raising little ones in the great outdoors

Perception vs. Reality: Ski Hut Part Deux

Continued from Friday’s Post….

By the time we all regrouped at the sled, it was officially dark. The temperature was falling, and the kids were getting cold, tired, and hungry. On top of this, we were lost. At least that’s what the kids thought. Of course Gary and I didn’t consider ourselves lost. Maybe suffering from a bit of spatial disorientation, but not lost.

I’ve often heard the phrase at work or in training classes, “Perception is reality.” It always bothers me when I hear this, because perception is usually not reality. For an adult, it’s more often an ignorant, lazy, and/or sloppy assumption. Adults are supposed to judge a situation rationally, based on evidence not “feelings”.

You may not be lost, but you're kids are.

You may not be lost, but you're kids are.

When it comes to rational thinking, all bets are off with kids. They generally have no frame of reference other than their feelings. And so, to a kid whose father cannot say exactly where the safety of a warm hut lies, any explanation of how ‘we’ll just turn around and find the right trail’ will not alter the perception that he is lost. To a dad, he isn’t lost; he just hasn’t arrived yet.

Actually, the kids handled it pretty well. We’ve never really been lost before on our outdoor trips. Driving in unfamiliar areas though? Let’s just say it’s better not to assume all roads in Salt Lake City are on a foolproof grid system. The kids had some confidence that we could at least find our way back home.

More than anything else, I was frustrated with myself. Because the distance was so short, we hadn’t taken any real snack breaks and the kids were bonking and getting chilled while we were stopped. I should have learned by now, but it always catches me by surprise how quickly kids burn through their energy reserves. But we HAD to be close, so with a hint of desperation, we turned our caravan around and skied back up the hill, got onto the right trail, and found the hut about 200 yards away.

All the kids piled into the hut, except for Seth. I’ll admit, “hut” is not a very accurate description. It’s a long, outfitter-style canvas tent that was probably bright white many years ago, but not anymore. It’s set on a wood floor on the ground, so with three feet of snowpack it looks pretty small. Also, from the direction we approached you look down into the covered open end where the firewood is stacked. Seth stood staring at the hut, shoulders drooping, not speaking. Stars were appearing in the clear night sky and his breath billowed around his face. I thought he was just being silly, exaggerating fatigue, but he was actually disappointed.

“We skied all the way here for THIS?” he moaned. “This is smaller than our house!”

I can only assume he was expecting an Alpine-style Euro hut palace. Instead, he got a 30-foot long, half-buried canvas tent. I don’t think he’d ever seen a picture of the hut, and all he heard from his brother and sister was how wonderful it was. So I guess it was natural for his seven-year-old expectations to be so high. I assured him that once he got inside with a warm fire in the stove he would be happy. He was.

ski-backpack-06About the only camping food my picky eaters will agree on is dehydrated lasagna, so that’s what we ate, with gummy worms and mini-candy bars for dessert. After a couple hours of chatting and poking sticks through the stove vents, we snuggled down in our sleeping bags. I woke up chilled and was shocked to see that only two hours had passed. I stoked the fire back to life and stepped outside for a beautiful view of the mountainside illuminated by a nearly-full moon. The price of that clear view was single-digit cold, so I hurried back into my bag, and Gary and I took turns waking up to reload the stove through the rest of the night.

Our plan to go downhill skiing required an alpine start from the hut, so at 5:45 a.m. I got up and stoked the fire to encourage the kids to leave the warmth of their sleeping bags. We packed quickly, had a quick bite to eat, and headed out into the pre-dawn cold. I was proud to see the kids get their own skis on and head out over the squeaky snow, leaving their old man to fiddle with the sled. We came upon the remains of a grouse that had been eaten by a coyote during the night, and then around the bend Abby saw a coyote slip into the trees. She was really excited because she’d never seen one that close before. After a finger-numbing descent to the trailhead, we arrived at the car at the same time that we had planned to meet Jennie 20 miles away.

Second leg of the epic complete -- Grand Targhee.

Second leg of the epic complete -- Grand Targhee.

We hurried toward our rendezvous, and eventually arrived at Targhee only an hour behind schedule. Not bad. We schlepped our mondo-size load of skis, food, gear, and kids to the lodge and found the ski club advisor to get our passes. On the rare clear day, from the top of Grand Targhee you can see basically the entire Teton range. That morning started out as one of those clear days, and we soaked in the beauty and made plans for summer climbing and hiking adventures. I took turns skiing with each kid while the other two skied together. We had great conversations, and each kid got to take me on their favorite run. Abby skied her first real black diamonds, Caleb hit some jumps, and Seth took me through trees that nearly took my helmet off (good thing I’m short).

We got home a little after 6:00 that evening, about 26 hours after leaving the day before, and I still had to unload and put everything away. But Jennie had been right – we had a great time. I was so glad that I hadn’t given in to my initial urge to bail on either the hut or Targhee. Like the kids being afraid we were hopelessly lost or Seth imagining the luxury hut, my perception that the complexity of doing both would ruin the whole trip was not the reality.

It would have been fun to spend time cross-country skiing with our friends around the hut. It would have been nice to do two or three more runs at Targhee. In a few weeks, though, those regrets will be forgotten and all that will remain are the memories of what we actually did. The winter trip tradition continues, and Dad’s routefinding skills will undoubtedly be questioned and maligned in the years to come. It was a whirlwind trip, to be sure, but a great family experience.

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One Response to “Perception vs. Reality: Ski Hut Part Deux”

  1. Mark says:

    Good story, although I am quite sure that I would agree with Seth, “I skiied in here to sleep in what?”

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