The one about tots in chariots |

The one about tots in chariots

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

My 14-year-old son and I passed the three sleeping toddlers on a steep section of trail high above Aspen. We said hello in hushed whispers to the two moms and one dad, hoping not to awaken the tots who were strapped into their ski chariots and swaddled in bundles of pile and down.

Each of these determined parents was towing a high-tech sled far into the backcountry for a multifamily hut trip. At the moment we passed them, they were struggling to clear the first major hill in what became an epic, all-day trudge that sorely tested their endurance.

We were skinning up to the Benedict Huts, two beautifully built and designed mountain refuges in the 10th Mountain Huts system. I often have wished that my home on the Frying Pan looked as inviting, cozy and stylish as these awesome mountain cabins.

The Benedict Huts make it possible to strap on your skis right in town and trek up to the edge of the wilderness. This was my son’s first trip to these huts, and I had prepared him for the long, steep climb up Smuggler, which is no easy feat, even without a ski chariot dragging behind you.

After passing the toddlers, my son and I took turns breaking trail through 6 inches of snow, arriving at the hut after four hours of hard skiing. My son, Tait, was exhausted, but then so are most visitors to these huts who arrive with vacant stares and confused mumblings.

On the trail, watching Tait striding ahead while I followed in his wake was a source of parental pride. It also was a source of comfort, knowing that in years to come my offspring will serve as trailbreaker and Sherpa while I coax my decrepit and aged body up the hill. I began to see the dividends paying off on this trip.

Tait and I got the heat stoves going in both huts and had snow melting on both stoves by the time the lead dad crested the final hill, his chariot in tow. He shouted hosannas to those in the rear who were by now in a fit of pique from exhaustion and the plaintive cries of their toddlers.

When the two moms arrived at dusk, having left their skis on the trail and trudged in on foot, they were so relieved to see the hut they literally shrieked with joy. They collapsed into the snow before summoning their final reserves and toting the complaining toddlers into the warm hut.

When my son was a toddler, I dragged him into the backcountry plenty of times. In summertime, Tait either rode in a backpack or a bicycle trailer. Stopping to change a diaper or prepare a bottle of milk was relatively easy, compared to a winter hut trip.

Backcountry gear has come a long way since my son was a baby. The new ski chariots convert into bike trailers and baby joggers, serving as all-purpose vehicles for parents who refuse to give up their active lives.

I can fully sympathize. When you’re young and strong and accustomed to the pleasures of getting out, it’s hard to deny yourself the life you love. Outdoor adventuring becomes merely a matter of acquiring the right gear. Your kid simply has to adjust to your seasonal pastimes.

It’s a good thing ski chariots were not around when my son was a toddler. Otherwise, I would have hauled him into a hut or two until I figured out, like these parents did last weekend, that the risks can outweigh the benefits.

Taking a 14-year-old on a hut trip is far more rewarding than coping with toddlers, diapers, hot stoves and sleepless nights. Not only do you share the cozy experience of the hut with your teen, you also derive the deep and lasting pleasure of watching your child break trail for you beneath a canopy of snow-laden evergreens.

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