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Thwarting cabin fever, family style

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By Luke Lynch Explore Big Sky Contributor
Looks of surprise and confusion greeted our party as we skinned past other
backcountry skiers on our way out to Mount Elly that crystal blue January
day. Elizabeth, age 2, rode quietly on her dad’s back, taking in the sights. My
1½-year-old son Will squirmed and giggled, pulling my sunglasses off my face
as we cruised along.
We laughed and laughed as we climbed to Elly’s 9,279-foot “summit” on the
south side of Teton Pass, where we let the kids down for a snack break and a
romp in the snow.
“Go faster, Dada!” Elizabeth said, squealing as she and Stephen took a short
run down a gentle east-facing powder field. On my back, Will just laughed
with delight.
We were either heroes or villains to the folks we met that day – one woman
worried the kids were cold and checked if they still had their mittens (they
did). Another, a mom herself, proclaimed us the best dads ever, and a ski
bum in the parking lot said what we were doing was f’ing awesome.
By early afternoon, it was time to head home, so we put our skins back on
and headed back to the ridgeline and our eventual descent back to the truck
at the top of the pass.
Avoiding cabin fever with young kids takes some work, but it’s worth it. Here
are a few alternatives to riding the chairlift, or when the kids are too little to
ski the resort.

Max Lynch loves fresh snow. PHOTO BY LUKE LYNCH

Find a road that’s groomed for snowmobiles or has user-created tracks; a
nice gentle uphill from the trailhead is best. Load up the toboggan (a plastic
sled with a rope will do), pack up snacks and hot chocolate, bundle up, and
head out.
The beauty is in the mini-adventures along the way, and the thrill of descent.
Drag the wee ones up for some exercise, and when they get antsy you have
a quick, thrilling ride down.
Goggles and helmets add mystique to the adventure. On the right road, a
descent of several miles is possible. Inspired by Calvin and Hobbs, the
scrawling on our sled says “Speed, Angle, Lean – Calvin would do it.”
Ski When kids are too small to ride the chairlift or if you’re looking for something
different, it’s good to have a plan. Here are three options:
1. Low avalanche danger: Bring a little one along for mellow
backcountry tours in a pack like the Osprey Poco Plus. The added
weight makes easy terrain more difficult, so if you usually focus on
steeper backcountry skiing, taking a kid is an opportunity to check out
a relaxing spot or scout burly terrain from a mellower angle. It’s always
better to go with another adult – watching someone peel his or her
climbing skins with a child on board can be pretty funny.
2. Cross country: I load a kid or two in the Chariot with a ski attachment
and enjoy both the company and added challenge of a skate or a
classic ski. The cold winter air and gentle rocking are soporific – great
for little ones who don’t nap easily.
3. Lifts: Some resorts allow you to carry a child on your back while riding
the lifts. Others don’t, so check before making the drive.
Endless snow fort
Our kids’ imaginations run wild when we build snow castles, dragons,
tunnels, ramps and slides. We try to keep a snow building project underway
all winter, using the snowplow piles to mine blocks and tunneling material.
I sometimes worry about the consequences of collapse… one more thing
added to the endless hazards, but I love that our kids find such endless
adventures in our backyard and neighborhood.

This story was first published in the winter 2013/2014 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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