I used to think getting kids out in the mountains was all about how much hot chocolate you fed them. Now I know bunny pasta works, too.
Lila, my seven-year-old daughter, and I skied, sidestepped, and slogged our way around Sterling Pond above Smugglers' Notch as snow blew through the trees into Sterling Pond Shelter. Though it was early April, winter had yet to leave. The pond was isolated under thick ice. Three feet of snowpack buried rocky summer campsites, providing ample room for a tent.
As her father I felt responsible for making a snow camping trip enjoyable for my little one, and for ensuring she would come back with all her fingers and toes intact; typical dad considerations.
So the trick was to remember Lila's needs. For her it was all excitement and adventure, her smile my barometer. I watched her eyes widen when we used her skis to stake a floorless tent, and ski poles to hold it up. Forget the fact that we had created a warm shelter out of the wind on a snowy mountain. For Lila, it was an instant novel play area.
Bunny pasta cooked rapidly outside. The lagomorphic shape, cheddar sauce, and lack of vegetables apparently hit the spot. Lila wolfed down her mountain meal, and with hot chocolate for dessert I was sure her fire would be stoked and she would have the energy to keep warm in her sleeping bag.
My winter camping secrets are things like safe shelter, adequate food before bed, and thick ground insulation. But we also used secrets she has taught me: having the right stuffed animal, the right book to read (one about maps, which I swear was not my idea), and a few caramels for sticking in her teeth before I brushed them. Crazy eights became a new addiction that evening - only sundown snuffed the card games. While basic safety satisfies me on a winter trip, entertainment and kid-specific nuances were essential for her.
I planned to keep going with the parenting thing. I remained curiously optimistic that if I could just keep her hat on, admittedly no small task, she'd stay comfortable in her two down bags on two sleeping pads. She burrowed inside readily.
I made the modern mistake of checking my smartphone for weather updates, and noticed the Mount Mansfield summit forecast called for 30-50 mile-per-hour gusts and temperatures in the low teens-clearly colder than the earlier forecast. I made a mental note not to check for bedtime updates next trip and closed my eyes.
Wind buffeted the tent through the night, so frost condensing on the tent repeatedly sifted down. I find it funny these disturbances wake me repeatedly, but never a seven-year-old properly primed and cocooned. My job was to keep tucking her in. Admittedly somewhat neurotic, but hey, it was pretty chilly. I wonder whether other parents have discovered the tendency of the camping child (even on snow) to spend all night creeping out of a sleeping arrangement and repeatedly losing the hat. What vigilance a parent needs!
She awoke happy and cozy, pleased to have even more hot chocolate for breakfast. What could be better? Soon after cocoa, we, and of course by that I mean "I," quickly tore down the tent and packed up while she ran laps around the campsite to keep her digits warm. We had skiing to do and Lila was eager to get going. A blustery, exciting ski run to the car culminated our overnight foray.
Vermont mountains can provide dazzling winter adventures for kids and adults alike. What seemed to work was close attention to her needs when introduced to a tough environment. At the car, like a good dad, I checked Lila's fingers, they were all still there. Her smile was, too.
Posted on August 14, 2015