Cross-posted from Washington Post
My husband and I believe our outdoor adventures should not be curtailed just because we are parents of three kids. The photos in our living room attest to the creative ways we’ve managed to fish in Alaska with a newborn or hike a glacier with our children, who were 2 and 5 years old, outfitted in crampons. Last year, our then 1-year-old even snowboarded at Snowshoe Mountain.
These are our parenting creds. However, to those who label me as an American-born Chinese and my husband as an American-born Korean coupled with the reminder that we are both products of tiger parenting, we are often judged. My dad would chide, “You are a straight A student. You went to Harvard. Don’t you want that for your kids?”
Sure, but I also have great respect for how the outdoors and extreme sports shaped my character. By the time I turned 20, my parents had taken me white water rafting, spelunking, hiking, and horseback riding through nearly all the national parks in the United States and Canada. This fueled a thirst post-college for snowboarding, snow-machining and ice climbing. When my dad passed out at the bottom of the 600-foot deep Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley National Park and it was up to 9-year-old me to get help, when I thought I was going to die the first time I ice-climbed and found the strength to use my icepick for a self-arrest, these are the moments that I think of when someone (including myself) tells me I can’t do something.
While my husband did not grow up with outdoor or extreme sport experiences, he did find a passion in these things once he left home. He scuba-dived all over the world before we met and earned a fifth-degree black belt in Taekwondo. His father taught him that when you start something you have to finish it. This is what he tries to teach our kids, especially my eldest (10) who announced as soon as she could string together a sentence that she wanted to be a race car driver and an Olympic snowboarder.
Serving as Girl Scout and Cub Scout leaders, my husband and I can prove that kids who spend time outdoors eclipse their peers in environmental stewardship, more readily seek challenges, are better problem solvers and gain skills that will help them do better in school. In extreme sports, we find them happier, more passionate about their goals, more sure of who they are.
The key is introducing outdoor adventures and extreme sports early. We had to find outfitters who were willing to waive age-limits and find creative solutions like strapping adult instep crampons onto my 2-year-old. We found coaches like Chris Hargrave, president of Windells Academy who sprung my 1-year-old loose from Snowshoe’s pre-ski school and showed us how to attach an accessory to her board so we could tow her and she could discover the sensation of riding on her own. (My oldest, Kyra, wasn’t allowed on a board until age 5 due to age restrictions at the resorts we tried.) A father of three kids, Hargrave said, “If you put the things that you want your children to have access to later in life in their hands when they are babies, they will develop a balance and taste for it.”
Second, my husband is all about safety; he’s made a career out of it. (He’s the Regional Safetly Manager for a Fortune 500 company.) We go to places like Snowshoe in West Virginia, a family-friendly resort that offers Terrain Based Learning (TBL), an approach created by Hargrave using shaped snow to keep speed in check so students can have fun without the fear of losing control.
“If early lessons aren’t handled right with the young ones, they will turn against the sport quickly,” says Frank DeBerry, president of Showshoe whose daughter threw her first terrain park trick at the age of 7.
So we decided to send our risk-adverse son, then 6, to TBL and Snowshoe’s first snowboard camp, coached by Hargrave. We didn’t care if he never snowboarded again after the camp, we just wanted him to give it a try at the top of a mountain with the best conditions in the region.
On the first day, Ethan started on flat ground, learning to balance and jib, then moved to the mini-pipe feature (like a skate ramp made of snow) where he learned to pump and control pressure. Next, he pumped the rollers into a return wall, worked on going down the fall line with banked turns, and linked turns on a perfect slope. By the afternoon, he was shreddin’ the gnar on the greens.
On the second day, when a camp instructor asked who was a beginner, Ethan refused to raise his hand. I whispered in his ear, “But you’ve only snowboarded for one day.”
“Mooommm!” he shushed me. “I want to do tricks.”
On the third day, Ethan studied a steep runway leading to a nearly 15-foot jump in a terrain park. While airdogs flew by and showed off huge stunts, Ethan tried to blend into the scene by planting his hands in the snow, shifting all his body weight onto the tail of his board and lifting the nose into the air. With his head down in the tripod trick, Ethan contemplated whether he was going to drop in on the jump.
Decision made, Ethan stood up, took a few hops towards the jump, bent his knees and pointed his board straight down the ramp.
We were shocked. That jump was way beyond even my skill level and I had been snowboarding for 19 years.
Ethan’s bravery inspired me to give the jump a shot even though I crashed miserably. When I caught up to Ethan, he was whimpering on the steep landing. “My heart,” he cried. When I asked if he was okay, he said, “Mommy, you shouldn’t have tried the jump.” He kept telling me that the jump was too hard for me and that next time, he’ll show me how to do it. Before I could process this great transformation in my son, Hargrave yelled in my direction, “Kyra just did a 360!”
Though both of them had a few falls that weekend, they were hooked on snowboarding.
Now, all three of my kids practice tricks off their skateboard and on their snowboards. Their friends beg us to take them on our next adventure. Their backpacks are stuffed with books about climbing Everest or how to survive an avalanche.
As winter settles in, all of our dinner conversations are about when and where they get to ride. Ethan says he will never ski again. Kyra insists that I cook them healthy meals packed with protein since they both joined a Ski & Snowboard Racing Team at Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain Resort. This is a family commitment that will require a four hour drive every weekend until March, but we’re committed.
Whenever any of us are afraid to try something new, I direct them to our newest family photo hanging strategically next to the television. I remind them of this moment when they pushed their limits because these are the times that I see my children reach for greatness.
On the softest powder above the clouds at 4,848 feet, the five of us are on snowboards, yes even our toddler who just learned how to walk.
Leslie Hsu Oh is a freelance writer whose work has been named among the distinguished stories of the year by Best American Essays and is working on a memoir. Read more at www.lesliehsuoh.com and on Facebook or Twitter: @lesliehsuoh