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Mountain Sherpa – Inside a Ski Mom’s Backpack

I wonder if he has a snorkel in that bag... Photo by Dave Camara courtesy of Arapahoe Basin. I wonder if he has a snorkel in that bag… Photo by Dave Camara courtesy of Arapahoe Basin.


Its handy to have a backpack full of snacks, water, and sunscreen on the slopes, but is it safe?

Since my kids were young, Ive skied with a pack, if for no other reason than I needed to be armed with a wide variety of snacks at all times. At any given moment, even right after lunch, my kids would claim they were starving.

However, skiing with a pack can be dangerous. A few weeks ago, I was riding a chairlift and when I went to dismount, I realized one of my straps was caught on the back of the chair. I had the presence of mind to just sit tight and ride around the bullwheel, which kicked off the lifts safety mechanism. The chair ground to a halt. I unhooked the strap and hopped off. I was still only a foot off the ground.

It was an ignominious moment, to be sure. My youngest son happened to be at the top with his entire ski team. Mom, you are such a Jerry!!! (If you follow Jerry of the Day on Instagram, youd know this was not a compliment.)

Packed and prepared at Aspen Highlands. Packed and prepared at Aspen Highlands.


Ive tried not skiing with my pack, but then Im constantly in need of some little somethingsunscreen, a neck gaiter, my inhalerand I dont have it. I was riding the lift at Eldora a week ago and my pack soon became a point of conversation. This may be nosy, said the fellow sitting next to me, but what do you have in there? So I listed it out for him:

  • 1 turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich on a whole-wheat Kaiser roll
  • 2 Mojo bars
  • 1 apple
  • 2 types of sunscreen (one for me; one for the kids)
  • 1 lip balm
  • 1 small bottle Advil
  • 1 inhaler (for asthma)
  • 1 small bottle of fog-reducing goggle stuff and accompanying wipe
  • 1 pair of mittens (I was wearing gloves)
  • 2 packs reusable handwarmers
  • 1 small Ziploc of lady products
  • 1 neck gaiter
  • Car keys
  • Prescription eyeglasses in a hard case (so I can see in the lodge)
  • Ski straps
  • Cocoa packets, VIA instant coffee packets, and herbal tea bags
  • Water
  • Duct tape
  • 1 cowbell (my kids are ski racers)

He was really interested in my sandwich.

Ready to conquer some extreme terrain with a pack on my back. Ready to conquer some extreme terrain with a pack on my back.


Heres another reason I like skiing with my pack. My pack has straps for carrying skis, so when I hike to the top of Tucker Mountain at Copper or hike out of Teocali Bowl at Crested Butte, which I did last week, I can pop my skis onto the pack, and hike hands free.

Whats inside my pack is also a statement on my life stage. Once upon a time, I had an avalanche transceiver and shovel in my pack. Those were the days Before Kids (B.K.). Now Im more apt to have a stuffed animal sticking out of the back of my pack than an avalanche probe. And thats okay. Though I once found a piece of ham in my purse (undoubtedly handed to me by a finicky toddler) and that was not okay.

Now that Ive gotten used to skiing with the packs hip- and sternum-belt all cinched down, I feel kind of naked skiing without it.

I intend to keep skiing with a pack, but now I unclip the straps in the lift maze and swing the pack onto my lap for lift rides. This way Im less likely to get caught on the chair for another embarrassing ride around the bullwheelor worse. I certainly dont want to be one of those skiers featured on YouTube, dangling off the chair from their backpacks.

My kids would definitely not think that was cool.

Whats in those packs?

This past weekend, I was at Ski Cooper and for kicks, I asked a few folks what was in their packs. Nobody was secreting anything shocking, like sticks of dynamite or small body parts, but everyone had something they felt they needed to tote around the slopes.

Jennifer Bergen (2_2)

Jennifer Czech Bergen had thin gloves, a thin hat, lip balm, compass, whistle, some expired bars, water, Honey Stingers snacks, and an Rx Bar (made with blueberries and egg whites).

Anne Marie Keane (3)

Anne Marie Keane had hand lotion, sunglasses, Mucinex, a phone charger, Kleenex, Curate bars, sunblock , a screwdriver, Tylenol, hand warmers, a small first-aid kit, and some duct tape.

Nikki Eggebrecht was packing a big camera and charger.

Other folks I asked told me they carried extra gloves, contact lens solution, tampons, snowboard tools, gorp, and lipstick. Because, one woman at the top of Ski Cooper said, You just never know.

Helen Olsson is the author of The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids. She blogs about outdoor adventures with kids at