Outdoor Family Affair


Raising Tomorrow’s Rippers, Shredders, and Climbers

Think having kids means your adventuring days are over? Far from it. We talk to three families who still get after it—with their children along for the ride.

A family of skiers on a ski lift

Like Father, Like Son. Like Mother, Like Daughter: The Burkes

Park City kids follow in their parent’s bootpack, only to ski right by them.

“I don’t take chances now; it’s not worth it when you have a family,” father of two Jay Burke professed this to me many years ago, and I agree. However, we may have different interpretations of risky: earlier that week I followed him off the biggest cliff of my life on a powder day under the old Summit lift at Solitude, where we both worked in the marketing department. I’m no pro, but I’m no slouch either. Turns out he skied a similar line with his pre-teen that same week, as the Burke family also doubled as the resort ski models for brochures and ads. So, slouch it is for me.

I became a much better skier chasing Jay around Solitude that season. And I can imagine what it was like for their son, Toby, 17, and daughter, Emma, 20, who grew up in Park City following Jay and their mother Hilary’s ski tracks and bike tires around the Wasatch.

Fast-forward to this past winter: a 25” powder day in the Cottonwoods, and the elder Burke decided to sluff work and allow Toby to play hooky for a day to return to their old Solitude stomping grounds. And who do they happen to be sharing the hill with? A couple pro skiers and photogs by the names of Adam Barker, Julian Carr, and John Collinson. It’s motivation on days like this that helped Toby qualify for the IFSA North American Championships.

“It was really the best day of skiing I’ve ever had at Solitude,” remembers Jay. Those are big words from a guy that has logged hundreds of days at the resort, in addition to hesitantly admitting that, “Toby surpassed his father on skis a few years ago.”

I’m not entirely sure when the Burkes stop to sleep: Emma can routinely be found bagging peaks, skiing Snowbird, or playing club soccer at the U of U. For the past 10 years, the Burkes have put on the Park City Point 2 Point mountain bike race (yes, the one that sells out in mere minutes each year) as a full-on family affair. While Jay does most of the legwork, his family has to put up with him.

In addition to a budding ski career, Toby’s high school lacrosse team went undefeated and won state last year. This year Toby will try to balance schoolwork, high school sports, and of course, powder days, when Dad is up for playing hooky.

“We are lucky to live here and have the mountains right out our door,” says Toby. I think he may be onto something, though I might point out he did win the genetic lottery.

Family near the ocean

Idaho Whitewater & Biking, Wasatch Powder & Nicaragua Surf: The Hopkinsons

Class IV rapids, singletrack, surf, and black diamonds run in this international adventure family’s blood.

Most people are lucky to run the Salmon River in Idaho once in their lifetime. When your last name is Hopkinson, you’ve done it by the time you’re two. By age five, Maya Hopkinson was heading out on the famed River of No Return on an annual basis.

Rivers run deep in this family’s blood. Husband-and-wife team, Jared and Roni, have owned and operated Sawtooth Adventure Company & Rocky Mountain River Tours in Stanley, Idaho for almost two decades—sometimes booking “once-in-a-lifetime-adventures” for other families from the top of a chairlift in winter. Work hard, play hard; that’s how these folks live the dream.

There’s something full-circle about floating mountain rivers in summer, then following the water to the ocean where the Hopkinsons spend their “off-season” in Nicaragua. And once all that H2O condenses back into clouds, they follow the snowstorms home to the Wasatch come winter.

Speaking of winter, Maya knows the ins and outs of powder stashes better than most 17-year-olds. Heck, better than most anyone. “Rather than arguing over typical teenage things, Maya instead begs for first tracks so she can huck a big cliff at the bottom of her favorite pillow line,” says Jared. Along with her cousin Grant, who have been pushing each other on bikes, boats, and skis since birth, charging hard is truly a family affair.

“We do have a ski scholarship deal though, where she gets news skis and a season pass each fall if she maintains a 3.75 GPA,” says Jared. “It pays to have fun hoggin’, powder lovin’ parents.” Maya has earned her season pass every year, tactfully avoiding having to run a lemonade stand to fund her pursuits.

Now in her senior year, Maya is on the Skyline High bike team, a perfect fit for the high level of aerobic endurance shared with her mother. Meanwhile, the youngest Hopkinson, JT, begins kindergarten this fall. “I think giving kids an intense, adrenaline activity early on in life is huge,” says Jared. Looks like the Hopkinson blueprint will live on—probably passing you and me at a high rate of speed on a nearby trail or river.

Family on the beach

From Nursery to Skis, Bikes, and Crags: The Alwards

Raising a toddler on skis, singletrack, and climbing routes where falling is all part of the game.

“Welcome to the team.” That’s the ethos Laura and Brian Alward employed when their daughter Petra was born into their adventuring family, which had relocated from SLC to the California Bay Area. At just a few weeks old, Petra was in tow on a chilly morning outing to Point Reyes on the Pacific coast. Despite the sunshine, the freezing wind turned her hand purple: lesson learned for the new parents. Then, it was onto Mount Shasta and Redwood National Park, where the now six-week-old was bundled up: making those diaper changes next to babbling creeks all the more exciting.

When winter came to the Sierra, Laura and Brian—who cut their teeth at Snowbird and Jackson Hole—weren’t about to let ski season slip by. “Petra was five months old when ski/snowboard season started, and we added her car seat and puffy onesie to our gear list,” recalls Brian. “As we did every winter weekend as part of our California routine, she would join us on the grueling, congested drive to South Lake Tahoe. Before she was old enough to ski, she would crawl—and later toddle, walk, and run—around the lodge and base area.”

Now living back in Utah, adventures are significantly closer, offering the Alwards year-round options. “Twice a year this kid crew and their parents head to Fruita to camp and take on the trails,” says Laura. “It’s so perfect for kids. They can ride a “downhill lap” right out of the campsite and get shuttled back to camp. They feel so cool, and it makes the parents feel pretty great too, especially after a few laps of our own.” Teamwork is key here—swapping out parental units each lap—so Mom and Dad get to make some turns while their “little rippers” perfect their trail and dirt-eating skills back at camp.

And the dirtier Petra gets, the more she smiles. After having witnessed her parents take some pretty major crashes over the years, Petra understand that falling—and even getting hurt—is part of biking, and that it’s okay to push it out there. And how did Petra celebrate her fourth birthday party this July? With a unicorn bike ride, of course.

“From the start, climbing, biking, skiing, and snowboarding have been our go-tos,’ says Laura. “We integrated her into these from before she can remember, so she thinks they are the norm. We’ve also been so lucky to learn from other adventure parents who have given us key advice— like hiding M&Ms in the cracks as she learns to climb.”

The awe of a child experiencing the outdoors should remind us all what a spectacular world we live in. The first time Petra saw a waterfall she said, “Oh wow, can we just sit here and watch it?” and will remark on a regular basis , “Ahhh, I love sleeping outside.”

As a recent Saturday doing just this wrapped with s’mores around the campfire, Petra announced, “This is the best life.” We couldn’t agree more.


About Author

Nick Como escaped the skyscrapers of NYC for the tall peaks of the Wasatch. Climber, skier, canyoneer, mountain biker, and lover of food. Just don’t think of offering him pizza with pineapple on it.