Kids and the mountains... - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 05-07-2013, 10:12 PM Thread Starter
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Default Kids and the mountains...

There was a suggestion that we discuss kids and mountain activities and keeping them safe.

This is something that I think about a LOT when we're out. The reason is that my daughter participates in activities that are higher risk than what many people would consider "typical" outdoor activities.

It was pretty simple at first. Rock climbing was very basic top roping at very close to the road crags. Now, while this is a fairly safe and fun way to spend an afternoon, remember that a goof in setting an anchor, etc, could mean dire consequences to your child. We kept it fun, took picnic fixings, and no stress over routes, etc. But, the seriousness of what was going on is conveyed.

My anxiety level is much higher now as she is moving to lead climbing. Lead falls can be dangerous, and at the top of the pitch, an error in the anchor can be very serious. I've been super conscious of making it a process. Simulated leads, a preset anchor that is clipped and then she builds her own, and stuff like that. I'm sure I'm more cautious with her than I would be with another beginner climber, but that's the way it is. (Not one back-clip yet!!)

Skiing is pretty much the same process. At first it was fun cruising the green groomers with her, a proud dad as she began making turns in no time. Quickly we were onto the blues and the fun level was still high, no anxiety at all.

Today, it's different. I can't dream about keeping up. She looks for the steepest pitches and skis at Warp 10. I love that she is a skilled skier and has such confidence, but the chances of severe injury are much higher thanks to the speed she now carries and the terrain she skis. I freely admit to feeling relief at the end of the day when everyone's safe.

Her love of mountaineering I think scares me the most. As we drive the Parkway she points to big peaks and big routes and is making a list. We've been learning a lot of skills with our annual trips to the Bow Hut, but she's rapidly finding the climbing "dull." The thrill of the summit is still there, but she really comes alive when there is some steeper bits or some exposure. I've never lost a friend/acquaintance to sport climbing or skiing, but have to alpine climbing/mountaineering.

But, she has the bug. So, rather than discourage her (tough when I do it...) I see my role as to help her develop the necessary skills to become a self-sufficient and capable mountaineer. I don't want her "following someone's footprints" up peaks. She needs to be making/participating in decisions and understanding what's going on, and how to stay safe (as much as possible) and deal with circumstances. Mountaineering is the most complex mountain activity we engage in. Snow, ice, rock, glaciers, weather, long days, objective hazards (seracs, crevasses, avalanches, rockfall, falls) remote locations, complex route finding, and so on mean experience is essential. How to gain that experience? Here's the rub. You have to expose them to this environment in as benign manner as possible.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 05-07-2013, 10:38 PM
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From the sounds of it, you are doing an amazing job as a Dad. Mountains are a good way to learn about responsibility and how to manage risk. Those lessons will keep your daughter safe as she grows up and has to deal with other situations in the world (driving, drinking, etc..)



A few other thoughts:
- One lesson you didn't mention is a willingness to turn-around and to come back another day. I assume you have done that with her a few times? Kids aren't known for their patience but it's one of the most valuable lessons the mountains can teach.


- When I was growing up, I needed to learn one or two lessons (not mountaineering related) the hard way before I smartened up and realized that if I didn't start learning from other people's mistakes I wouldn't be around for very long.
Until I felt real pain, all the book smarts in the world wouldn't have been enough to ensure I was always making responsible decisions. Have you let her take a few hard falls along the way?

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post #3 of (permalink) Old 05-08-2013, 11:03 AM
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Your daughter is lucky. Period. I can think of a thousand worse activities.

While my oldest is only 3, he aspires to climb every tree, rock or hill he sees and says "Isaac climb mountain like daddy." It's only a matter of time I suppose.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 05-08-2013, 12:33 PM
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A couple of good mentors who aren't her parents would be a good thing to ad to the blend. Often kids, when they hit those stubborn points in their development, will listen to and heed what others say once that you've said a thousand times to no avail.

Mentors also have the objectivity that we as parents don't have about our own kids. I'm guessing this is something already well entrenched in your workflow, just thought I'd mention it.

Keep up the good work John.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 05-08-2013, 07:22 PM
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Before I go too far, in case many don't read all of this, there is one thing I want every parent who takes their kids to the mountains to be very aware of. Most of us were not raised by parents who were into mountaineering. Most of us, who started mountaineering in, say, our twenties, have had only so many years of exposure to the randomness inherent to the mountain environment. Gravity can cause things to go awry in ways we cannot always predict.

Children taken to the mountains by their mountaineering parents start racking up exposure starting almost in infancy. A disturbingly high proportion of the friends I've lost in mountaineering accidents were taken to the mountains early by parents who mountaineered. Randy Stoltmann and Brian Waddington come immediately to mind. The message is that parents who are into mountaineering and take their children to the mountains early in life, must take additional precautions, be more aware, more careful, teach a higher level of skill and risk awareness etc. than parents who rarely take their kids to the mountains or take them later in life. Their long-term survival depends on this special awareness. Not just because the kids have more exposure, but because they probably will end up tackling more difficult and dangerous trips. Not only should the parents bear this in mind, but they should explain it to the kids as soon as they can understand the concept.

Our attention to this subject started with concern for loose dogs in urban/suburban parks when our child was an infant. At the same time we got into canoeing because we could take a carload of stuff with us and still visit some relatively natural places. This came with the usual marine risks, falling on barnacle-encrusted rocks, campfires and bear and cougar encounters. Each risk had to be mitigated in different ways, but none of them could be entirely avoided without staying home.

Then came hiking, bicycle trips and backcountry skiing. And with them a multitude of additional risks. We did quite well until this winter. We never quite capsized the canoe despite ample tidewater trips such as the Deer Group in November, no animal attacks, she never got seriously lost, no high speed bicycle crashes, no avalanche incidents, no hypothermia beyond chattering teeth, no significant injuries. I recall her getting a fish hook in the corner of her eye, thanks to an irresponsible peer. It was just luck that one was insignificant.

Along the way it became clear she had an excellent sense of direction, an instinctive level of caution, and skill at figuring out where people were when they were not in sight. Plus a bunch of other valuable survival behaviors. She showed competitive spirit, and did a technical river rafting trip a year ago that my wife has never been willing to do.

However, we had a sobering incident this winter. While skiing down the Hanging Lake route behind the Whistler Olympic Park, she was skiing down a shallow gulley and decided to climb out of it to get back on the trail. While herringboning up what I thought was a steepish bank, she lost her balance and slid/fell back. Unfortunately in the bottom of the gulley, at exactly the right height and pointed in exactly the right direction was a broken branch sticking out of the snow with a sharp pointed end.

I won't go into the details, but the resulting injury was minor compared to what could have happened. She had to go to the Squamish hospital for stitches and she got some new clothes for the drive home.

This incident raised serious concerns about exposing one's child to these sorts of sports. It's clear that it doesn't matter how carefully you monitor your child, backcountry recreation can throw things at you that you cannot prepare for. I know that virtually all sports have their hazards, but society has far more tolerance for, say, brain injuries playing hockey, than any sort of accident involving backcountry recreation.

We take comfort in resolving unknowns. But the question of responsibility for children on backcountry adventure trips is uncomfortable because there is no answer. There's no way to know to what extent it took us this long to have an "incident" due to our expertise at adventuring while avoiding accidents, as opposed to just luck. There's no way to know if the benefits of doing these trips outweigh the inherent dangers. At the same time, a multitude of personality growth opportunities and adventure tourism are based on exactly this exposure to real risk. The only thing we know for sure is that, as parents, we bear the responsibility for any incidents. And we must not only foresee and minimize risks, but we must be prepared in case there is an accident.

In the fall, our child starts a mini-school program that incorporates various backcountry trips. It will be interesting to see how the people who run the programs handle this matter.
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 05-08-2013, 08:41 PM
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Sounds like you're doing a great job John....keep it up. My kids are 32, 27, 24 & 22. Three of them engage in risky outdoor activities. Two are in moderately risky lines of work. To a great extent, I introduced them to, or encouraged them, in all of these activities. I tried to teach them what I know or otherwise learn with them, but for the most part they're far beyond me now. Even though I trust their judgment, I still worry....I guess that's what being a parent is all about.
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 05-08-2013, 10:05 PM Thread Starter
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Steve raises a very interesting and important point. My daughter began rock climbing at age four, and yes, her sensitivity to heights is very low compared to most other kids. We went bouldering one day, and I had to reel her in, big time. It was an "ah-ha" moment that I've been careful about ever since. We spend lots of time examining consequences to ensure that feet don't go where feet shouldn't without protection.

The same goes for skiing, but I've found this much more challenging. Part of it is that she is old enough to head out on the resort with her friends, and I'm not with her. Honestly, I can't ski with her anyway. I'm way past my comfort level speed wise. That said, at least she's not out of control. I see new skiers crashing down blue runs and I'm more scared for them than I am for my daughter. Barely.

Of course, maybe I'm just jealous that she's a much better skier than me! Okay, she's a much better sport climber than I am too (not technical skills, but grade ability...) Oh, man, I suck!!
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 05-08-2013, 10:50 PM
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by johngenx

Steve raises a very interesting and important point. My daughter began rock climbing at age four, and yes, her sensitivity to heights is very low compared to most other kids. We went bouldering one day, and I had to reel her in, big time. It was an "ah-ha" moment that I've been careful about ever since. We spend lots of time examining consequences to ensure that feet don't go where feet shouldn't without protection.

The same goes for skiing, but I've found this much more challenging. Part of it is that she is old enough to head out on the resort with her friends, and I'm not with her. Honestly, I can't ski with her anyway. I'm way past my comfort level speed wise. That said, at least she's not out of control. I see new skiers crashing down blue runs and I'm more scared for them than I am for my daughter. Barely.

Of course, maybe I'm just jealous that she's a much better skier than me! Okay, she's a much better sport climber than I am too (not technical skills, but grade ability...) Oh, man, I suck!!
We find the biggest worry in this regard with our daughter is that she's too comfortable being out ahead by herself on the trail, for instance.

At downhill areas, we keep her, and she must be within a year of the same age as yours, under some speed control by having her use her telemark/backcountry ski gear at downhill areas. IMHO the current emphasis on speed in downhill skiing causes a lot of danger that is not necessary to enjoying the sport. It's like an emphasis on downhill racing style rather than slalom.
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 05-09-2013, 11:14 PM
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by sgRant

IMHO the current emphasis on speed in downhill skiing causes a lot of danger that is not necessary to enjoying the sport. It's like an emphasis on downhill racing style rather than slalom.
Are you sure that's a recent trend and not just childhood? My family didn't do anything much outdoors, and I only started downhill skiing through school programs.
But when I was a kid, all I wanted to do was go fast. That was the entire thrill of downhill skiing - go as fast as my ability let me.
Heck, when my parents tried to take up XC skiing, all I did was try to find hills to go down - otherwise why be on skis?
I didn't appreciate anything else in skiing until much later.
It's just one report, but I wouldn't be surprised if speed is the fun driver for a lot of children skiing. I don't think I was atypical in being a bulletproof child adrenaline junkie.
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 05-09-2013, 11:41 PM Thread Starter
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Yeah, I loved all things fast when I was a kid, and those speedy things are the things that have brought me closest to death. Far more than the mountains. Motorized speed, that is.

I see my daughter skiing at speed and it does make my heart skip a beat, but I do take solace in the fact that she's not straight-lining slopes, but making turns and staying in control. Like Steve, I tried slowing her by having her ski her AT rig at the resort, thinking the softer boots and floppy fat skis would knock some km/h off. Not very successful. I had taken a huge head start and was waiting near the bottom of a pretty sustained steep pitch and she went by me with her big skis so far over on edge I could see pretty much the entire base!

But, she was relaxed, in control, and having a blast. So, I met at the lift and set my fear aside and heaped on the praise for such powerful skiing.

One topic that's been glossed over is the use of additional people to assist in skill building. I've seen this to the greatest effect in skiing. We've had my daughter take lessons from a variety of people on a variety of terrain, and it's paid off far beyond the price tag. I'm reaching the point in climbing that we're going to take courses/hire guides to make sure any bad habits or out of date things I'm doing aren't ingrained.

I look back at all the essential skills I learned at a young age, and I'm so grateful that they just became a part of me. Learning to navigate in zero vis, use a topo map to plan routes and identify hazards, stay out of trouble, deal with trouble if it came along, and so on. I've never been lost, never spent an unplanned night out, and haven't had many close calls even though I did some pretty nutty stuff some time back. In the last ten years or so, I've become pretty mellow in the mountains, and it's actually been nice.

I still race automobiles...
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post #11 of (permalink) Old 05-09-2013, 11:44 PM
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I totally agree with Rachelo. The need for speed was profound. And unless you ran into a stationary object, wiping out was just an inconvenience.
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post #12 of (permalink) Old 05-10-2013, 01:35 AM
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Current emphasis is on Park. I can ski with my kid fine but not in the Park.

Fast kids are usually safe kids. You can't go fast if you're out of control.

Worst falls my younger one has suffered are when she's being hesitant in technical terrain or when she's going slow in groomer traffic and some big slow dork blindsides her.
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