According to family history, I was conceived on a backpacking trip in the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy. My parents were young, in their prime, and their love of the mountains had been formed by years spent traveling and working in New Zealand, Australia, Nepal and India.
My arrival very likely slowed, but definitely did not stop, their adventures. When I was six weeks old they carried me to the Slocan Chief Cabin in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, where I cried all night, much to the dismay of the other hikers staying at the cabin.
When my dad first saw the backpacks I got for carrying my twin babies around in the mountains, he was impressed. “There sure wasn’t anything like that around when you were a baby,” he said, and then described the backpack he and my mom used to take me along in when they went backcountry skiing – a regular external frame pack with a separate compartment for a sleeping bag on the bottom, meaning they could sit me in the top compartment and I wouldn’t slide to the bottom of the pack. “When it was snowing hard, we could just close up the top of the pack,” he explained. I tried to visualise how that would go over today – a baby all closed up inside of a pack with no air hole and no parent visuals.
He then described a moment when he was skiing along with me on his back. He hit a dip unexpectedly and pitched forward. I went sailing straight out of the pack and landed headfirst in the deep snow, like a baby lawn dart. He was alarmed, but not enough to stop taking me skiing. Another story from the family ski history entails my mom taking a harrowing slide-for-life down a steep slope, mere moments after handing me off to my dad to carry.
When I found out I was having twins my life literally flashed before my eyes. What would happen to my healthy strong body? How would I get through the aisles of the grocery store, never mind into the mountains, with two babies? Thankfully my parents’ inclusion of baby-me in their mountain exploits served as an example of what was possible, and my partner was even more determined than me to continue on with a life post-twins.
The twins, learning to love the mountains. Photo: Jasmin Caton
When our babies were four weeks old and still very tiny we decided to try our first family ski. It was a sunny day right before Christmas and I’ll never forget that feeling of crisp air in my lungs after a month of mostly sedentary indoor life looking after two newborns. We followed a mellow skintrack near our local ski resort, our babies bundled in down suits and nestled against our chests. The skintrack popped us out on a nice in-bounds groomer, so we ripped our skins with huge smiles and skied down, stopping to take photos of our proud first moments as a ski family.
Rosy-cheeked and grinning, we went straight into the ski lodge bar to celebrate with a burger and some Christmas cheer. I’m pretty sure I was simultaneously breastfeeding and gulping a pint of beer when the ski patroller approached us at our table. “Another guest reported that you were skiing in bounds with your babies,” she said, “is that true?” “Yes,” I said slowly, my pride taking a nosedive into guilt. “You can’t do that,” she said.
I was mortified, feeling exposed as being a naïve and reckless mother, and also shocked that an activity that seemed so innocent would be reported by a bystander. I kind of wanted to tell her my dad’s baby lawn-dart story or about my mom sliding down an icy mountainside right after handing me off to my dad, but instead I just nodded and said, “We won’t do it again.” But we would do it again, because that’s the kind of parents we want to be.
Backcountry skiing with babies. Photo: Jasmin Caton.
It’s been over a year since that family ski, and since then we’ve taken our babies wading in cold rivers to go fly fishing, sought refuge from a wild storm in a tiny tent deep in the mountains, and traipsed along exposed trails with sections of via ferrata in the Dolomites. We’ve embarked on stroller run odysseys, and I’ve continued to calibrate my own limitations for acceptable risk with babies. But when I look back at my own childhood, and the example my parents set, I can only hope my kids will be as grateful for their adventurous life as I am for mine.