Big Family Trips in Big Mountains
Some folks might worry that 7 days at a cabin in the backcountry would be too long for kids. MEC Envoy Leanne Allison shows that’s definitely not the case.
My husband Karsten, our 8-year-old son Zev, and I feel very fortunate because we have adventurous (and very competent in the outdoors) friends with kids who are willing to commit to long periods of time away for big trips. Trips like the ones we would go on before kids! There are always a million reasons why not to do a trip, so when you find friends who value time away in the wilds with their kids, celebrate. We find at least 2 weeks is the key to sinking into a different rhythm.
Our trip to Burnie Glacier Chalet started with a 2-day train ride from Jasper to Smithers. Even though we could’ve driven to Smithers in 8 hours, we happily left our cars behind and accepted the slower pace the train ride enforced. We all agreed it was family time well spent. Playing cards in the dome train car, colouring pictures on the windows, reading, dining on our own fine food and wine, and most importantly for the kids, roaming around the train at will. All the while we traced the ice- and snow-covered mighty Fraser River and stopped at places like Penny, BC, to drop off the mail. Population: 2.
After a half-day in Smithers spent grocery shopping and gathering last minute supplies, we hopped on a 12-minute heli flight to the Burnie Glacier Chalet. Situated on the edge of the Howson Range, the location wonderfully combines big sky, big trees, big glaciers, and big mountains.
Once we landed, it took the kids no time at all to start hucking themselves down the steep pitched roof of the cabin, instantly becoming one with their new environs. Some folks were worried that 7 days at the cabin would be too long. What would the kids do? I can assure you – not a boring minute went by for those kids. They’re as comfortable outside in the snow as kids who grew up in Kauai are on the beach.
Snow caves, igloo building, tobogganing, and skiing filled their days. There was a small peak near the hut named Kinderberg, German for “kids’ mountain.” It was the perfect objective for the kids and they could admire their turns from the hut. When we spent time inside the hut, we baked, played cards, and the older kids made every kind of origami you can think of. Rohan (9 years old) crafted a crane that was half the size of a penny and you could still see the shape of it!
For the adults, Burnie has full-on ski mountaineering potential with many options for spectacular 6000-ft runs in 2 different valleys. It has a very wild feel – the kind of place you could stumble upon a wolverine or see caribou off on a distant ridge top. Christoph Dietzfelbinger, mountain guide and founder of the lodge, has spent more than a decade cutting out summer trails, putting in bridges, upgrading the hut, and developing sustainable systems to make this a backcountry experience on par with the best in the country. It has all luxuries of fly-in hut life: excellent skiing, a sauna, good food, beer and wine, comfy beds, a warm fire, and most importantly, plenty of time for everything.
Full disclosure: Everything was not perfectly rosy on this trip. A few of us caught a terrible cold that lingered for a month, and Rohan got a serious deep cut on his finger. Thankfully, we had an emergency doctor in our midst and she’d brought along an extensive medical kit. She stitched him up on the spot, so there was no tendon or permanent nerve damage.
We were very lucky, and again felt fortunate that we have friends willing to accept that getting sick or hurt is okay, and all part of the adventure. In fact, I think that makes us even better friends. We’re already thinking about next summer’s canoe trip.