Introducing Kids to Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding

Anyone who has ever spent a night out under the stars with kids will know the “Mac and Cheese Principle”: a pot of mac and cheese cooked outdoors after a day outside hiking, kayaking, biking, or rock climbing will taste exponentially better than the same pot of mac and cheese cooked inside on your kitchen stove. Whether it’s the fresh air, the exertion, the woodsmoke, or a magical combination of the three, this is a simple and beautiful truth. And just like the ”Mac and Cheese Principle,” if you hike up a hill and ski or ride down it, it can be immeasurably more enjoyable than a ski run from a chairlift. Maybe it’s the fresh air. Or the silence. Maybe the sweat, or the untracked powder you will find on the little-visited hills throughout New England. Or the satisfaction of “earning your turns.” Whatever it is, if you love the snow and the mountains, it’s a great way to get the kids outside for some winter fun.

Kids will love the sense of adventure of backcountry skiing.
Photo by Ethan Hipple

And the best part? It’s free. 

Backcountry skiing has been popular in New England for centuries—in fact, before there were resorts and high speed lifts, all skiing was backcountry skiing. Skiers simply found a nice steep section of forest or mountainside, hiked up it, strapped on their wooden skis and skied down.

But you don’t have to go to be an expert mountaineer or go to great lengths to enjoy this sport—even in the heart of some New England towns and cities you can find hidden ski runs in city parks and forests. And those who live in suburban and rural areas have countless hours of exploration ahead if they take the time to look in the hills and forests surrounding them.

Backcountry skiing is best attempted by families who know how to ski or snowboard confidently. Depending on your kids’ abilities, they could start as young as 6 or 7. But they must be able to ski confidently, navigate around trees, rocks, and other obstacles, handle deep powder and stop on a dime. They must also have the stamina for the uphill portion! But usually the excitement of looking forward to the downhill will keep them pushing uphill. If the kids don’t have these abilities yet, keep practicing on nearby open slopes or find an affordable community ski area where you can teach your kids to ski for relatively little cost.

Here are some tips to get you off on the right track with kids.

Make it Fun

  1. Navigation: Map and compass and knowledge how to use them.
  2. Sun Protection: Sunscreen and shades or goggles are a must if you will be out in the open snowfields. The sun reflects off the snow and can burn skin and eyes.
  3. Insulation: Non-cotton, insulating layers. Fleece, poly-pro or wool are best in winter months.
  4. Illumination: Just going out for a morning ski? Still bring a headlamp. You don’t know what is going to happen out there.
  5. First Aid: Bring a small backcountry first aid kit on every trip.
  6. Fire: Lighter and fire starting material.
  7. Nutrition: In addition to lunch, bring emergency food: energy bars, trail mix, dried fruit or jerky.
  8. Hydration: At least 2 quarts of water per person. You will be thirsty after a climb.
  9. Shelter: A simple emergency blanket or tarp will do.
  10. Tools: I never leave home on a backcountry adventure without a lighter, Swiss Army knife or multi-tool, 50 feet of parachute cord, and duct tape. WIth these items along you can handle almost any situation.

Places to Ski

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog. This post was written by Ethan Hipple.

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