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I'm planning to go to the Austrian Alps with my 6-year-old daughter in one week. We would like to go on Großer Priel, 2515 m. The plan is to go for three days (sleeping two nights in a tent on a snow).

She has enough experience (for her age) going to the mountains. Also she is physically strong. She has a winter sleeping bag, and it was already tested during autumn.

I would like to ask if there are any special reasons why not to go with small kid to mountains in winter? For example, from medical point of view. Maybe small kids could immediately freeze.


Because of the big interest in this topic I'll write a short summary based on the answers:

First of all I decided to reconsider the route!

The following risks await a kid in the mountains in winter based on their importance (according to my opinion). Most important listed first:

  • Inability to function alone. Kid should be, let's say, self-contained during an emergency situation (should be able to call emergency\setup emergency locator, should be able to carry a sleeping bag and emergency shelter all the time, should be able to find a suitable place and set it up in a wind\storm, be mentally tough, etc.).
  • Bigger risk of hypothermia because of small body volume.
  • Experience of the guide.
  • Deep snow is very hard for short legs.
  • Equipment. Proper equipment in mountains is a must.
  • Risk of avalanches and dependency on weather. There is no direct correlation between kids and avalanches/weather. It's a danger for everyone.

There are a lot of comments about mountain experience. This topic is not to judge my experience and the experience of my daughter. But anyway, I would like to share what experience my daughter has:

  • I decided to reconsider the route, so don't be afraid.
  • All the kids are different. This is very important! My daughter is physically very strong. She is doing 15 push-ups and 3 pull ups. She can swim a swimming pool length under the water on one breath.
  • She has experience sleeping at 2500 m in a tent during autumn.
  • Close to our apartment we have a forest and small hills. So we are training to walk with heavy backpacks at night. She is very excited that we are going somewhere.
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    You're asking medical advise from the Internet relating to the health and safety of your small child? There are some things in the world that even the Internet isn't good for. This is one of them. – cbmeeks Nov 16 '16 at 21:13
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    This is madness. You are endangering a 6 yo kid. This is far too dangerous. – Ivo Renkema Nov 17 '16 at 11:56
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    If you need to ask this question, that strongly suggests that neither of you are suited to this trip. Those that successfully do such things do it by gradually building experience without venturing greatly beyond their known capabilities. A big jump in ambition is not advisable. Sorry! – Toby Speight Nov 17 '16 at 17:21
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    Winter hikes require endurance of the whole body, not just of upper arms and lungs. Legs are what carry her; routine exercise here is a good regimen to add for her. Be mindful about who it really is that wants to go on the hike, too. Is it you, or is it her begging to go? The difference here could be the difference between a successful adventure vs a lethal disaster. She's six. There will be plenty of opportunities to take her on adult hikes. Do consider bringing additional adults as well. – user11609 Nov 18 '16 at 15:07
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    I will say that I'm quite relieved you've decided not to go on this trip and very glad you chose to ask for advice before taking this trip. I hope you and your daughter have many other fun excursions in the future. It seems like you have a very special and unique daughter. I'm sure if you protect her from getting too far over her head as she develops her skills she will soar as she grows. Best of luck. – Erik Nov 18 '16 at 16:16

10 Answers 10

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Other people have addressed several concerns that I would have bringing a young child into the mountains during the winter. One concern that I haven't seen addressed is; what if something happens to you because the average 6 year old is going to be entirely dependent on you. If you become compromised for any reason the child more than likely isn't going to be able help you or fend for themselves effectively. While it is certainly true that accidents can happen anytime of the year, winter is unquestionably more risky.

If you're going to take a 6 year old into the mountains in the winter apart from all the other precautions that people mentioned I'd highly recommend that you don't take the child without them being able to do the following things efficiently in storm/adverse conditions:

  • Access and activate an emergency locator beacon that they have on their person at all times.
  • Be able to carry on their person at all times, an emergency shelter that they can setup/use in storm/adverse conditions and live in alone for at least a couple days
  • Be able to recognize what is the best location they can reach to wait and setup their emergency shelter for a rescue (ie don't setup camp on a cornice)
  • Be able to leave you broken/bleeding/unconscious/dieing/etc to setup their emergency shelter in a safe location to ensure their survival because they recognize they don't have the strength/skills to help you
  • Be mentally tough enough to not leave the emergency shelter during a storm even if that storm lasts for over 24 hours, and they're alone, and they're "sure" they hear you moaning for help.

If you can be confident that your 6 year old child can do all of those things then I'd say you have a very unique child. If they can't then you need to decide for yourself if your child's almost certain death in the snow, in the event of an accident, due to fate or your miscalculation, is worth the risk.


As an aside another risk with children is putting them in a situation that is uncomfortable and makes them not want to do similar activities in the future. For example if the first trip a young kid takes skiing they get cold, wet, and fall constantly they aren't going to be excited to go again. If the first several times they go skiing they are warm, comfortable, and get to drink extra hot chocolate they'll be more forgiving with the intermittent wet, cold, and generally crummy day. If you do decide to take your daughter out snow camping I'd recommend you do absolutely everything in your power to make it go off without a hitch or you're going to have a hard time getting a second chance.

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    This is a truly excellent answer. I hope the OP understands the importance of what is said here. – niemiro Nov 16 '16 at 19:16
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    @Erik Can you explain what is emergency shelter or what can be used as an emergency shelter? – user1209304 Nov 16 '16 at 20:54
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    @user1209304 The more I thought about your comment the more concerned I became. Not to be a jerk but if you aren't accustomed to emergency shelters I really think you should rethink winter mountaineering. I might be presumptuous and way off base but I'd consider basic knowledge about emergency shelters as a fundamental safety measure for winter mountaineering. Keep in mind, things can go horribly wrong even on "easy" mountains. – Erik Nov 16 '16 at 21:48
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    @user1209304 The very fact that you asked that question means that you must give up your plan. Please. – David Richerby Nov 16 '16 at 23:18
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    @lowtechsun By young people I mean teenagers. I support the views that taking a 6 year old to altitude and in snow is unwise to the point of being reckless. At 6 years old, the difference between and normal and a hypothermic core temperature can be minutes, younger kids have less body mass to handle temperature variations and less control over their core temperature. Even stopping after exercise at altitude in snow without adding layers can allow them to radiate enough heat to dip into hypothermia. – AndyW Nov 18 '16 at 8:09
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You know that there is a lot of snow already in those heights in Austria? Even in 1500m people not used to it will get problems. Please have a look at webcams and detailed descriptions of the route you are trying to hike. And check out the conditions!

I was never on that mountain but it seems there are exposed ridges and even wire-assured parts on the route up. This means you have to watch your step even when it's dry and snow-free. So even without a kid this might be dangerous in current conditions. This depends highly on your skills and experience.

In general I wouldn't recommend your plan with a 6 y.o. kid under winter conditions. During summer, some (trained) kids can have a great time on such a tour though.

Besides the lines above regarding your specific plans, I will give some hints regarding tours with a kid during winter:

  • Going with a kid I would recommend at least a rope to back her up
  • Children most likely won't know if they have power for X more hours or X more kilometers. You are therefore more likely to bring your daughter and yourself in a biga** emergency-situation
  • If you get in trouble you might have to stay in the cold for a long time until help comes (if it is possible for them to come). The muscle to body weight ratio of a kid will be lower, especially of girls. Muscle movement warms your body up.
  • It's not unlikely that a kid don't know the risks and therefore might panic if it is getting serious. Panic is not good for both of you...
  • You are in need to supervise your kid. It will always come down to you and the way you care for your kid. Don't overstate the burden on your kid unless it is grown enough to be able to make the decision by herself.
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    I thought your use of the term "biga**" was to be read "biga" with a footnote indicated by the **. Not seeing a footnote in your answer, I googled "biga" and variations and couldn't for the life of me figure out what any of this had to do with bread baking. – Scribblemacher Nov 18 '16 at 18:29
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    Sorry for the confusion, I meant bigass. – Wills Nov 18 '16 at 20:59
  • Which in case you're not familiar with it is American slang meaning (as far as I can tell) stupid. – Michael Kay Nov 20 '16 at 21:41
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    No, that's stupid-ass. Big-ass means "huge". – Mazura Nov 21 '16 at 4:12
  • Sorry guys. I mean big/huge and stupid. Just unnecessary. – Wills Nov 21 '16 at 6:46
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Due to the small volume of the body - risk of rapid hypothermia in children is very high. Do not risk it in the winter.

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    Providing they have adequete clothing this could not be an issue. But your right a child will get cold a lot quicker than an adult. 90% of the time and providing adequte clothing, equipment this could not be an issue. But if things get a bit sticky (as they do in winter mountaineering) then the child is going ot be in a lot more danger than an adult – user2766 Nov 16 '16 at 14:25
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    Finding the proper equipment in sizes to fit a six year old may be difficult. – stannius Nov 16 '16 at 18:59
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    To compensate for lower heat generated by a 6 year old body, most child-sized winter clothing makes them look like the Michelin mascot. If you consider that adult, winterized mountaineering clothing turns adult into the Michelin mascot, you'll realize the clothing you do find are most likely inadequate or extremely expensive. – Nelson Nov 17 '16 at 1:40
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In short - No, do not take your 6 y.o. daughter on that mountain in winter in one week's time.

There'll be plenty of opportunities for parent-daughter bonding in the future in less extreme and more pleasant circumstances.

My reasons:

  1. One of the cardinal rules in mountaineering is to usually travel in fours, minimum of three if all in the party have lots of experience. If one hiker has a mishap, one person can stay with them while the other two go for help. The fact that you are contemplating going essentially by yourself and taking someone who is wholly dependent on you, as has been pointed out above by @Erik and others, indicates to me you don't have the necessary knowledge or experience to do this trip safely by yourself with your daughter.

  2. You asked earlier for details about construction of emergency shelters. Again, this indicates to me you don't have the necessary knowledge or experience to do this trip safely by yourself with your daughter.

  3. The answers above regarding avalanches give me further indication that you have not got the experience for this trip at this time.

If nothing else, if you really must go, find 3 people or friends with more mountain experience than you, and who have some rapport with your daughter, and hire a guide as well. Another alternative might be to do a mountaineering group course with her, where you both can learn how to build emergency shelters and about avalanche drill, amongst other things. That should be some fun and a bit of a challenge for her.

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    Its a small thing but the OP never said they were the father. They might be the mother. – Erik Nov 17 '16 at 17:08
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    @Erik, True, you got a point, but I somehow don't see a mother being overly keen on mountaineering enough to putting her small daughter into such circumstances. – My Other Head Nov 18 '16 at 5:40
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    I should add "normal" mother. – My Other Head Nov 18 '16 at 5:53
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    I agree that the odds and stereotypes favor a father. I pointed it out because being gender neutral costs nothing and is appreciated when stereotypes and assumptions are wrong. If you don't want to change your answer to be gender neutral that is okay. – Erik Nov 18 '16 at 13:42
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I don't know the route itself, but according to what I read there are two non-technical routes, one from the "Prielschutzhaus" and another from "Welse Huette". The first one includes one steep section secured with steel wires. So you need to be sure that you can overcome such difficulties, but even if you can overcome these with your kid and you are well prepared for winter camping, this is not the main/only issue:

Avalanches

I can't find an avalanche report for the exact location, but for the close-by region of Salzburg there is a high risk of avalanches above 2200m (level 3) due to new snow and wind. This will change till next week, but there will most likely still be significant avalanche risk. As the route has very steep sections on the upper part, this risk is serious. So either you are experienced enough to judge the situation for yourself or you absolutely cannot go. This tour is often done as a late winter/spring backcountry ski tour, as avalanche risk is more manageable in that time (less snow, frozen snow in the morning). I don't see reports of it being done in winter, so it is probably not safe most of the time.

Bottom line:

You cannot go because of avalanche danger (not considering this factor rules out that you have experience with it), not because of bringing a kid.

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    Thanks for the answer but I can't agree with you comment as avalanches dangerous not just for kind but for everyone. I don't see direct correlation between kids and avalanches. – user1209304 Nov 16 '16 at 15:46
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    @user1209304 So you don't agree avalanches are dangerous for everyone? – paparazzo Nov 16 '16 at 16:24
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    @user1209304 Of course there's no correlation between kids and avalanches. But, unless I've misunderstood it, this answer is saying taht there is a very high risk of avalanches (of course, for everybody) in the area you're planning to go to, at the time you're planning to go. This means that you shouldn't go there with or without your child. – David Richerby Nov 16 '16 at 23:22
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    @user1209304 I must admit, I probably focused too much on your specific goal: Grosser Priel. The general question whether it is ok to go into the mountains in the winter with a kid is not addressed by this. But in view of your goal asking about specifics about kids is the wrong question, as you are endangering anyone you take with you (kid or not) due to avalanche risk. So I felt like this had to be addressed as well. – imsodin Nov 17 '16 at 15:07
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The normal track to Großer Priel involves some smaller climbing sections, so even in summer it isn't that easy. Total ascent is around 2000m and about 24 kms, so definitely a serious climb. Do you have snow shoes or skis and are you both well versed in using them? Are you intending to use crampons for both of you for either frozen snow sections or icy climb sections? Will you be having an avalanche probe on you and your daughter? Do you and your daughter have experience in winter mountaineering?

I'm an experienced climber and did some more serious mountaineering years ago, I would hesitate doing this in winter and definitely would not do this in winter with a six year old. It's okay if you want to do it and pay for the rescue afterwards, but please don't risk the life of your daughter.

Here are some pictures of the winter ascent from: Climb and Hike.

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    wow, that is one hell of a climb for a 6 year old to make. At first, I was kinda like, "ya, a wintery stroll in the mountains... should be grand" but then seeing what you had to do and what it was like, geez. I can't imagine any kid tolerating that kind of thing for 3 days straight, much less in winter. She must be one hell of a kid that the OP would even consider bringing her on something like this. – coblr Nov 17 '16 at 20:54
  • @user1209304 Now that I have seen the pictures, definitely do NOT do this!! – lowtechsun Nov 18 '16 at 7:24
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If you find that:

  • The avalanche risk is close to null (listen to reports, ask professionals, don't take any chances)
  • You have the necessary equipment and you can carry it (you'll have to carry most of it for the both of you. Big sleeping bags, big sleeping pads, too, a good tent, food and kitchen, extra clothing, puffys, ... Also probably snowshoes and/or spikes...)
  • Your daughter has the necessary experience to do the trip and enjoy it (did you do long mountain day trips before, trips of several days in milder conditions, ...)

Then don't forgot to:

  • Make sure the route is very easy for you. You may have to carry her, you'll definitely have to carry more stuff than you would for yourself, and you need to be prepared for anything during the trip, not arrive at camp tired. Consider possibly something that you could do alone in one big day.
  • Walk first to open the trail (obviously)
  • Make sure she is not tired (don't just ask, but look for signs, yawning, slowing pace, irritability), ans stop while she still has some reserve.
  • Look for signs of hypothermia and frostbites. Make sure she feels her feet at all times
  • Have several backup plans. Don't get stuck on the other side of the mountain with 10 hours of exhausting walk for the last day. Have alternative itineraries that you know in advance that get you out of the mountain rapidly.
  • After the first night, make sure she is ok (well rested, not cold) to continue and spend a second night in the same conditions and then another day. Otherwise, go back early, and try again another time.
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    I agree with a lot of what you said but I think it is essential for the daughter to carry her own emergency shelter and some sort of emergency locator beacon. The daughter needs to be able to hunker down and wait for rescue without the OP in case the OP is incapacitated. – Erik Nov 16 '16 at 18:58
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Ouch. If you have to ask, you're not ready to take her. You also intimated that your hiking party is a party of 2. I wouldn't even be a part of a party of two adults in the summer, let alone a party of two with a young child in the winter.

What will either of you two do if the other gets injured?

Will you be avoiding avalanche country?

What will you do if she decides half-way through that this isn't a very good idea?

Will your cell phone work in the mountains? In all parts of it?

Do you both know what to do if you get lost?

What about animals in the middle of the night: food is scarce, the snow dampens sound, and animals are keen to know what's good food and what's not worth the effort.

Also, a sleeping bag is only part of your worries. Clothes are another. So is footwear. You asking about risking a young child's health by taking her - alone - on a long and dangerous setting suggests you yourself don't have a lot of experience.

What if she has an accident on night #1: do you have a backup plan to dry out her sleeping bag for night #2?

I don't really know your medical or outdoors experience, I can only infer it's not much. If you decide to embark on this trip, I would strongly suggest you enroll yourself in a Wilderness First Aid course. I don't know where you're from, so, can only give general advice. But here in the US, the American Red Cross offers courses in Wilderness First Aid, which necessarily includes topics such as anaphalaxis, identifying and handling hypothermia, frostbite, and common injuries. But finding a course can take months to secure - indeed, I'm renewing my own and here in November I have to wait until April next year to enroll.

As to hypothermia, this relates to the medical advice you asked about:

Hypothermia has the dubious distinction of being a medical condition in which the victim doesn't realize s/he's suffering from it until it is too late, at which point disorientation and inability to treat it set in, to say nothing of what your 6 year old will do. You are literally placing your (and therefore, HER) life in her hands: Can she be trusted to recognize it in YOU? Can you recognize it in HER? Because YOU will not be able to recognize it in YOU and SHE cannot recognize it in HER.

6 year olds also like to eat snow - who doesn't? - but eating snow can be dangerous on a trek like this, and can trigger dehydration and diarrhea. These are the last things you need to be bringing along on a trip with a 6 year old.

I assume you've covered the usual hiking hazards, like logistics of water treatment and food, map and compass use, handling getting lost, calling for help, leaving notice with friends/family and a ranger station before embarking, and checking out on your return, that you know how to keep your food safe at night from animals.

Honestly, I don't know what you've thought out. But I wouldn't do it. If you were 30 minutes from civilization at any point in the trip, that'd be one thing. But you're up in the mountains, and help is difficult to secure in the winter. I hope your cell phone will work.

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    One other key aspect of a Wilderness(Red Cross)/Remote Area(St John's) First Aid course or similar, is long duration (greater than 30 minutes to several days) management of an injured party in a remote location. Also, ground suitability/preparation and operation for a helicopter extraction. – My Other Head Nov 19 '16 at 21:03
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6 is young but you said she is strong and has mountain experience.

From what I read there are non-technical (walking) routes.

If snow is deep it is very hard for short legs. Make sure she has water proof hiking boots.

Kids are slightly more susceptible to hypothermia but the lows are in the 20's F (-7 – -1°C). If you have proper clothing you are not going to get hypothermia (or even cold).

If you don't have a 4 season tent I would advise against.

You can always decide not to summit.

imsodium brings up a great point on avalanche danger. But that does not necessarily mean don't go. In the US we have ranger stations that we check in and check out. They will advise on avalanche danger and alternate hikes. In the area I suspect there are alternate lower altitude hikes below avalanche danger.

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    If walking in snow with adults, you'd take turns at the front. With a child, they should always be walking in the trodden snow -- just remember to keep an eye on them. This will make your rate of tiring closer to theirs. – Chris H Nov 16 '16 at 16:53
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I can recommend exactly 1 thing: stay near the car. Get no farther from the car than you are comfortable carrying her back. Keep gallons of fuel in the car for a stove. You may need it.

EDIT: Some people are pointing out this is in fact a well-populated area. If true, and I see no indication in the question it is, this is a lot safer than it appears at first glance. My primary fear would be getting stuck in a storm, and having a 6 year old basically eliminates walk-out in that scenario. But with lots of people around the chances of real help being available get much better.

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    Or, better yet, OP should get a babysitter instead? I've taken my child to Europe and that was stressful enough. – cbmeeks Nov 16 '16 at 21:17
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    I assert this does in fact provide an answer to the question, and covers an aspect not otherwise covered. – Joshua Nov 16 '16 at 22:18
  • @Joshua I agree on the part of being able to carry her back. I don't get the gallons of fuel: in a medical emergency get an ambulance otherwise turn on the heat in the car and drive to a warm place? This is not a remote area where you will get snowed in on a road quickly and without forewarning. All in all I think this is more appropriate as a comment due to (limited) information content. – imsodin Nov 17 '16 at 15:55
  • @imsodin: I erred in judging it was sufficiently remote that extra heating fuel could be vital. – Joshua Nov 17 '16 at 16:29
  • A bit late, but ... yes, not getting to the next doctor etc., because the road got blocked by snow recently, is a very real risk in such a place . And depending on the weather, a helicopter will be denied => no quick help. ... Still, without medical emergencies, waiting until getting out or walking to the other end of the blocked section (without freezing to death) shouldn't be a problem – deviantfan Jan 21 '17 at 4:59

protected by Rory Alsop Nov 18 '16 at 13:50

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