How to Make A Kid Love Skiing

It was no coincidence that my wife, Emily was skiing when she went into labor with our first daughter in February, 2013. Skiing is what we do, every day, all winter long —whether there’s a bun in the oven, or not. While being nine months pregnant might have kept Emily from bagging peaks that day, a gentle backyard ski tour near our home in Moretown, Vt. was not to be missed.

Emily Johnson went into labor while she was skiing so it was no wonder that Maiana, whom the couple nicknamed “Lil’ Snowflake” developed an early taste for snow. Photo by Brian Mohr/Emberphoto

By the following afternoon, as a light, February snow fell, Maiana Snow was born. We spent two nights at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph and when the nurses encouraged me to get some fresh air while Emily and Maiana slept, I grabbed my skis and laid fresh tracks on Hospital Hill across the road.

Maiana had been with us for just ten days before she went on our first family skiing adventure. We swaddled her with an extra layer, and set out into our neighborhood hills with her tucked securely under my jacket. She slept soundly and spared us a diaper change.

Emily, nursing Maiana, in the backcountry. Photo by Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto

In the weeks that followed, the three of us immersed ourselves in a string of skiing adventures that lasted into early May. We carried her exclusively on our chests in an ErgoBaby carrier, worn facing forward, with her swaddled securely and wrapped in ErgoBaby’s padded “infant insert.” We’d ski from our house for an hour or two, or venture into the higher Green Mountains for a half or full day, exploring sections of the Catamount Trail and backcountry trails like the Tear Drop on Mt. Mansfield. We moved with the utmost care, never attempting a turn or maneuver without absolute confidence. Though we are both expert skiers, the sideslip, the snowplow and a variety of other maneuvers that prioritized safety over anything else, became staples of our skiing.

Maiana gets a feel for her skis while on a tour up and over Vermont’s Mt. Mansfield. ©Brian Mohr/ EmberPhoto – All rights reserved

It did not take long to dial in the backcountry diaper change. We’d quickly put her down upon our portable diaper kit, take care of business, and keep moving. Also essential was our ability to peel climbing skins without waking Maiana. And when Maiana was hungry, she’d nurse with Emily by a stream, in a sunny or sheltered spot. Newborns are easy to keep warm and sheltered against your body, so the weather was rarely a factor.

Brian, carrying Maiana in the ErgoBaby. Photo by Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto
We’d wear her in the ErgoBaby over layers that were comfortable for us to climb in, and then simply add outer layers for the descent. Ultimately, Maiana was more at risk of overheating than she was of being too cold. And most of the time, she would sleep.
Taking a break while Mom and Dad are on assignment in Utah’s Uinta Mountains. Photo by Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto

By late March and early April, we were climbing and skiing most of our favorite places with Maiana, albeit much more carefully than ever. We introduced her to Vermont’s highest peaks, to tucked-away hardwood glades, and by mid-April, to the summits of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. It was as if all of our mountain travels and time spent skiing over our lifetimes were merely training for these adventures with Maiana.

Exploring the high country. ©Ember Photography / EmberPhoto.com

When it started snowing again in November, Maiana was nine months along and ready to be on our backs. The ErgoBaby carrier continued to be our tool of choice, and we proceeded to ski 100-plus days through Maiana’s first birthday, including a very memorable ski safari through the Rocky Mountain West.

 Emily and Maiana enjoy a hot spring while ski touring in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. ©Ember Photography / EmberPhoto.com

With Maiana’s arms and legs now extended outside the Ergo, keeping her warm meant checking on her frequently, staying sheltered from the wind and the very coldest weather, and most importantly, dressing her in multiple warm layers from head to toe. We took everything we had learned to do for ourselves in the mountains, and applied it to Maiana in excess.

By the time Maiana’s third season arrived, she was ready to ski on her own two feet. We doubled up her socks and put her into the smallest set of alpine ski gear available. As the snow fell, we practiced with driveway laps and on low angle pitches. We put her on Nordic skis, too, so she could easily walk and ski around on her own. Still, Maiana continued to spend much of her time in the backcountry with us on our backs. As the season progressed, and wherever we’d encounter a gentle pitch, be it atop Mt. Mansfield or in some far-off glade, we’d give her a chance to glide on her own. When she lost interest or patience, we loaded her up and continued on as a family.

Finding freshies in the Green Mountains.. ©Brian Mohr/ EmberPhoto 

It was also that season, around her second birthday, when Maiana started to tow behind us in the skin track. We fashioned a simple tow with a 12-foot length of cord attached to a 6- or-7-inch wooden disc, which she’d place as a seat between her legs. We’d clip the cord to our waist belt and head for the hills as she skied in our tracks behind us. If the going got tricky, or she lost patience, we’d simply put her on our backs without issue. The human-powered tow, or Mama Poma, as we call it, became invaluable as Maiana grew to be too heavy to be easily carried, and as she took greater interest in sliding on her own. [For more on the gear we used and how to make a Mama Poma see Gearing Up For Family Adventures]

Using the Momma Poma at Mad River Glen ©Brian Mohr/ EmberPhoto 

Our second daughter, Lenora, arrived the following summer, and the ski season to follow was a memorable one. Maiana spent some time on our backs that season, especially when she needed a nap, but for the most part, she skied with us, in tow, as we ascended. We aimed for moderate terrain, and we’d set a downhill track for her to follow.

 Lenora and Maiana, while exploring Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest near Warren. ©Brian Mohr/ EmberPhoto

With Lenora, we were happily back to square one that season, which forced us to get creative. There were times when one of us was busy, and the other would have both girls at once – with Lenora on the back and Maiana in tow.

With our girls now 5 and 7, the Mama Poma is still in effect. We also built and operate a rope tow on our property (see How To Build A Backyard Rope Tow.) But both girls are climbing on their own now, too. We’ve acquired a variety of used alpine touring, telemark and even lighter-weight Nordic gear with which they can play, depending on their mood and the conditions.

Not surprisingly, their stamina for climbing is directly correlated to the presence of friends, so when it’s just the four of us as a family, we keep our expectations low. However, the lure of Vermont’s hidden cabins, mossy caves and waterfalls, or some bribery with special treats, goes a long way. And when they seem to tire, we don’t hesitate to throw them the rope. In the end, we’re out there to have fun, explore and be together as a family. The skiing is just a bonus.

Brushing out a lunch-spot shelter. Green Mountains ©Brian Mohr/ EmberPhoto 

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