raising little ones in the great outdoors

The Tradition Must Go On: The Ski Hut

The night before the trip, I sat on the couch, pondering the maniacal schedule, the physical effort, the alpine starts and mental strain. I was left wondering whether this next “expedition” was worth it. My head hurt from trying to figure out the logistics and I considered getting out the whiteboard for a flow chart.

“This is stupid,” I thought. “Why are we trying to do all this?”

It’s a question that haunts adventurers and families alike.

We’re big on tradition in the Bohrer family. There’s the summer backpacking trip, the fall climbing trip to City of Rocks, a trip with extended family to a time-share in Park City, and the winter camping trip. Making something an annual event, assures that at the very least we’ll make an attempt at said tradition the next year.

Our winter excursion has varied over the last several years. We’ve cross country skied into a site about a mile from the road and slept in a tent. We’ve dug huge snow caves with a friend and his kids. We’ve even slept in the backyard just to keep the tradition alive. But the undisputed favorite is the ski hut, mainly because of the stove. Oh sure, the warmth is nice, but the real attraction is lighting matches and feeding slivers of wood through the vents all evening. The local ski club maintains this warming hut, about two miles up the cross-country ski trail near our local ski area. It’s a large outfitter-style tent with a wood floor, a Coleman stove for cooking, a couple bunks, and that delightful wood stove.

peas in a snow pod

peas in a snow pod

I had low expectations when I finally called in mid-January; it’s a popular destination after all. Fortunately for us, there had been a cancellation and we were able to book our stay for the first weekend in March. The kids were excited, especially Seth, who hadn’t been there before. We made plans to bring along my friend, Gary, and two of his kids whose ages match two of ours nearly exactly. We had a nice little trip planned.

As with most things in life, and especially parenting, our plan nearly fell apart. The kids have a ski club at school. I’d been skiing with them as a chaperone. Midway through the season, the advisor announced that they were planning a day trip to Grand Targhee, a great ski hill two hours from Idaho Falls. We were all very excited about this, especially me (free skiing, it doesn’t get any better). Of course, it turned out that the Targhee trip was scheduled for the Saturday of our hut trip. We were double booked.

What to do? We could skip the Targhee trip, but I’d already promised the kids we’d go. We could skip the hut trip, but I’d promised that too, and if we didn’t go to the hut that weekend we’d be hard pressed to find another time for our winter trip tradition. So we made the only logical choice – we chose to do both. After all, tradition is tradition and doing only one would be taking the easy way out.

Let the expedition begin

Let the expedition begin

As every adventurer knows, planning the trip is half the fun. A trip to the hut requires relatively few supplies – basically just sleeping bags, pads, some extra layers, and food. But the plan to leave from the trailhead to go downhill skiing meant that we would also need to pack another set of equipment. We have a rather extensive collection of outdoor gear, and it felt like I ended up packing most of it for this trip. As if this wasn’t enough, we planned to meet Jennie and the two little girls along the way so that they could spend the day with us at the Traghee Lodge. Add a cooler and two bags of baby accessories. This was getting complicated.

I often fall into a bit of an unexplained funk just before a trip starts. The planning is always fun, but as the departure date grows near, I start to worry about everything that could go wrong, all the work that I’m going to have to do, and how much easier it would be if we just stayed home and played Wii. It would be so much simpler. The great irony of the situation is that one of the benefits of the outdoor life is embracing the simple joys in life. Cold. Sunshine. Fire. Water when thirsty. And yet, it definitely means complicating life in order to get there. Then my wonderful wife calms me down and assures me that we will have a great time and that all the effort will be rewarded with a lifetime of memories.

One pep talk later, I was full of newly-regained enthusiasm. I packed while Jennie picked up the kids early from school. If you want to make a trip extra special, I recommend getting the kids out of school a little early, even if it’s only an hour or two. Nothing says “special” to a kid like leaving jealous classmates stuck at school while he goes out on an adventure. Arriving at the trailhead, we embarked on the ridiculously complicated task of outfitting 5 kids and 2 adults with gloves, hats, skis, backpacks, and sleds. Nineteen hours later (at least that’s what if felt like), Gary and I shuffled up the trail, our kids pulling steadily ahead. They amused themselves by climbing up and skiing down the slopes of the adjacent closed ski area.

The hut sits on a loop trail, and I chose to start in the direction I thought would allow us to make better time. Unfortunately, it had been at least 5 years since I’d skied that direction (on the last two trips to the hut we’d gone the other way).

Let the mini epic begin.

The unburdened kids moved much faster than the adults pulling sleds, so we were constantly trying to keep them in sight, thus not paying sufficiently close attention to trail markings. We knew we were close, but our hopes of arriving at the hut in daylight faded with the rapidly setting sun.

Dad is lost.  Perspective is everything.

Dad is lost. Perspective is everything.

We approached a crucial trail junction at that frustrating time when it’s dark enough to see poorly but not dark enough for headlamps to be effective. The recent warm spell and subsequent snowfall had erased any previous ski tracks compounding the situation.

And so, when Caleb asked which fork to take, I told him the wrong one.

Actually, neither fork was the correct one. We’d passed that turn-off 25 yards back, but in the gathering darkness I’d failed to see the arrow pointing opposite to the direction we were traveling. It only took a moment to realize we were on the wrong trail, a steep, narrow downhill that quickly overturned my sled. It was getting dark. Caleb and McKynlee weren’t pulling sleds, and they took full advantage of gravity to pull ahead of me….

to be continued Monday

–Steve Bohrer

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