own adventures and any wisdom you pick up to fill in the gaps!


  1. hey man, great stuff. looking to get my 12yo into some skimo stuff. any good leads on SMALLER stuff? 150 skis and 23 or 24 skis? thanks amigo.