A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

A challenging ski on the railroad grade to Franconia Falls

January 14, 2017
Emilie Phillips updated January 25, 2017

Going skiing in the backcountry with a kid is hard enough, but backcountry skiing with a group is harder yet.

Tyson and I like skiing with the AMC and want to include Isaac. The last few years, I have posted ski trips I thought appropriate for families. When he was younger, it was easy to bring Isaac because he rode in the pulk and went at whatever speed we could pull him. He was also young enough that he didn’t care if other kids came or not. The only kid that ever came was one family on the 2015 trip to Monson. Otherwise, the family friendly trips attracted adults interested in an easier ski.

This year, JR and I signed up to lead an AMC family trip to Hubbard Hill. It is a nice easy 4 mile cross country ski. JR has kids a year or two older than Isaac. So, our group already had 3 kids before any participants signed up. But then reality struck. JR took his kids out on some test trips, and they couldn’t ski 4 miles. They were out. I still thought Isaac was strong enough since he skied 4.4 miles with occasional assistance at the Abenaki ski touring center.

Then it rained and rained and melted out all the snow in southern NH. JR didn’t want to go to a groomed area, so we moved the trip north to the Whites. The easiest route I know is out and back on the Lincoln Woods trail up to Franconia Falls. Now our trip was 6 miles in crusty conditions. The only two participants who dared sign up were two regular adult skiers whom I know well.

It was cold the day of our ski trip. The rain soaked snow had frozen solid. The Lincoln Woods Trail is a popular railroad grade. Hikers and snowshoers had trampled it from edge to edge into slick ice. At least there was enough “snow” to cover all the rocks.

Too icy for Isaac’s skis

Isaac had no experience with skiing on lumpy icy. He gave up almost immediately. This is where being on a group trip made it hard. Had we been on our own, we could have waited while Isaac played and learned the new surface. Instead, we didn’t want to hold the group up, so Tyson towed Isaac for a bit. Now Isaac was no longer an active participant, but instead a passive, bored tag-along.

The trail was a little less trampled

When Isaac decided to ski, he found little motivation to ski ahead. The easy, flat, straight railroad grade was actually to our detriment. There were no downhills to anticipate. No corners to disappear behind. No powdery snow on the edge to hide his skis. Just an interminable highway. The best entertainment Isaac could find was falling down and watching the adults try to convince him to get back up. So we towed him more.

Franconia Falls in the snow

It was frustrating to us as parents because we knew Isaac could have skied the trip on his own. But with the official trip group dynamics, there was no way to coax it out of him.

Isaac and Joel by headlamp

The other participants were great. They put on more layers when they were cold. They skied laps to warm up. They didn’t complain about not getting to lunch until 2PM. And they were patient even as we skied out after dark. On the plus side, the slow pace made me notice things I never had. There is a cable running high in the trees alongside the northern part of the trail. Near the former Franconia Brook Campsite, we glimpsed what looked like a building in the woods, but didn’t have time to investigate. Gwen told us all about her multi-week adventures canoeing in Alaska and northern Canada. Franconia falls were impressive. Ice and snow hid the rocks and drop offs, but the pools were open. Water boiled up from underneath ice blocks. It almost looked like thermal activity. One frisbee-shaped piece of ice spun in place, unable to follow the water diving under the ice shelf.

On the whole, I’m glad we went. A day outside skiing is always worth the challenges. Next time, though, there are a few things I’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Make sure group trip mileage is shorter than the kid’s best achievement. This way, you as a parent won’t be stressing out the whole time.
  • Prioritize the trip route being fun over easy.
  • Ensure there are lots of little goals along the way rather than one big one.
  • Start the trip in a context where the kid can succeed independently. This may mean explaining to the adults that the first 15 minutes is warm up time.
  • Arrive ahead of time with the kid all ready to go. (This one we did and it made the start a lot less stressful.)
  • Remind the adults to bring lots of extra layers and dress for sitting still, because that’s how slowly a kid skis.
  • Give the other adults specific tips for what bad behavior to ignore. In our case, Isaac falling down to get attention.

I’d love to have a bullet item that says ‘bring more kids’, but I don’t know where to find them.

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