Outdoor adventures for Eagle County families
You know you’re in the mountains when the bunny hill is more crowded than the playground and sunburns are more common than rug rash. Colorado’s abundance of recreation can be enjoyed by the entire family, so get the kids outside this season for some much needed powder play.
“When you are at home with kids, all they want is screen time,” said Helen Olsson, author of “The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids.” “But when you get them out of the house, literally when you unplug them, they enjoy life and being a kid — playing, having fun and using their imagination, and they don’t need to be staring at a screen to be entertained.”
Olsson lives with her husband and three kids in Boulder. She said as a parent, she believes it’s important to get her kids outside in nature and exercising, just as she and her husband, Jeff, have always enjoyed.
“When you’re getting outside as just a couple — with no kids — in some regard it’s pretty simple,” Olsson explained. “With kids in the mix, it does complicate things a bit. They have a lot of gear they have to gather and put on, whether you are camping or skiing.”
Olsson’s kids are 8, 10 and 11 years old, and all of them are ski racers. She described getting out the door in winter with kids is “managed chaos.”
“There’s all the mittens and goggles and hats,” she said. “We are in Summit County every weekend, and the kids need to be at the bottom of the lift at 8:15 a.m. — the morning becomes quite monumental. They are not always good about getting everything together, so we have them lay everything out the night before.”
Olsson’s kids follow simple instruction before bed: “Go make your man.” They perfectly place their long johns, fleece and socks all in the shape of a little person to ensure they won’t forget anything. She said dry boots and equipment bags are all packed ahead of time, with each kid’s helmet, neck gator and gloves mise en place.
“We are very tactical before getting out the door,” she said. “In the morning, skis and poles are already in the Rocketbox on the car, so we can get in and go.”
Olsson said the kids are given a substantial breakfast of bacon and eggs, or blueberry pancakes and sausage, and sometimes protein shakes. If it’s breakfast on the road before ski races, it’s bacon and egg sandwiches to-go for the car.
Snacks are a must, she said, because the kids are usually hungry by 9:30 a.m. She packs homemade energy bars and nuts for sustained energy. Just as important as fuel, Olsson said, are proper layers for frigid temperatures.
“We keep them bundled up so they have fun — when they’re cold, they don’t have fun,” she said. “We have found it’s really important to keep their hands warm, and having the right gear is essential.”
Olsson recommended the hand-warmer packets and said the kids will use them in their mittens and boots if it’s a really cold day.
“I was a ski racer growing up, and I have skied my whole life,” Olsson said. “My husband is a snowboarder — we love to do it; it’s our passion that we are now passing on to the kids.”
Kids see everything that their parents do, Olsson said, and it’s really important that parents model recreation if they want their kids to do the same.
Pushing the limits
Mike Kloser and his wife, Emily, are valley locals who began sharing their love of adventure with their two kids at an early age. Mike Kloser said they have always encouraged their now adult-aged children, Heidi, 21, and Christian, 19, to get outside and try new things. It was the activities they took an extra interest in that were given a little more focus and dedication.
“Both the kids started with freestyle skiing in their younger years, and Christian got into telemark skiing in middle school and high school. Heidi stuck with freestyle, and she has been on the U.S. Ski Team for the last four years,” said Kloser, a successful adventure racer and endurance athlete himself.
Kloser said the kids, especially Christian, embraced Nordic skiing in the winter. Amidst adventure activities, Kloser said the family still spent afternoons sledding, building snowmen or crafting snow caves.
“Starting them at a young age is important, so it becomes commonplace and not such a fight to get them to do things outdoors,” he said. “I think it builds a lot of character and strength for what’s ahead in life.”
In July of 2005, Heidi and Christian were the youngest people to ever climb and backcountry ski the Mount of the Holy Cross Couloir, a well-known extreme ski route. Mike Kloser said he knew the kids were competent, as they had climbed a number of 14ers and were trained in snow climbing techniques. For extra protection, Kloser even set up a safety system for the endeavor. The kids look back on the adventure fondly, he said, although some people have expressed how they can’t imagine taking kids on such an exposed experience.
“There’s definitely a fine line with pushing kids too hard, but we were safe and they enjoyed it,” he said. “We tried to give the kids a wide variety of skills over time so that they have they ability to go out and do things with friends and family, and so they’re not afraid to try new things.”
It’s not just about the adventure, as Kloser explains that the skills learned have allowed his kids to participate productively with others. By introducing them to as many outdoor activities as possible, he said, it enhances their quality of life and their experiences outdoors.
Make an outdoor date
Not ready to take the kids into the backcountry? Start off at the ski resort with some family-friendly programs. Nate Goldberg, director of the Beaver Creek Nordic Center, said the center has a great selection of winter equipment for kids, including cross-country, telemark and snowshoeing gear.
Goldberg said the Nordic Center offers complimentary snowshoeing tours every Tuesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Children must be at least 6, and tours include guides, snowshoes, cocoa and cookies. Make reservations by calling 970-754-5313.
“The key is to have parents who are wanting and willing to expose their children to all that the mountains have to offer from skiing to snowshoeing,” Goldberg said. “Just make it fun, and don’t forget to make snow angels along the way.”
Olsson said although her three kids are immersed in ski racing now, come summer they will be hiking trails, pitching tents and roasting marshmallows. She explained how year-round outdoor exposure is not only exciting for kids, but a progressive series of essential character-building experiences.
“What I have seen is they have this confidence and a sense of ease outside,” Olsson said. “I see that it sparks their imagination — when we are out in the woods, they are not thinking about video games, and I never hear them say they’re bored.”