Mom's Night Out... In The Backcountry

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By Ryan Michelle Scavo

So, you’re thinking about taking your kid(s) into the backcountry, huh? It might be a new level of planning and commitment, but here are some tips and tricks to help make family backcountry skiing outings a success...

While I was pregnant, I started researching skiing and backcountry travel with little ones. Needless to say, there isn’t much out there in the land of Google that supports this type of “adventure” parenting. Instead, in my pursuit of “do’s”, I found a whole lot of “don’t’s”. This was slightly frustrating because I really want to get my kid outside to experience the most adventure-filled life possible in every season!

So, I did what any hard-headed, ambitious woman would do: First, I cracked a beer and gained some much-needed inspiration via Instagram from women doing exactly what I wanted to do like @adventuremamas and @the_wild_trout, then, I - along with another badass skiing mama (Tasha) - took what little experience we had as “moms” in the frontcountry and created our backcountry packing and to-do lists and set off on our annual trip.

We learned a lot over the course of days at Jon Wilson Yurt and Tomichi Lodge, like how to care for sick babies in the backcountry (stomach bugs hit both boys), the importance of balancing sleep deprivation with the the combined energy of three dogs, two babies and two husbands, that it is way cheaper to haul in our wine and beer than pay to have it delivered, the pros and cons of cloth vs. disposable diapers, and the benefits of using multiple baby carrying systems.

In the end, we had more smiles than meltdowns and everyone (even us sleep-deprived mamas) came out of the backcountry happier and more confident than when we went in, making both trips complete successes for our families.

Here’s a down and dirty list of some things to consider when planning your next family backcountry skiing trip:

  • More people = more weight, but you don’t need to break your back. Solution: Bring a sled!

Accept the inevitable: You will carry more gear/food/etc. than you did pre-baby (even if you’re nursing). Once you accept this fact, you can then move on to debating whether to bring both rattles or just one.

For a 3-day/2-night backcountry trip we packed the typical “essentials”. My husband and I brought food, enough water for the ski in, first aid kit and avy gear, ski skins and emergency repair kit, sleep systems, and extra layers.

For our little one, we packed a small bag of toys, diapers (see #2), two carriers with blankets (see #4), sunglasses & sunblock, and extra clothes including two synthetic base layers (top/bottom), three fleece onesies, a cotton onesie, a fleece bunting, a down bunting with booties and gloves, fleece hat, three pairs of socks and one pair of fleece booties. Though it adds a few ounces here and there, packing extra layers for the boys proved very beneficial - we had several blowouts due to stomach bugs, so I was happy we had warm and clean onsies available!

To pack all of our gear and food, we loaded up waterproof/resistant duffels and strapped them down to a cargo expedition toboggan/sled rigged to my husband’s pack with carabiners. It’s a great system and allows him to be the gear hauler and I can carry a small hip pack and our little one.

A note on toys: Whether you’re a no-frills ultra-light minimalist or someone who brings everything but the kitchen sink, bringing along some toys for babies to engage in is really important. Though we might find pleasure in simply watching the sun track across a bluebird sky, our little dude is much more pleasant when he has something other than his hands or yurt-finds (like kitchens utensils) for entertainment.

  • Babies poop (and pee)...a lot. When packing for a backcountry trip, consider how many diapers your baby goes through at home on any given day and then add a couple extra, just in case (e.g., above mentioned stomach bugs).

Though we normally use cloth diapers, we used a disposable option (I like 7th Generation) for our trip. This allowed us to pack in a lot of diapers (~9 per day) in a small wet bag at a relatively low weight, which is something to consider when hauling a 50+ pound toboggan uphill. Impressively, though, Tasha stuck with cloth diapering for both trips and could not have been happier! She used a laundry bag for clean diapers and our extra large wet bag for dirty diapers and said the only downside was the added weight. 

  • Use the right gear and drink LOTS of water!

Admittedly, I love talking gear. For this year’s trip, we did a sort of “shakedown” pre-trip ski to make sure everything functioned well and determine what wasn’t necessary. Obviously, baby-carrying devices are a must (see #4), but here’s my go-to list for my setup:

  • Skis/boots - I use a telemark setup to keep my options wide open. This means an all-around ski (like the Bliss), skins, and a Voile 3-pin binding; and I like a 2 buckle boot (like a Scarpa T3) for comfort and ability to still get some big turns at the top
  • Poles - I like using fixed poles with additional grip. My go to is the GrassSticks Touring Sticks.
  • Clothing - I heat up when touring, so on top, I rock a thermal hooded shirt, zip up and vest and down bottom, I wear some leggings and a pair of ski pants that can easily dump heat (like the Stio Environ)
  • Gloves - On the uphill, I skip the gloves since I get so warm, but on the downhill, my favorite glove was the Black Diamond Women’s Mercury Mitts. I use them on and off resort and find them comfortable on the coldest of days!

Also, thirsty? Stay hydrated!

Whether you’re skiing 1 mile or 6, drinking water and staying fully hydrated is incredibly important - especially if you’re nursing. Staying hydrated keeps your body moving, your mind sharp and if you’re nursing, your baby happy and hydrated, too!

  • Baby carrying for the win: It’s all about options!

Both Tasha and I used Chariot (with ski attachment) and Ergo systems. The most important part about carrying a little one in a snowy/cold environment is to ensure they are warm. So, regardless of the system, the boys wore several layers. Ours were dressed in a synthetic base layer, socks, fleece onesie, fleece or down bunting, and a fleece beanie.

When in the Ergo, I made sure to move his arms and legs and check to make sure feet and hands were not cold to the touch. Cheeks on the other hand, are meant to get cold...just warm those things up by pulling your glove off and offering a warm palm.

On the other hand, when harnessed in the Chariot, cheeks seemed to always stay warm if the cover was on. The boys sat inside of down stroller bags and ours had a waterproof blanket and down blanket available at the feet if extra warmth/dryness was needed.

Having multiple carrying systems saved us on both trips. While the Chariot is good for long distance ski in/out, snowy days, or steep climbs, the Ergo is perfect for sunny/dry conditions, tooling around the yurt/lodge, or getting some turns with baby along for the ride!

  • Patience & Teamwork are two must-haves...but even if both are in short supply, DON’T give up!

I didn’t marry the most patient man and I'm certainly not always a #1 team player in our relationship, but my husband and I are dedicated to showing our little one that life can be one big adventure.

Case-in-point...

Sometimes, trail conditions can be downright crappy - like when you forget your skins, so your husband gives you his, but he still has to tow a 50-pound sled behind him while herringboning. Or, better yet, when confidence is lacking on a steep downhill and the idea of having a baby strapped to your chest is causing you to lose your mind so you pass the kid off to his dad.

Either way, if your patience is limited and being a team player just isn’t in the cards at the moment, just remember: You’re doing something awesome! You are showing a mini version of yourselves just how great it is to be outside! And hopefully, they’ll carry at least a small bit of that through life and grow from being a little ripper to that you’re waiting for on the trail, to true shredder waiting on your slow, sorry, ass to make it to the summit.

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Ryan Michelle Scavo is a mother, skier and avid outdoorswomen based in Southern Colorado. Read more of Ryan's work at ryoutside.com