A Few Thoughts on Raising Mountain Kids

A non-parent observation about parenting: get them kiddos in them hills pronto.


The afternoon sun backlit the aspen leaves and laid a shadow softly upon the backyard of what’s known in Telluride as “the little house.” We gathered within the verdurous silhouette to celebrate Luke and Katie; specifically, their much-anticipated child to be. Katie is due in August, and both she and Luke walked about the party with agape grins and arms ready for hugs. They’re nervous, sure, but more than anything, they’re beaming with excitement and contentment. This is their first child. Unknowns and questions swirl like the cottonwood bloom and, at times, land like rock fall. But these things drift away with the confidence of an I don’t know what I am doing and everything is going to be okay attitude. When you call the mountains of Telluride, Colorado, home, life has a different framework.

“What are you most hopeful for?” I asked Luke. He laughed and got wide-eyed in response.

“Man…I guess I am hopeful my child has an adventure-filled life, a safe one,” he said. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to show off this place, these mountains that I love. And to learn from his or her experience with them, to see their mystery, their strong sense of wonder, to learn from that. That’s going to benefit us all.”

Luke predicts that his mountain skills will translate well to raising a child. He grew up not far from Telluride and has called the tiny Colorado ski town home for 15 or more years now. Luke is a smart and talented mountain person, a leader among skiers and boaters and mountain bikers and everythingers in a town spilling over with silver-backed crushers of all things radical. If you’re in them hills, ya just want ol’ Luke to be along for the adventure. The skills he’s going to rely on for bringing up a child, the adventure of adventures, are the same he’s used for his entire mountain life: assess the situation, make a plan, stay fluid and adapt when that plan fails, enjoy the ride, (no matter what) get home safe, and if you ain’t smilin’ ya ain’t doin’ it right.

Similar to Luke and Katie’s plan, my friends Scott and Meghan have relied on the San Juan Mountains as both playground and classroom for their family. Their daughter is a skier, an avid hiker and backcountry camper, a rafter, a fisherman, something of a geology nut, and spends all of her free time outside, pushing further and learning more. Gwynnie is 3-years-old. Yet, she has already cultivated a depth of mountain experiences that have instilled confidence, courage, humor, leadership skills, kindness, and a magnetic personality.

Time in nature has deep emotional and cognitive benefits to all humans, but especially to children. Since the 1980s, the affect of time outside has been a major focus of study for psychologists. The American Psychological Association holds a hardline when it comes to Mother Earth’s positive return: “Increasing evidence demonstrates the many benefits of nature on children’s psychological and physical well-being, including reduced stress, greater physical health, more creativity, and improved concentration.” Psychologists have found a direct link between time in nature and mental and emotional aptitude, problem solving, and general happiness. Time in the mountains, fostering a child’s connection to the natural world, isn’t about a hippie-dippie lifestyle (not entirely, anyway). It’s an essential part of raising a well adjusted, emotially mature human being.

After we joked that Luke and Katie’s child would become an all too radical hell raiser, sending midwinter backflips off of Awesome Rock beneath Lift 9 before being potty trained, we returned to the seriousness of parenting. “You know it’s going to be Type II fun,” our buddy Nate said to Luke. Ever-affable, always cool under pressure, and a depth of one-liners, Luke cocked a half grin. He snorted a chuckle and his eyes stared off with ease, quite far away from our conversation, miles away from our jokes and yarns, and set on Katie who stood across the yard.

“Yeah…but the best Type II fun, ever.”

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Showing 6 comments
  • jimi breeze
    Reply

    Most awesome story. Put together like I knew them as neighbors.

  • UtahJacque
    Reply

    I love it! As someone who loves to play outdoors with my two teens in a mountain town, I really appreciate this. Paddy was completely correct. Sometimes, paddling, biking, skiing, or camping seems to solve the world’s problems. Other times it’s just enough to put things back into perspective. If it works for adults, it works for kids.

  • Will
    Reply

    As another non-parent giving parenting advice I’d add: Don’t just set your kids up to be crushers – teach them and show them how they can help preserve the natural areas that they are enjoying for THEIR kids, your grandkids. That snow might not be there when 3 year old Gwynnie is 43 years old and has a kid of her own. The mountain bike trails might be owned by a private company.

  • Tom
    Reply

    Great article Paddy

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