We all have childhood memories of waking up early for an adventure. A parent opens the door to a pitch black room. A sliver of light beams from the hallway, through the cracked door, and lands on the pillow. A groggy kid shakes off the request to wake up, sits up in bed, and tries to rub the night’s sleep from their eyes.
Without fully remembering the next 20 minutes, the child brushes their teeth, has a quick breakfast, and is whisked away to the car, truck, or (in my case) station wagon. And, just like that, the adventure begins. Maybe it’s a trip up to the family cabin, to ski in Tahoe, or a weekend finding shells at the coast.
These days, my middle school-age daughter knows these mornings all too well as time spent on backcountry touring skis. While the drive may be less than an hour—and the location our backyard mountains—the adventure is a world away.
It will be a handful of years before she understands the meaning of a true solitude ski; the questioning of a route, the making of good decisions, and owning her own experiences.
Our first adventure, a couple years ago, was a powder ski down the Flagline Trail, from Mount Bachelor Ski Area to Virginia Meissner Sno-Park—essentially paralleling Cascade Lake Highway. I chose the trail because not only would she understand what solitude in the backcountry was, but she could get the feeling of leaving the crowds at Mount Bachelor, exploring untouched snow, and then coming back to the civilization at the sno-park.
It seems like with each passing day a new study comes out praising the benefits of outside play. Irregardless of the advantages to exercise, researchers tout vitamin D, children developing stronger awareness, reasoning and observation skills, and even lessening the chance in becoming nearsighted. But, I just want her to have fun. I know it will be a handful of years before she understands the meaning of a true solitude ski; the questioning of a route, the making of good decisions, and owning her own experiences.
The adventure actually begins the night before as we sort through gear needed for the following day’s excursion. I am fine with the process taking twice as long as I thoroughly explain what each piece of equipment does and why we are carrying it on our backs. The trick lies in the fine line between preparing for the “what ifs” and not freaking her out about the possibility of danger.
While ours was one of the first cars in the Bachelor parking lot, we weren’t interested in first-chair status. The fresh snow at first light illuminated our way long before the sun would finally make an appearance. I kept the almost 20-mile distance to myself, instead focusing on our “all-day adventure.”
The groomed trail out of the Mount Bachelor Nordic Area led to a flat, wide open meadow, and then to the marked trail we would call home for the next six or so hours. We guessed six to eight inches of fresh powder, also known as a day of breaking trail for me.
The cold temperature was forgotten quickly as we skied up and around Tumalo Mountain—shedding clothing layers along the way. The northwest Flagline Access Trail gave way to the Flagline Trail as Tumalo Mountain obscured our view of Mount Bachelor and the line of cars making their way to the parking area. Although the trail was well marked by blue triangle and diamond signs nailed to trees, the enormous trees—coupled with a lack of people—made it seem like we were exploring a new and different world.
The rolling hills and fresh snow made the backcountry tour slow-going, but I continued to stress the importance of the journey, rather than destination. There are enough downhills to increase the excitement level and wipe the thought of time out of our heads.
Our first taste of civilization occurred at the Swampy Shelter, as my daughter told the story of the day’s adventure to a pair of snowshoers huddled around the warm fire, impressed by her accomplishment.
We arrived at our destination just as our ride—aka mom—pulled in to ferry us back up the road to our car. I smiled as we joked about the crowd of people at Virginia Meissner Sno-Park having to negotiate each other along the packed trails. I expressed my pride to both my daughter and anyone who would listen. She had earned her next day filled with watching movies from her bed.
Or next adventure was to be a winter ski-in overnighter, but that is a story for another day.