By Jean Ann Berkenpas

Damian (5) and Lilja (9) with their mom Karita at the start of the hike up to McKirdy YORA Cabin. /SUBMITTED

Local parents Karita Hunt and Augusto Pardo are not letting the the chill of winter stop their family from enjoying outdoor adventures. This February they took their two children, 5-year-old Damian and 9-year-old Lilja, on their first winter backcountry trip. The family snowmobiled up to the top of the 5 Mile Road and the trailhead. From there they hiked the steep route to the McKirdy Meadows Cabin run by the Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association (YORA).

The trail is 6km long and climbs 500m, the equivalent of 151 storeys. It can be slow going in deep snow, even for physically fit adults. The trail is listed as “medium to hard” on the Valemount Trails website. Hunt and Pardo are experienced backcountry split-boarders. They carried the gear and the kids’ skis and board, while Damian and Lilja snowshoed.

Backcountry skiing and snowboarding is a sport with a notoriously steep learning curve. Most people are familiar with the challenges of learning to ski or board on a ski hill, with lift assistance for getting up and groomed runs for the way down. When learning in the backcountry there are added challenges of maneuvering in deep powder and the very significant effort to get up the mountain. Plus, there is the need to route find and manage gear and avalanche risks in varying winter conditions. It is no wonder that a small segment of the population undertakes this type of recreation. However, the rewards for such efforts make it well worthwhile.

“The kids were surprisingly stoked the whole way up. They asked how much further a few times, but did not complain about the hike.” said Hunt. The family adjusted their pace, bringing lots of yummy snacks to keep energised on the trail. They also enjoyed a proper lunch with spectacular views at the lookout.

“Once we arrived at the cabin, it felt like the kids got a second wind and were so full of positive energy. It was awesome!” recalls Hunt. She and Pardo are obviously thrilled that their children are embracing the love of mountain adventure.

On the return trip down the mountain the family skied and snowboarded down the glades, a strip of mountainside where the trees have been thinned to allow for powder skiing. While it provides a safer, more enjoyable option than the dense trees, it can still be a challenge to maneuver the steep and sometimes tracked up terrain.

“For the trip down, we only had to hike to the top of the first hill then we all strapped in to our boards and Damian his skis.  We were able to ski/snowboard the whole way down and it went surprisingly fast. I was a little wary of the kids skiing the glades, but they pulled it off like champs,” said Hunt.

The family enjoys staying active together, through skiing and snowboarding on the groomed Five Mile Road after school. The road is closed to vehicle traffic in winter and YORA maintains it for skiing, boarding and tobogganing. The kids are out there almost every day after school, which has boosted their confidence and provided the foundation needed to undertake a backcountry trip. The kids also work out with mom and dad and occasionally do yoga. They have even entered a Spartan competition, which is an obstacle course race with options for beginners to elite athletes. Because the children are so active and have picked up on their parents’ passion for the outdoors, bigger trips together are a natural extension of family life.