Chris, Kimmy, and Koa are happiest when they’re in the mountains. Chris Benchetler photo.
Last year Chris Benchetler and Kimmy Fasani embarked on one of their most exciting adventures yet: starting a family. It wasn’t a particularly easy task for two globe-trotting professional athletes committed to maintaining a lifestyle that’s immersed in the outdoors. But instead of viewing parenthood as a bookend to their adventures, the couple is embracing it as a new chapter. They’re still out in the mountains, but Koa, their little one, joins too. At the tender age of 13 months, Koa has already hopped a few continents and even scored fresh powder in Japan. Granted, he was hitching a ride with dad—but pow is pow. Even before taking his first steps, Koa has become a regular on the skin track, at the crag, at the beach, and the slopes. While this immersive parenting strategy is by no means easy, moments like Koa giggling when he’s flying down the mountain or wanting to be outside is an affirmation of all the hard work to make it happen.
In an age where kids are increasingly cooped up inside in front of screens (for an average of two hours a day—depending on the age), watching Koa’s journey alongside Chris and Kimmy is a reminder of what used to be a childhood norm—letting your kids roam outside. We caught up with Chris and Kimmy to learn more about how they’ve been able to make it happen and what advice they have for other parents looking to do the same.
I feel like there’s a perception that parents need to put their lives on hold to have kids. When I look at you two, I see the opposite happening. You’re bringing Koa with you skiing, snowboarding, climbing, etc. What’s your perspective on this?
CB: We’re just a bit psycho. It’s so much work and extra effort, and if I didn’t have a wife like Kimmy there’s no way I could pull it off. It comes down to simple things like breastfeeding and pumping in the backcountry that she was willing to put herself through.
Kids, you learn as a parent, need routines. Things like nap schedules are crucial for their happiness and brain development. With being in the mountains or on the move constantly it doesn’t really allow for it, so you make it exponentially harder on yourself by being out there. Regardless, we always promised ourselves that if we go down the road of having kids we would make the effort to keep living our life. It’s just less complicated without kids.
KF: For us, when I got pregnant, we really want to make sure that we had a child and integrate him into our lives—instead of totally adapting to his routine. I’m not going to lie—it’s not been easy to keep him adapted to our lifestyle. It’s way easier to have a routine at home and be comfortable with what you’re used to. But it’s also been really rewarding to look at what we did with him the first year of his life and to know that we went to five countries. There was so much that we got to do as a family even though it was a cloudy time because we were sleep deprived and trying to learn this whole new routine. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Do you think it’s worth the extra effort?
CB: The rewards you get from every little thing—even seeing them smile for the first time—far surpass anything I’ve ever done in sports. It’s a ton of work to go down this path of being outside, but it’s what makes us happy and it’s a life that we want to show him. Hopefully, he starts to appreciate it when he understands what he’s doing. He very well might hate it because we always want to be outside! We’ll see.
KF: It was definitely a change in lifestyle because we had to learn not just how to raise a child, but learn how to be ourselves in a totally new environment. It was way easier when he was little because he didn’t have an opinion, and now he’s only a year old but he definitely has opinions. He’s always been assertive and determined, but when he was under six months old—which is when we did a lot of traveling—those trips were pretty easy because he just did whatever we were doing and slept wherever we needed him to sleep. He was really adaptable. When he started crawling it got a little bit more challenging because he wasn’t sleeping as much and I was still breastfeeding with him.
Well, does Koa enjoy going skiing, snowboarding, and whatnot?
CB: Oh yeah. The first time I took him skiing he fell asleep immediately. We took him to New Zealand at five months old and I had in a baby carrier on my chest. He was still an infant at that stage, but he never cried or showed that he didn’t enjoy it—so we thought that we were doing the right thing.
By the time we went to Japan he was nine months old, and he was starting to laugh and giggle every time I went a little faster. Now that he’s a year old he basically is completely silent and looks really bored unless I go fast.
It takes a lot to make him giggle now. He’s also a happier child when we get him out and do stuff. I nordic ski a little bit to stay fit and I’ll tow him behind me in a Thule trailer. He seems to enjoy that. We’ll take him rock climbing and he enjoys that. So yeah, so far he’s going to be an outdoorsy little kid. But, like I said, it could change into wanting to build rocket ships or something.
KF: Yeah, his happy place for sure is outside. If he’s getting fussy it’s because he wants to be outside. He’s also a really good traveler, he knows when we’re packing up to go somewhere, and he kind of makes it a little bit easier on us. It’s like he knows that he’s going to do something fun or that he’s used to it by now.
No matter the sport,—rock climbing, surfing, skiing, or snowboarding—Chris and Kimmy want Koa to tag along and share their passion. Joni McGregor Francis Photo.
As far as balancing a kid with being a professional athlete—how do you do it?
CB: I’m lucky to have a lot of freedom with my sponsors, who support my vision and what I want to do. I can kind of make my own schedule and do what I need to do—but it also has its challenges.
Next month Kimmy has an obligation with Burton to go to the Arctic Circle for a snowboarding trip. So, I’m going just as “dad” and am going to be on a boat...in the Arctic...with a young toddler...that just learned how to walk. My job is going to be the hardest job I’ve ever done, but it’s worth it because it’s going to be so special. It sounds like we’re guaranteed to see polar bears, narwhals, and all this incredible wildlife. I never went on a plane until I was 16—let alone left the country—we’re ticking off things on our bucket list and the fact that we get to bring him along, especially since our sponsors let us travel as a family, makes it really special.
KF: I’ve been lucky to live in a place where it’s easy to get outside. It’s made it so I can get to the mountain, go hiking, or just be in nature—maybe not as frequently as I like—but it’s still accessible. As a professional snowboarder, this year was challenging. I was breastfeeding a lot and Koa refused to take a bottle, so it was really hard for me to balance my time away from him without feeling a lot of weight on my shoulders. And then I broke my wrist on top of that and had to have surgery—so that complicated things this season.
I think that’s been the biggest learning curve for me. I was so vocal about having my career not change, but having a child has definitely changed my ability to snowboard and enjoy the freedom that I used to. But it hasn’t changed my love for being on the mountain or being outside. Also, being able to share the experiences with Koa has really made it all worth it and I can see my independence coming back shortly. It’s already starting:I’ve weened down my feeds and Norway should be a chance where I get to 100% focus on my riding. In a way, I feel like I’m finding myself again.
You are your kid’s life source and the mountains require a lot of attention, not just time away but also focus to make sure that you’re making sound decisions and you can be focused and in the present moment. Having a little baby makes that much harder when you know he’s at home.
It seems like parenting is becoming more of a reality and norm for the action sports/outdoor industry. Would you agree?
CB: Totally. I think it’s people like Kimmy who fought for her position to stay as a professional athlete and a mother. There wasn’t a ton of fighting with sponsors because they were generally supportive—but we’re now understanding how hard it really is and why a lot of women choose to step away to be a mom. Being a mother is the most demanding full-time job you can have. Same with being a father, but it's so much easier for me. Like, I’ve had a couple of days alone, whereas Kimmy hasn’t slept a day away from our son—which is crazy. She fought to continue this path but I also think the industry wasn’t necessarily not supporting it—it’s just overall a ton of work for women. We’re realizing that now, and she still wants to continue this path. I think ultimately the industry is supporting it because more women are making an effort to stay in it.
KF: I feel like there have always been fathers that have shared their experiences of parenting, and there have been incredible mothers on the ski side as well. But on the snowboard side of things, it’s been very limited. A lot of women didn’t continue in this sport and even in skiing they take a hiatus or don’t talk about their family life publicly. I feel like it’s still on the rise and now with Julia Mancuso pregnant and being able to talk about it publicly, it’s going to give more women a chance to see that this is something we can do. Hopefully, it inspires more athletes to start a family while staying involved with a sport they love.
While traveling might not be easy with a little one, Kimmy and Chris have always found it to be rewarding at the end of the day. Chris Benchetler photo.
Were there any women that you looked up to while you were pregnant?
KF: 100%. Ingrid Backstrom. Even though she wasn’t talking about her pregnancy that much, I was very inspired by what she was able to do with her child and career. Serena Williams, she’s not in our sport per se, but watching her documentary was a big influence. In climbing, Beth Rodden was a huge inspiration. She was really communicative throughout my pregnancy and gave me a lot of advice which showed that it wasn’t going to be an easy road, but possible.
To be blunt, it’s really exciting to hear and see this as a young woman. I’m stoked for the younger generation because they’re going to grow up thinking it’s possible to be a mother and athlete.
KF: It’s so huge. I was growing up in snowboarding when women still lied about their age because it wasn’t accepted. Now being a woman and also older, I want the younger generation to see that these are all status quos you don’t have to buy into. You can forge your own path and it’s about being authentic and creative in your own way.
Koa’s reaction to Chris’ homecoming. Chris Benchetler photo.
For parents who really want to get their kids outside but are a bit hesitant or lack the experience, what advice would you have for them?
CB: I’d say my biggest advice is no matter how hard it is just to try and get yourself outside. It’s always going to be a ton of work, and you have to bring so much extra gear and do so much more than you would on a normal day—but every time we’re out there in that environment we’re always so refreshed and happy. Push through the difficulties—and it’s tough cause you’re so tired from not sleeping —but if you can put it aside and just try to get out for some fresh air you’ll always be happy that you did.
In terms of being nervous or scared, that’s valid. Kimmy’s a professional snowboarder and until recently she wasn’t really willing to snowboard with him. She’d let me ski with him because I’ve been skiing since I was two years old. So, just know your skills, know your limits, make educated decisions, and push through the exhaustion.
KF: My biggest advice: no matter where you live, let your kids explore their surroundings. For us, I love when Koa can recognize that birds are chirping or that planes are flying by. I think nature brings such a sense of calm and peace to all of us. When you watch a child play in the dirt and use their imagination, you watch a different type of learning happen. When you get them away from devices and televisions, it helps them stay connected to who they are as a developing human.
The best advice we ever got: travel. When I was still pregnant we were told to book your trip ahead of time so that you were committed to going. It was a lot, but it showed us that you can travel and not be held back by all the limits that society puts on you. It’s so worth it looking back.
Koa and Chris hanging out in Japan. Kimmy Fasani Photo.
What has raising Koa taught you personally?
CB: Patience for sure. Also to limit all your expectations, and selflessness. I mean, you’re completely on your child’s schedule. If you have these ambitions and they’re having a bad day, your kids come first—you know? You just have to be completely willing to change courses at all times. There’s an acceptance of that what will be, will be.
KF: Raising Koa has taught me a lot about being present. It’s really hard—especially with technology. I think the number one lesson is the importance of being able to see Koa learn, grow, and have so many milestones happen before your eyes. It taught me to be patient as well. There was so much this season that I wasn’t able to accomplish—which wasn’t a bad thing, but it reminded me that this kind of independence would come back someday. A year just flew by. At the time it seemed like it was taking forever, but now that it’s gone by I’m so grateful I was able to be there for all those moments with him. He’ll never be that little again.
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