Aaron Provance, MD, understands the need to get kids outside. In addition to being Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Medical Director of Pediatric Sports Medicine, he’s a seasoned mountaineer, mountain biker, backcountry skier, ice climber and big advocate for getting kids into nature. He’s also a father of triplets, so he’s realistic about what an outdoor excursion with kids entails.
“The key is having fun,” he says. “If they’re not having fun, you’re not going to want to do it again.”
For everyone’s enjoyment, Dr. Provance offers a few tips and tricks for preparing, staying safe and having a good time with kids of any age on any type of mountain excursion.
“Hiking is something you can do with really young kids,” says Dr. Provance. “Just know your limitations.” Gauge the distance you’ll be walking by a realistic sense of how far your kids can walk without burning out — keeping in mind that for most hikes, you’ll need to double the distance for the way out.
Word to the wise: Bring jackets, hats and gloves, even if it’s warm when you leave the house. “And if you don’t have snacks and water,” says Dr. Provance, “you’re doomed.” Bring more than you think you’ll need.
When you’re hiking into remote backcountry, at very high altitudes or you’re dealing with increased technical difficulty — summiting a fourteener, for example — that’s mountaineering. A kid’s readiness depends on the experience and ability of both the kid and the parent. “Say you’re the only parent taking kids out into the mountains, and you fall and hit your head,” says Dr. Provance. “Do they know how to get out? Or to get help and get you out?”
Word to the wise: If you don’t have experience with the level of remoteness or difficulty, it’s probably not a good idea to bring a kid along for the first time. And an appropriate pack is key. “If their pack isn’t fitting correctly or is too heavy, that can make for a terrible trip right off the bat,” says Dr. Provance.
“If parents are avid climbers and can set up a safe anchor system in a beginner area, some parents will start kids climbing at 3 to 5 years old,” says Dr. Provance. Obviously, that’s not for everybody.
Word to the wise: Rock climbing is equipment-intensive, so parents who don’t own it already might want to test the waters before they invest (and if you are going to invest, make sure to get a climbing-specific helmet — a bike helmet will not work). Indoor climbing gyms offer a great place for climbers to build skill in a safe, equipped environment, without the threat of a rock fall or changing weather.
The biggest factor for mountain biking is the ratio of skill level to the difficulty of the trail, regardless of age. Kids also need a healthy knowledge of and ability to abide by trail etiquette.
Word to the wise: Know the route, elevation gain and difficulty in advance. Websites like mtbproject.com can help you get an idea of what to expect.
Even very young children can raft an easy river — provided the adults on hand have all the knowledge, ability and equipment to do it safely. More than the kids’ age, it’s really about adults’ knowledge and ability.
Word to the wise: Unless you’ve actually organized and executed a raft trip on your own, don’t try it with kids. Do a guided tour instead. Colorado offers dozens of them.
Fishing is safe and fun for kids of almost any age — as soon as they can handle a pole (and mind the hook). “The main risk would be getting into a stream that’s too swift or too deep,” says Dr. Provance.
Word to the wise: Fishing is a great opportunity to teach kids about the ethics of catch-and release — and of the mountains themselves.
What to bring
Every great adventure requires a thorough packing list. You’ll want these essentials for your mountain excursions:
- Insect repellant
- Lots of water
- First-aid kit that is up to date
- Extra clothing
- Gloves and hats
- Map or GPS device
- Cell phone
- Fire starter
Want to know more? You can find an in-depth account from Dr. Provance in the full article, Outdoor Adventures with Kids. Read it in full at childrenscolorado.org.