Words By: Jason Thompson
Skiing is a lifetime activity. It can help us overcome fears and learn to focus. It can act as a source of connection to our friends and to nature, helping us recognize beauty in both our relationships and our surroundings. For many of us, skiing is woven into our family’s DNA — perhaps your parents taught you to ski before you even fully walked.
In addition to the fond memories, there are also risks involved with skiing, especially when we choose to adventure outside of the ropes. The search for a new challenge will lead many of us to attempt more technical ski lines in order to push ourselves. Those hazards don’t change when we become parents. So how does one navigate risk tolerance when kids come into the mix? Forrest Coots offers his insight into balancing fatherhood with freesking.
Did your Dad ski? Was skiing a connection for you and your Dad?
“Yes, skiing is what we did as a family. Both my parents worked at the ski resort in some fashion. I remember when I was in middle school, he would pick me up after school every Friday night on his way to work at the resort for the evening, and I would go night skiing until the resort closed. It was a way for me to stay out of trouble and get to hang out with my Dad.”
What do you see as important qualities in a Father?
“For me, it’s being present in the moment. There will always be a day of skiing but when you have little kids some of these moments only happen once and you want to around to see it. I’ve already missed some important moments being gone on expeditions. So, I want to be present while I’m home.”
Has your risk/hazard acceptance shifted one way or the other since fatherhood? Explain the process you went through.
“Since becoming a father my acceptable level of risk isn’t much lower but I’m much more calculated. If the line or climb’s conditions aren’t right, I’ll walk away and back off, and turn my head for home. No summit is worth not watching my kids grow up. The mountains are always talking to us, it’s just if we want to listen. Telling you to go or stay home. I think since becoming a father, I have learned more and more to listen to what the mountains are saying.”
What brings you the most joy about skiing? What brings you the most joy about being a Dad?
“It’s hard to describe the joy that comes from skiing, maybe it is the freedom and the sense of exploration and adventure. My greatest job as a father is sharing my love of the outdoor world with my kids. Along with watching them grow, each day there is often something new and exciting.”
How will the experiences you have had thru skiing and learning about other cultures and people make you a better Father?
“Being in the mountains inspires me, gives me focus and drive. It’s allowed me to see the world and its cultures through the prism of skiing. Through this travel it’s shown me that I’m/ we aren’t the only ones on this planet. And that we need to work all we can do, in saving it. Through skiing it’s giving me a greater understanding of our environment. I want my kids to grow up with snowy winter days, just as I have.”
If your children want to do an activity you perceive to be risky – will you give them your blessing? “Yeah, of course.”
What is your biggest fear of being a Dad?
“I think we all have this fear of losing some form of our identity within the sport. And having a family will be the end, but I think it’s just a new chapter. One in which you have to learn how to balance your time. It might mean waking up super early and go for a tour and be home before your family is awake.”
What parallels have you drawn from skiing and fatherhood?
“Ha-ha, in my case, my son Aksel still doesn’t sleep through the night, and he wakes up early. We alpine start almost every day. So, when it’s a normal alpine start, it’s not like I’m losing any extra sleep.”
Do you assess risk the same as you did before being a Father?
“For myself my tolerance has changed, I’m not willing to risk it that close to the line, as I once maybe did. But I also think it also comes with age. I’m no longer “young and dumb and full of hubris” The plan is always to come home at the end of the day. After a trip to Peru years ago, where a cloud formed over the summit and we chose to turn around. I had dreamed of skiing that face. But at the end of the day wives, mothers and kids don’t care about summits. They care about you coming home. I’ve become more tactical about how I approach something. Attempting to stack as many cards I can in my favor, weather, snow conditions, fitness, mental strength are all factors I think about now before even thinking of pushing it. I want to grow old and share these same experiences with my kids as they get older.”
How do you balance risk with being a Dad?
“It’s a fine balance between remaining true to your loves and passions in the mountains and the responsibilities of being a father. No one wants to die in the mountains and leave a family behind. Doing what we do, is very selfish. Going out and climbing and skiing technical lines only strokes the ego of the person doing it, you’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise. And I think at least taking notices of that and being aware of it is very important to me. And trying to somehow find a balance between the two.”