This is the first in a two-part series about risk. Here, I reflect on our family history and the link between risk and adventure. Later, I’ll discuss risk management and how I justify exposing my children to risk.

Risk is a tricky thing. It’s embedded in everything we do, some things more than others of course, and it makes each choice we make a gamble. I think a lot about risk and risk management because I am an adventurer and I want my kids to be adventurers too. Adventure takes risk. Adventure takes bravery. Sometimes adventure takes all. 

Memories of Karin from a box in my attic.

Memories of Karin from a box in my attic.

Growing up, I found a kindred spirit in my Aunt Karin. She was a larger than life adventurer who sent postcards detailing her journeys up mountains and over glaciers. She built a wooden sailboat in her backyard. She gave me my first rock climbing harness. She took me on my first backpacking trip.

And when I was twelve, she died in an avalanche while cross country skiing not far from where she lived. It was 21 years ago today.

Just like that, one moment she was enjoying a wildly beautiful place and the next she wasn’t there anymore. She wasn’t anywhere. She was gone.

It was easy to wish she’d never gone skiing that day. We all wished she hadn’t. Skiing, especially in the back country, is a risk. We cried and swore and cursed the weather and the ski trip and her choice to get up and go that morning. It was so easy to hate that day and that trip. It was a tragedy in the non-cliche, purest sense of the word.

So why take that risk? 

She took it because my Aunt Karin was an adventurer. Though no one saw this particular accident coming, it didn’t come completely out of the blue. For adventure is inherently risky. Without risk there would be no adventure. So it was as though this could have happened any day on any adventure. It could have been any skiing trip. And if it wasn’t a skiing trip, it could have been rock climbing or hiking or sailing or just crossing the street at the wrong moment. There is risk in everything we do, even just getting out of bed.

It is hard to remember through a lens so tinted by grief, but to wish that she hadn’t gone skiing that day was to wish that she hadn’t gone skiing any day. Because something could have happened any day. There is risk in everything we do, especially adventure. 

To wish that she’d never gone skiing was to wish that she’d never pursued adventure. It was to wish that she led a different life and was a different person.

Was that what we wanted? Would she have wanted that?

Of course I can’t say one way or the other. Of course I wish there were no accident and there was no tragedy. I wish she were still here to spin yarns around a campfire. I wish I could send her links to my blog and share the pictures of the boys’ first winter camping experience. She would be so stoked about the adventures my boys are having. She would bring them on some of her own.

So yes, I wish that on that one day, she hadn’t gone skiing.

But I would never, not for a single second, wish that she was not the adventurer who inspired me. I think if she’d known that it would all end the way it did, I think she would have still chosen that life. I don’t mean that she was selfish or reckless (though I suppose she could have been; I don’t know, I was only twelve.) What I mean is that the life she lived was one of passion for the adventures that fueled her soul, an outlet of sorts that couldn’t be found elsewhere. 

Without adventure, without risk, she simply wouldn’t have been her. And would we have wanted anybody else?

Karin, my brother, and me taking a lunch break on a backpacking trip in the Rockies.

Karin, my brother, and me taking a lunch break on a backpacking trip in the Rockies.