The Adventure Family

Our first challenge looks relatively easy: It’s just a cargo net. We climb up it (yep, no problem), traverse a small platform then scramble down another cargo net. That’s not so easy: My foot slips through one of the holes in it and I fall, unceremoniously, body slamming into the net. It’s not nearly as soft as it looks.

I hear a crunch and I’m sure I have broken my arm. Then I realize no, the crunch was my neck. “Jeez, mom,” my 11-year-old daughter Anya says, as I lie tangled upside down. At 51 years old, my biggest challenge here in a family adventure race is simply to make sure I don’t embarrass my kids too much. I have already failed.

The Kids Adventure Race, held for the past seven years in Vail, has now expanded to nine resorts in seven states, including this, the Family Adventure Quest at Copper Mountain. Here’s how the races work. Once you sign up, organizers send a list of the required gear. Thirty minutes before the race kicks off, teams receive a map with a route and checkpoints with challenges. You don’t quite know what you’re up against until you arrive at each obstacle. And they range from rock climbing and rappelling down cliffs to rocketing down giant inclined slip and slides.

When my kids participated in youth adventure races in the past, my husband and I would run alongside taking pictures and cheering like ninnies. In this race, held over the Fourth of July weekend, the format was different: The competitive wave consisted of one adult and one child (the fun wave teams included families of up to four). Adult is defined as 16 and up, so my oldest son competed with his 13-year-old brother (“We are Team Bob Dingle,” they told me. Don’t ask.)

If you don’t want to make a fool of yourself in front of your progeny, you must move fast. There’s no time to dwell on my epic flail on the net; our next challenge is to find pie plates in the shrubs and shoot blow darts at them. At the catapult obstacle, we are tasked with using giant sling shots to launch water balloons at each other.

Next is a big uphill mountain bike. We named our team the “Wonder Llamas,” so naturally my daughter insists we strap stuffed llamas onto our handlebars. She also makes me learn a song about llamas, complete with hand gestures (happy llama, sad llama, total drama llama …).

We pedal to a checkpoint with a slack line and raccoon crawl through a big black plastic tube. Because of my pack, I can’t get onto my knees, so I have to pull my body weight through with arm strength alone. One problem—I have no upper body strength.

Next, we jump from a tall platform onto airbags and hang prone on a wire above a river, where we use a hand-over-hand motion to pull ourselves across. I’d seen the kids do this Tyrolean Traverse in previous adventure races, and it didn’t look that hard. But it’s fair to say, I am pulling a bit more weight than a 60-pound kid.

The very name of the final challenge—the “Darwin Dash”—suggests I might eliminate myself from the gene pool. We face a blue rubber mat the size of a dining room table and about as thick, pushed up against a half dozen others, all of them loosely connected by two-foot long ropes, the whole daisy chain of disaster floating in a lake of glacial runoff. The goal is to run across these unstable platforms.

I’m already exhausted—and did I mention that these mats are slick? My foot slips on the last one and I plunge into the frigid water up to my neck. It knocks the wind out of me. Miraculously, I hoist myself out of the water and back onto the mat. My daughter yells at me with little empathy: “Hurry up, Mom!”

On hands and knees, I cough back “I. Just. Need. A. Minute.”

We finally make it across the frigid lake and the volunteers tell us to find our own way to the finish, fastest way we can. We run together—me soaking wet—across the line holding hands.

Later, we meet up with Team Bob Dingle. The boys have stories of their own (my older son had also fallen into the lake). I’m not saying how many teams there were, but both Olsson teams place in the top three. I’d love to do the race again, but maybe next year we’ll try the Family Fun Wave.

The best part for me isn’t the competition, but the achievement of having pulled off something really challenging and empowering with my kids. It was a fun esteem builder and gave them a huge sense of accomplishment. They’re already strategizing for next year. Maybe I’ll train.

Helen Olsson is the author of The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids. Order it, follow her adventures with the kids, and learn more outdoor parenting insight at For information on the Family Adventure Quest at Copper Mountain, head to For info on the series, go to

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