We’re living in a high-tech, connected world. And our children are suffering for it.
This year professional skier, fimmaker and father Mike Douglas joined with Whistler Blackcomb to produce The Big Picture, a series of videos aimed at sparking discussion about the issues affecting us as outdoor enthusiasts—from ski resorts and the environment, to backcountry safety, to youth participation. We sat down with Mike to get his take on the challenges of raising kids in the digital age, and how to overcome them.
This is a bit of a departure from what we’re used to seeing from you. How has this experience been?
It’s probably a bit of a departure in terms of content, but for me personally, these are issues I think about all the time. For me to dive into this project on a personal level was actually a really good fit and something I was very excited about. One of the goals of this whole Whistler Blackcomb campaign was just to get discussion going. As a group when we got into these in regards to these videos, we had just looked back at the past 50 years, so we wanted to look forward at the challenges we’re facing.
“It’s almost a default for them; any chance they get they fire up a device.”
The topic of getting children outside, unless you’re a parent, isn’t always on the forefront of a skier’s mind.
Well, it’s in my face every day. The kids in the video are my kids, and I got those shots of my kids [using digital devices] so easily. It’s almost a default for them; any chance they get they fire up a device. Especially here on the West Coast, the weather isn’t always super friendly and inviting to go outside, and any parent will tell you, it is an effort to get your kids out the door on a Saturday morning when they just want to sleep in or watch cartoons and play video games.
Even as an outdoor athlete?
A lot of people think of me as a pro skier who’s out there every day just getting after it, but the reality is most of the time I’m running a production company and I sit at a desk almost as much as anyone. I mean I try to force myself to get every day at some point, but I find my kids giving me trouble all the time, saying, “Dad, you’re always on your phone, you’re always on your computer.” And it’s true. So for me, it’s trying to find that balance between using technology effectively and not letting it take over my life.
Is there a trickle down effect from children learning by watching a parent’s connected habits?
Oh for sure, it’s cheap thrills right? Do I need to check Instagram every half hour? No, but I do, because it’s there. I find myself having to put limits on it. But the funny thing is, when you’re out in the mountains, or just doing something outside in general, you’re in that moment and the phone really becomes the furthest thing from your mind. And that’s really a beautiful thing. It shows that that is so fulfilling in itself, that you don’t need all this stuff and that digital world just slips away. And I think the world needs more of that.
“When you’re out in the mountains, or just doing something outside in general, you’re in that moment and the phone really becomes the furthest thing from your mind. And that’s really a beautiful thing.”
What are the biggest challenges to getting kids active outside?
Well, when I was a kid, and anyone over the age of 30 can relate, if you didn’t go outside, you were just bored. Skiing was something you did, because you had to do something—it gave you something to do, and a way to have fun. But nowadays, you don’t have to go outside to entertain yourself. My kids on a rainy day would quite happily stay inside all day and play video games or surf the Internet. They don’t get pent up and need to get out and go. They love it when they get out there; it just takes more effort to get them there. But in my opinion it’s an effort worth making.
Is it an overall issue with all outdoor recreation, or are we seeing snowsports take a particular hit in terms of participation?
I think it’s just overall. Outdoor sport and recreation is challenged by technology. But we’re also learning ways to use technology to help stimulate outdoor activity. There are some good examples of that, like the Whistler Blackcomb Plus App last year, which basically tracks how much skiing you’ve done, where you ski, how much vertical. When it first launched, I was kind of skeptical, like, “Does anyone really care?” But a month or two into it, I was like, “Oh my God, a lot of people really care.” It’s making people go out on a rainy day to get their vertical numbers up, and there’s all these badges and people got so into it. It really blew me a way.
“Outdoor sport and recreation is challenged by technology. But we’re also learning ways to use technology to help stimulate outdoor activity.”
If you can’t beat ’em join ’em.
Exactly. It’s not going to go away. We’re not going to have this revolution that makes us rebel against technology. So we have to be smart about how we integrate it in our lives in a healthy way. You can’t just take away these devices from your children, because you want them to be able to function in the real world.
Do outdoor brands also share some responsibility?
I think it’s on everybody. Resorts are responsible, outdoor gear brands are responsible, parents are responsible. It’s just part of healthy living. The hardest thing as a parent is you’re working a 40-plus hour workweek and you’re trying to run your home life and dealing with your kids. And you’re tired. I think that’s the hardest thing as a parent is you’re tired, and it and it becomes easier to let them play that video game. But we all have a responsibility, and moving forward, in order to have a healthy planet, it’s not only up to individuals to make change. It’s also up to governments and corporations. I think corporations overall are just way too focused on bottom line and share price, and I think they should be valuing capital in the happiness and overall health in the people they’re touching.
“I think it’s on everybody. Resorts are responsible, outdoor gear brands are responsible, parents are responsible.”
As a pro skier and a father, what are some of the things that you do, or would suggest other parents do to get their kids outside?
The most effective thing that I’ve found as a parent is to put time limits on digital activity. We try to limit our kids to an hour a day, where they can play on any device. So that’s a pretty simple thing. And I find myself having to do the same thing, only checking my emails every couple of hours. I try to put those limitations on myself as well, like work until 2 o’clock, then go for a bike ride. It’s leading by example. I find you have to build yourself a schedule, because there’s something else that always comes up. You’ve got to make time for recreation. Another thing is Whistler Blackcomb kids programs. You can be in the Race Club, or the Freeride Club or the Snowboard Club. There are all these programs that operate here that are actually quite reasonably priced. Our kids are in them and they love it.
And that also builds that social base around outdoor activities.
Absolutely, and Whistler’s a great community for that. Between the kids and their own drive and the parents being part of a very outdoor-minded community, I think we do a great job at getting kids involved out on the mountain.
For more information on The Big Picture: https://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/pwdr-stash/features/the-big-picture
For more on Whistler Blackcomb’s Youth Programs: https://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/snow-school/kids-club-programs