Families stretch their physical limits on multisport vacations

At 5 p.m., the van pulls up to the century-old Old Faithful Inn, a sprawling log structure almost in spitting distance of Yellowstone's most famous geyser. After a dinner that includes bison and huckleberry ice cream, the multisporters walk around the sulfurous geysers, ending among the crowd watching impressive spurts from Old Faithful. By nightfall, muscles aching, most are ready to turn in.

Day 2 dawns with a forest fire burning in the distance — a common occurrence, but alarming to city slickers. Another Western vista comes into view, too, as the van revs up: huge, woolly bison, snorting and grunting as they cross the road, seemingly oblivious to the shutter-clicking and traffic jams they're causing.

Later, Bill and Sherry lead a hike through alpine-like meadows toward the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, smaller than the one in Arizona but impressive. "Black-bear scat" (droppings), Bill announces as he points to the ground. Everyone nervously gathers. He picks up a brown piece and takes a bite. "Ewwww," the group choruses.

Works every time, he says with a chuckle. It's a planted chocolate power bar.

Later it's time to be "sagebrushers," in old-time Yellowstone lingo. That means campers, and this is the part that Betsy and sister Meg Walker have been dreading. They customized the trip — usually three nights under the stars — to excise one campground night in favor of an extra evening at a resort. Lots of moms "don't really want to camp, but they want to give their kids the experience," Bill says.

The experience — learning to pitch a tent, washing up at a cold-water sink in a campground restroom, sitting around a fire eating burgers and s'mores and playing games — delights the kids. Their laughter punctuates the after-bedtime silence. Some adults like sleeping on the ground; others doze fitfully and can't wait for a hotel.

But first is another hiking day — this one to 10,000-foot Avalanche Peak. A lung-searing 21/2-mile trek to the narrow-ridged summit in winds strong enough to blow over a young child rewards multisporters with 360-degree views.

Anna Kudej, 14, pulls out her phone. A friend texted, asking, " 'How is the West?,' " she reports. "I think I'll text her back when I'm on top."

At the summit, all stop for photo ops, with all included. "We all are family on this trip," Rob says. Strenuous exercise and long van rides are bonding. (Note: Such togetherness trips are not for those who value quiet, independence and personal space.)

On the way down, kids and adults celebrate by forming a human toboggan on a big patch of snow. "Does this count as another sport?" Rob says.

Back at the van, the kids are asked if they're enjoying the trip. "Yeahhhhh!" they chorus.

"They don't want to have to think (about daily plans)," Bill says of his clients. "They just want to be on vacation and have a good time."

Times get better for the moms on Day 4 — a free day during which they horseback ride with some of the kids and check in early at the Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, with pool and huge jetted hot tub. Others hike again or kayak on Jenny Lake.

"I enjoyed the camping. Every part but sleeping. I counted the minutes until we got to the hotel," auburn-haired Meg says.

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