Backcountry Skiing with a 5 Year Old: Hermit Thrush Cabin
Hermit Thrush was one of those "aha" moments for me. It was Christmas, the temperatures were mild, and the sky was dumping snow, so naturally we decided to play outside. We knew of a well equipped local hut called "Hermit Thrush" which is fairly easy access and family friendly. The cabin is 5.5 kilometres up a mountain and despite having never been there before, we figured that 5.5 km would be a piece of cake. We packed all of our luxurious items and some skis and off we went.
Something that we clearly didn't take into account was that despite having hiked as far as 11 km in a day before, Gaia (age 5 at the time) had never been winter hiking.
After a slow start to the morning we managed to make it out of the house and drive up the mountain road to the entrance for the trail. In high spirits we started the journey upward. We had brought snowshoes, but luckily, the trail was packed down enough that we didn't require them.
Roughly 400 meters of trail later, Gaia lay down in the snow and that was it. "No," she said. Not another word. No amount of bribery or trickery or anything was going to get her up that mountain, and we still had over 5 km to go. Did I mention that it hadn't even started getting steep yet? When we had weighed our packs the night before my pack had weighed in at 50 lbs (I didn't have light gear at the time, and I was also carrying all of Gaia's ski gear). With all of our skis, ski boots, snowshoes, food ,and water my pack was nearly half my weight and I knew that there was no possible way I could carry Gaia up the mountain as well. "Let's turn around and send her for a sleepover at the grandparents," was my suggestion, but the boys were determined to get her up the mountain. So, with a bit of ingenuity, they rigged up a system of a ski pole and Kyle's snowboard to pull her up.
I could hardly haul my own butt up the mountain, let alone pull her, so I left that in the hands of my counterparts. Kyle put in his time before handing the reigns to our buddy Daniel who took over from there. Between the two of them they managed to drag Gaia the next 5 km up the mountain, which is no small feat. 5 hours later, we made it. My body ached from lugging all of the gear but it was a picture perfect day so we ditched our packs in the cabin and broke trail as fast as we could with our clumsy snowshoes passing Gaia from shoulder to shoulder the next few hundred meters up to the ridge to watch the sunset. The feeling of triumph was glorious.
We watched the sun slowly drift behind the mountains before making our way back to the cabin for a nice home cooked meal and to warm up by the cozy fire. Luckily, Hermit Thrush is fully equipped, with everything provided and water access just off the back of the cabin. Cooking our meals was almost as easy as cooking at home.
The next day we packed our skis up to catch a few turns in the powder before we headed back down. When hauling that much gear up a mountain you generally want to stay more than one night but unfortunately we had decided last minute and the cabin was only available for one night. One night is better than no nights, so we worked with what we got. We all caught a few sweet powder turns, then we were on the road.... or path.... again.
My shoulders didn't want to bear the weight of the pack again and all of my body ached when I strapped it tight but luckily we had emptied a bit of our weight into our bellies, and I had shed Gaia's skis weight because she decided to try to ski down the mountain. The trail to the cabin is packed by a sled that heads up and down to bring supplies so you can imagine that it isn't very wide. Still, Gaia used her 5 year old legs to plow down that path like a boss. It took us 1/3 of the time to go down than it did to go up.
All in all, it was a success. Would I have done things differently if I could go back? No. It was just perfect. <3
I think it goes without saying that we do not recommend taking your children to areas with avalanche risk. All turns were taken responsibly in a safe zone. We go by the general rule that if your ski partner can't dig you out in the event of an avalanche then what good are they to you? This trip was more about bonding, spending time outside, and hanging out in a cabin in the woods then actual skiing.
While on the topic of snow safety, if you're looking for a company that offers avalanche safety training, Frozen Pirate Snow Services is a great local company that offer both AST1 and AST2. The mountains bring so much joy, but they also have the power to take it away. Respect them and play safe.
Below are some photos from an adults-only ski trip that we did up McKirdy Mountain on a separate occasion.
Hermit Thrush Cabin is located on McKirdy Mountain in Valemount, British Columbia. Access to the cabin is first by road and then you must hike the following 5.5 km. It is accessible in both summer and winter. Both this cabin and the YORA McKirdy Hut share the same ski terrain. Details on how to get to the ski area are provided by the owners of the cabin. You can learn more about the cabin by visiting www.hermitthrushcabin.com.