Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finding Balance as an Outdoor Family

Camping, mountain biking, hiking, paddling, stand up paddleboarding, mountaineering, rock climbing, backpacking, skiing (cross-country, downhill, backcountry...,) skating, snowshoeing - and... did I miss any?? These are the sports we pursue as a family.  And it gets a bit exhausting trying to fit it all in!!

Just another multi-sport weekend for us

I once said that as a family we would try to focus on one sport for summer, and one for winter.  HA!  When did I ever think that would work for us?  I've even encouraged other outdoor families to keep it simple and choose a few outdoor sports to keep gear costs down.  Meanwhile, you should see my basement!  And garage.  And backyard.  We've actually had to start selling stuff because we just can't store (or use) it all.  Hence, bye bye canoe that we never used.

Bye Bye Canoe.  Hopefully we found you a good home.

So, how does a family balance a wide range of interests?  And how do you balance the individual passions and hobbies within your family?   In our family for example, my husband loves rock climbing while I hate it.  I tried it when we were first married and bought all the starter gear, only to discover that I really didn't enjoy it as a sport.  I preferred climbing to the top of a mountain rather than going up and down the same canyon wall for "fun." 

Meanwhile, I love stand up paddleboarding and it's safe to say my husband is not going to be jumping "on board" this sport! And young Noah, yeah well he doesn't exactly love some of the same sports mom and dad do.  Cross country skiing for example is mostly torture for him and he would rather ride his bike most days than go for a hike.

Dad teaching his little buddy to climb

Here is how we "attempt" to find balance.  

One - We try to find a way for each member of the family to participate in an activity - at their interest or ability level. 

For paddling, this means that while I ride my board, my husband and son paddle in a tandem kayak.  They enjoy kayaking and I enjoy SUP.  Win win for everybody.

Finding a way to all paddle together

When we plan a ski weekend, we try to make sure there will be opportunities for everybody to do something they enjoy.  We'll go for morning snowshoe hike or x-country ski tour, spend the afternoon skating, and then go downhill skiing the next day.

Discovering that Noah LOVES downhill skiing

Two - We compromise!

In an ideal world, Noah would spend a winter day downhill skiing, my husband would be skiing down a mountain in the backcountry and I'd be off cross country skiing or snowshoeing.  And we could arrange our weekends this way.  Or we can compromise, take turns, and spend time together.  We choose to play as a family. This means that sometimes Noah has to go cross country skiing when he'd prefer to be at a ski resort.  My husband agrees to go snowshoeing for a day and I slap on a pair of downhill skis to accompany Noah on some easy runs.

We enjoy snowshoeing together

Three - We learn when to move on and say goodbye to former passions and hobbies

This summer I went on my annual mountaineering trip with my husband and friends, and realized that my heart just wasn't in it anymore.  It's not that I was scared, worried, out of shape, or unhappy on the trip.  However, I was sad that we weren't together as a family and I missed Noah.  I regretted leaving him for a whole long weekend while we ran off to have fun - without him.  And I knew in my heart that we should have taken him camping, all together as a family.

The annual summer mountaineering trip

I still think there's value in taking some "rest" time away from the kids but for me, it's not going to be in the middle of our shortest most glorious summer season anymore for a whole weekend.  I'm hanging up my climbing harness and crampons for now.  I'm sure I'll pull them out again in the future but for now, I'm moving on.  And I'm ok with that.

Bye Bye Crampons.  I'll see you again some day.

Four - We do a LOT of multi-sport weekend trips

When we go away camping in summer, we bring our boats, our bikes and our hiking boots. In winter, we'll bring snowshoes, skis, skates, sleds - and everything else that fits in the car!  We'll never be professional skiers or advanced paddlers practicing so many sports but we have fun.  And that's what matters.

I started mountain biking for Noah - and now it's my favourite sport in the world!
Every summer we do bigger and better hikes together!  I can't wait till next year.

Five - We keep a very well scheduled calendar

People are always astonished that I can have our whole calendar already planned out 6 months in advance.  In my defense though, it's the only way to make sure we schedule time for all of our passions and outdoor pursuits.

Our overnight paddle trip wouldn't happen if we didn't schedule it in!

We sit down with the calendar in January and start plugging trips into weekends from May through October.  Overnight paddle trip - check.  Family backpacking trip - check.  Mountain biking weekend in Banff - check. And on it goes until we've found a spot for every type of trip we want to do and have made room for all of our sports and hobbies.

Overnight hut trips are very important to me - so they get scheduled early!

Then again mid-summer we start over again planning out next winter's trips to make sure we get to all of our favourite huts, hostels, lodges, and ski resorts.

The annual Hilda Creek trip - that gets planned at least 6 months in advance (if not earlier)

How do you find balance as a family with different hobbies, interests and passions?  Do you head outside together or do you split up so that everybody does their favourite thing all of the time? And please tell me I'm not the only person who plans way in advance, trying desperately to fit it all in.  ;)

Whatever we do, we do it together. 

Whatever we do, we do it together as much of the time as possible because in Noah's words, "We're a family!" and in his mind, that's what families do.


  1. I love the idea of pre-scheduling and have tried this myself but I get frustrated as it seems some trips are very weather dependant and it's not fun to have to cancel something you've looked forward to. The downside of scheduling last minute is lack of availability for friends/hotels. Have you found any way to get around this or is it just one of those cases of "it is what it is"?

  2. Hi Sarah. This past year we made plans for 90% of our weekends from June through the end of September - well in advance. Of all our trips, we only had to cancel a few. One camping trip in May because it was too rainy, one in June for the same reason, and then a backpacking trip because it was also too rainy. But these were all really early season trips. I rarely ever have to cancel trips in the middle of summer from late June through September. Sometimes, we have to make last min. switches but we usually manage to go somewhere.

    I prefer to schedule in advance because I know if I don't, I'm going to be staying home. My fav. group campgrounds fill up in February and if you aren't on the computer at exactly 9am, you don't get a good campground. Popular hostels (especially now that I write about them so much) are also booked way in advance and you'd be hard pressed to get a private room in a good wilderness hostel last minute. Same if you wanted to book a full cabin. The Alpine Club of Canada takes reservations a year in advance and to get a full cabin to yourself, you need to sometimes book that early.

    One thing I don't do is give my son much advanced notice of where we are going - until I know for sure we are going! I don't tell him the summer's schedule in advance or tell him more than a few days in advance where we'll be for the weekend. That way he isn't disappointed if we cancel something.

    Final note, if you are able to travel mid-week, you'll have lots more flexibility to be spontaneous. Personally though, I've gone out to the mountains in summer mid week or on weekends without a reservation and we've had to drive around forever to get any campsite or place to stay. Not fun. The first-come campgrounds are often full by 9am in the morning and people wait outside the camp gate to grab sites as they are vacated.

    Hope that helps. I guess weather is what it is. We've had some trips this summer where the weather wasn't 100% what I would have liked but we visited indoor swimming pools on those camping trips and tried to find other things to do besides paddling or swimming at beaches. In winter, if it's -35 on an overnight trip, we still go and just try to do very short hikes. There's usually something you can do, even in bad weather. The only trips I always cancel if weather is not good are backcountry trips.