Note: The draft for this blog post has been saved since the first week of January. I haven’t had the courage to hit the ‘publish’ button. Maybe it’s that I want to keep it fun and positive around here and you can’t do that when you’re talking about death. Or maybe I was afraid of the backlash that might occur when I do publish this post. Regardless these words have been tugging at my heart. This morning when I woke up I had a strong feeling that it needed to be published. What’s the universe telling me? I’m not sure, but I’m listening. So here goes…

January 7, 2016

Last week I read the news that an 8-year-old boy was killed in a sledding accident at Happy Jack, our community’s favorite sledding hill. 

It’s a hill that I take my kids sledding on at least once a week during the winter.

It’s a hill where my family had celebrated the Winter Solstice with some fast, crazy, night sledding just days before.

But, after I learned the news of the death that fun place suddenly became a tragic place.

A place where a child smashed head-first into a tree.

When I read the news of his death my heart broke.

What likely started out as a beautiful day of sledding in the mountains ended in sadness. Somewhere a mother was probably asking herself why it had to be her precious child and what she could have done to prevent the death.

Just imagining what she was going through brought tears to my eyes. I don’t know this family but I ached for them.

In no way is this post meant to pass judgment on them. In fact, I hate to even think about what they are going through.

At the same time, my thoughts turned to risk in the outdoors, something that’s constantly on my mind.

I couldn’t help but wonder if I let my children take too many risks.

Here’s my struggle.

I don’t want my kids to grow up with fear or anxiety about risky things.

You know, heights, wild animals, fast skis and fast sleds. I want them to experience risky things so they grow up to be confident and not afraid of challenge. I want them to be able to cope with difficulty.

But most important, I want them to do risky things so they learn how to assess and manage risk under my supervision. They can do risky things with me and my husband and learn from us rather then try to figure it all out when they are 19-years-old and fueled by testosterone and beer — even though I know that’s going to happen anyway.

Start teaching them about risk while they are young so they learn has always been my mantra.

In fact, often I reward their risky outdoor behavior with huge ‘High 5’s’ and words of praise.

There’s no way in hell that I’m going to raise wimpy kids.


  • Maybe they do sled too fast.
  • Maybe they do stray too far from the group when were on the trail.
  • Maybe they do climb too high on the big rocks at Vedauwoo.

They are still little (4 and 2) and maybe I need to hold them tight and protect them a little bit longer, rather than teach them about risk right now.

Or maybe I need to be better at assessing and managing risk in the first place.

Maybe the problem is me?

The truth is that I can’t keep my kids off the sledding hill.

I can’t keep my kids from climbing big rocks and I don’t want to.

Eventually, they are going to want to wander a little bit farther from the group as they grow in their independence.

I can’t stop risk unless I lock them in a padded room.

But I can be better at assessing and mitigating risk.


The tragic sledding accident caused me to snap out of the, “my kids will always be okay,” way of thinking.

It doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop sledding, climbing mountains and playing outside.

We’re just going to be a little bit safer about it and I’m going to try to be better at always thinking about ways to reduce risk and prevent accidents.

When it comes to sledding (and ice skating too) we’re going to wear our ski helmets now. Yes, I am going to become that Mom. And if the snow conditions are too fast and dangerous we might forgo the sledding for snowshoeing, or just sled the bottom third of the hill.

My heart still aches for the boy’s family and friends. My thoughts will be with them every time I’m on that hill. I want them to know that I grieve with them. I don’t know the details of the death. I can’t imagine what they are going through.

But the lesson is clear to me. We can’t and we shouldn’t keep our children inside. Instead let’s learn from this and think about what we can do to keep them safe while still letting them smile as they glide down a hill on a bright orange plastic sled.


How do you assess and mitigate risk in the outdoors?  Leave us a comment below or on our facebook page.

What a Tragic Death Taught Me About Risk in the Outdoors

5 comments on “What a Tragic Death Taught Me About Risk in the Outdoors

  1. Oh, my heart breaks for your whole community. I think this is something every parent struggles with. My teen is a really , really fast downhill skier. We have talked about the risks involved and how to be safe on the slopes, but the truth is, I wouldn’t even ski on the trails he chooses to bomb.

    I don’t know if there is a solution to this because the world itself is full of risks, most of which don’t involve outdoor adventures. I think communication is key to help our kids assess the risks they might be taking, as is remembering to hug our kids extra tight every single day.

    • Communication is so key, and you know I haven’t really talked about this situation with my kids but maybe I should. And totally agree about the extra tight hugs. Thanks for your comments Tara.

  2. I know “back lash” is real & often ridiculous so I have to say that this piece is thoughtfully, considerately & artfully written. Your compassion for the family & your passion for your own family & for the outdoors comes through. Well done ????

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