2/24/2021 Backcountry Skiing with the Family
By Amelia Mayer
At Skimo Co, our staff obsesses over gear. And while shiny news skis are great, what really matters most are the experiences that the gear affords. Backcountry skiing is a fun way to get outside, challenge yourself, and explore nature with good company.
And that’s exactly why Amelia Mayer added backcountry skiing to her family’s repertoire.
Along with her husband and five children, Amelia lives out of Jackson, Wyoming where she hosts a website called “Tales of a Mountain Mama.'' The site aims to be a quality resource for other families looking to adventure outside. From gear reviews to practical advice, Amelia provides insight so that families can focus more on having fun and less on overwhelming logistics.
Two seasons in, we thought we’d check in with Amelia to learn about her family’s experiences on the skin track and see if she has any advice for other families looking to do the same.
“The outdoors is where we find our peace and family connectedness.”
We have been working for almost eleven years getting our kids to ski. The process has been exhausting to say the least, but worth every second as we see them find joy and confidence in their abilities. Last year was the first year we attempted backcountry skiing with our oldest (then 10). This season, our second oldest son joined in on the fun. The younger sisters are chomping at the bit for their time as well.
In the meantime, all of them are learning how to cross country and downhill resort ski so we can put it all together later for backcountry skiing. Having our kids know from a young age how to safely tour will help when in a few years we can all go. Resort skiing gets crowded and we all prefer the peace of wide open spaces.
The first time the boys skied they were shocked at how hard it was. We did a lot of encouraging, some bribing, and gave them reasonable goals. We didn’t push them hard. The next time we went I was shocked on how motivated they were to just keep going. We found some friends who also have gear and a little positive peer pressure goes a long way.
“There is nothing like watching your kids conquer mountains uphill AND downhill.”
The challenge of ski touring, coupled with the success they see, helps build their confidence and learn who they are. I always say if you are willing to try hard things when you have a choice, you’ll have the skills to overcome hard things when you don’t. I’m always a little shocked when they celebrate their own successes. We see this on an almost daily basis between guiding them on harder ski runs, encouraging them to ski further both touring or cross country skiing, hiking, backpacking, and even getting their required chores done.
It is certainly not easy (nor is any challenge), but I've noticed they tackle them head-on with a lot more confidence as they get older and have more practice.
Snow King Mountain, right in the heart of Jackson, allows uphill traffic (with a pass), which is unique and such a great way to help kids learn to safely backcountry ski. While most of our family skiing has been there (the little ones can do laps on the chairlift while the big kids skin), we have been venturing some into the backcountry on Togwotee Pass which is where the real fun (and great snow) is!
Part of backcountry touring is learning avalanche safety and how to properly use gear. Quite honestly, the avalanche aspect is the scariest part for me as a mom. We check reports before we go with the kids and talk about what the different reports mean so they know it’s serious. We are extremely cautious and never take our kids into high avalanche risk areas. That said, we still strongly believe they need to learn now how to use beacons and probes and be practicing every time they are skiing out of bounds. We do family beacon practice in the yard and the kids are required to wear them anytime they are touring (with the exception of Snow King uphill travel).
Get the gear
While I anticipate this will be completely different in ten years, for now backcountry ski gear for younger/smaller kids is still very hard to find and impossible to find used. Skiing uphill is hard, but having lighter gear makes all the difference. Our youngest is skiing Movement boots and Dynafit Seven Summit skis and bindings. After seeing how light his boots were, we upgraded his older brothers to the same boots instead of the used, heavier ones he was wearing. Admittedly it was a bit of a splurge for our otherwise frugal family, but we decided it was worth not having to fight gear. I’m so glad we did. We have learned over the years that making an initial investment pays off for our sanity down the line repeatedly. This is one of those times. Learn about Skimo Co's junior selection here.
We have also used the Contour Binding Adapters, which have allowed so many kids to just start with the gear they have. They are a bit clumsy and heavier, but a super affordable way to get kids going. Our daughter (now 6) will be using them next year.
There's nothing quite like watching my boys make turns on some super deep powder after working so hard to get to the top and "earn their turns.” We can’t wait to keep touring with the family as all the kids get older and explore new places as we adventure!
Our neighbor Davie, an Old Scottish Mountaineer and ski pioneer of the Tetons helped to set us up with old leather boots, Old skis some of which were cut to length then mounted with three pin bindings (we call them our Agnew skis), Old skins some that where sewn together to make them long enough. The whole idea was to get into the mountains as a family, build unity, teach lessons, and have Great adventures together. Good gear is nice but is not essential to get started with.
We have skied into winter camps pulling gear with sleds from Ace hardware, winter picnics on Teton old Pass road, hulled kids and gear up mount glory back on the ridge to the kids run then down to Cole Creek. Small kids heavy gear and only two adults meant raising baby goats building packsaddle‘s to get the family into the mountains. A few years ago while loaded down with skis and gear and youngsters in tow, a Chinese guy (Jimmy Chin) came up behind us and said to me this will pay off in about 20 years. My thought was this had better pay off before 20 years. It has and continues to pay off many times over.
Good gear is nice but The key is to just get out.
Most of the time, once I clipped her on, she picked up the pace and kept the bungee slack anyway.