Taking Risks With Kids in the Outdoors

With ski and snowboard season in full affect all of our winter loving friends are hitting the slopes and most of them are taking their kids. Some of the kids are as young as 2, which seems like a wonderful age to introduce skiing to them. Apparently there are some nay sayers on the slopes giving snide comments about the kids being too young, and endangering them. I have to say I wasn’t really shocked to hear that these comments were being said. We have always heard comments about how risky we are to be doing certain things with our son, J-Man, such as backpacking, climbing and canyoneering. We sometimes still get comments about hiking with him and he’s almost 5! It’s always surprising that people think we are endangering him.

This topic reminded me about a hike we did with J-Man last year that I shared on Adventure Tykes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it…

My husband, Bedge, is notorious for finding locations to visit that are off the beaten path. As a photographer he is always looking for places that are unknown to most people and that are photogenic. A lot of the time Bedge will venture out on his own to these unknown locations to scout them out, see if they are do-able with J-Man and to see if they are photogenic. I’ve learned my lesson about going on these scouting trips with him. They can take FOREVER trying to find the particular location or we could get lost up on a plateau at dusk with my son on my back. I’m not fond of those particular trips.

Since we were in Zion for a family trip we decided that all 3 of us would go looking for a specific slot canyon that Bedge wanted to photograph.

The slot canyon we were looking for is not popularly known and park rangers are pretty hush about it. You need to know the slot canyon by name for the rangers to give you directions, although enough people ask about it because they had a 1/4 page print out of directions for it.

taking risks with kids in the outdoors

Bedge got the print out and drove us to the starting point. Let me preface that a lot of these scouting trips are not on designated trails, so we have to do route finding on our own and there’s usually no GPS coordinates, just written directions. The directions for this particular hike were just a couple black and white pictures of the area with dotted lines pointing to the destination.

With packs on our backs, cameras in hand and all of us filled with excitement we headed in the direction of the dotted line.

We dropped down the side of the road into a wash and a few feet later started hiking up a slickrock hillside. According to the dotted lines we needed to make it to the top of the pictured hillside. Super easy, as it was a gradual climb and a beautiful day.

We made it to the top of the hill only to be met with a downward climb. Not just a gradual or easy downward climb, but a S T E E P slope where if you fell you would be seriously injured or possibly killed.


We stood at the top pondering if we should attempt to go down with J-Man. If it had only been Bedge and I there would have been no second thoughts. We would have motored down. J-man on the other hand adds a completely different element to our hiking abilities and the choices we make.

I stood at the top of the slope for a bit checking out each foot and hand placement and how we could do it safely with J-Man or would it be absurd to attempt.

I’m pretty confident in my abilities to climb and scramble down slopes but could I do it with my son? Do I have the strength to hold onto him the whole time, the balance to keep us both in place and the mental capacity to not freak out and take it slowly?

I saw the route we would take, the location of each step and where J-Man would be positioned on the way down.

The entire time Bedge kept offering to turn around and explaining that we didn’t have to do it if I wasn’t comfortable. Considering I am a pretty protective mom I pondered, analyzed and examined the slope.

risks with kids

I decided to go for it.

1. I wanted to see the slot canyon … it looked awesome.

2. I was pumped with adrenaline and wanted to make the attempt.

3. J-man was all for it, not scared a bit, and I figured it would be a good experience for him.

We very sloooooowly took our first steps.

I repeated over and over to J-Man…

“Baby Steps.”


“I want you to concentrate. Watch where you place your feet and listen to what I say.”

“Good job!”

Safely we made it to the bottom.

I was so proud of J-Man for listening intently and doing exactly what was asked of him. He was proud of himself for his accomplishment.

As we made our way to the slot canyon with our nerves still in tack but a bit shaky we were met with a slot canyon full of water and impassable.

We came, we saw and now it was time to go back up.

Hiking in Zion

The saying usually goes…don’t go up something you can’t come down. In this case, don’t go down something you can’t go up. Although we made it back up the top I certainly would not have been able to do it without Bedge’s help. Going up was much more difficult than going down. As we were going up we spotted anchors. Apparently, most people repel down the slope. Ooops.

On our way back to the car, down the simple slickrock hillside, Bedge and I discussed our little adventure. We are pretty sure J-Man is the only 3.5 year old that has been to that slot canyon and that poses the question…

slot canyon hiking with kids

Was it child endangerment to take him on such a risky hike or was it just another Edge adventure? Is skiing at the age of 2 endangerment? Isn’t risk perceived differently by each individual based on their own experiences?

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below what you think about taking risks with kids.

Adventure Tykes

-Melissa Edge lives in Moab, Utah, where she enjoys exploring the beautiful red rock landscape with her husband and son. She is the founder of Adventure Tykes and loves inspiring and motivating parents to get outside with their kids. Melissa is an avid runner, hiker and amateur chef. She also tweets.

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Melissa Edge
Melissa Edge lives in Moab, Utah, where she enjoys exploring the beautiful red rock landscape with her husband and son. She is the founder of Adventure Tykes and loves inspiring and motivating parents to get outside with their kids. Melissa is an avid runner, hiker and amateur chef.

3 comments on “Taking Risks With Kids in the Outdoors

  • We have two small children (now4 &6). They have been on numerous adventures in the mountains as we live a mile from GNP. We take them almost everywhere, but knowing the possible dangers and keeping a couple pieces of gear handy helps.
    We took them on The Highline trail last summer which starts with a narrow cliff trail. Not a huge worry until our then 3 year old decided to run amuck near the edges! So, out came some cordage and instant harness with leash! Other concerns like sudden weather require other gear and of course an over abundance of snacks.
    My now 4 year old skis blues with a noodle on her skis. She started between our legs screaming “faster” and “chairlift”, then a harness with our legs doing all the work till she mastered turns.
    Basically, mitigate risk, have redundant safety gear and a little faith. We would never let them free climb but top rope with redundant anchors… Why not?!

  • Good for you. My son is now 6 and we have been hiking, skiing, fishing and cycling since he was 4. My son never asks me to play video games or watch T.V. he asks me to take him to the park or hiking. He loves everything outdoors. I am very proud that my son loves the outdoors. Starting kids young helps to make life long outdoors fanatics. Better to be outdoors rather on the couch playing video games and becoming overweight.

  • It’s all about risk management! My husband and I ran experiential education programs for a long time before we became parents, and though being a parent adds a whole new perspective, we continue to live an adventurous life with our kids along. Allowing kids to take risks gives them the chance to find their own physical limits, and the confidence to pursue adventures of their own!

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