Video: A Father-Daughter Trip of Discovery to Antarctica

“I love the skiing down the best, but I don’t love the skinning up,” says 11-year-old Lilliana Libecki about her recent sailing-skiing expedition with her dad, Mike, to the Antarctic Peninsula. It was Lilliana’s very first expedition with her father, a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Expeditions Council grantee, and veteran of 50-some remote expeditions. “I will never ever forget the skiing and icebergs and how curious and unafraid the penguins were,” Liliana says. “It was so marvelous.”

When Mike returned from Antarctica in 2008 with photos of skiing and snowboarding on the continent, Lilli, then five years old, was inspired. “Lilli loved that I was skiing down to penguins and talked about it continually as she got older—this dream really stuck with her,” Mike recalls.

“Finally when she was old enough, she started training for this goal in the backcountry and worked so hard to make this dream come true,” Mike says. “It was the best trip of my life, hands down, and my sixth time to Antarctica.”

Here Mike  tells us about adventuring into the extreme with his daughter, how they trained to get ready, and where they are headed next.

A: Mike, what was it like to have your most precious daughter in such an extreme environment?
Mike Libecki: It was the second best experience of my life. Of course the most special moment of my life is when she was born. The second best was this trip to Antarctica. But not just because we were in such a magical, powerful, beautiful place, but everything she did to get there. It was a refection of her life to that moment. My baby, little girl is 11 years old now. It was just incredible to be out there and see her growing up. I am so excited to see what passions she pursues.

A: Did Lilliana ever need help or coaxing through a hard part?
ML: Yes, of course. But these were not moments that were frightening or scary, nor was she scared. She was just aware, and asked questions about the crevasses, about what the dangers were, if we could ski off the glacier into the ocean. Her communication was impressive, and her natural curiosity was just awesome. She had fun, and was loving life!

A: How much training was involved to get ready?
ML: We trained a lot. Backcountry skiing was essential. We had to focus on all the education that goes along with going into the backcountry, including the equipment, avalanche beacons, and tools—and how to use it all. WE worked on communication, physical, and mental training as well. She is a competition soccer player, so that really helps her in many ways. We did a lot of hiking before leaving, including the Pfeifferhorn here in our backyard in the Wasatch in Utah. Since she has skied since two years old, her ski skills are great.

On top of the training, she wanted this, and that is huge. You have to want these kind of dreams to make them come true. I am so proud of her for how hard she worked and earned this. We just planned our next “expedition” to Africa…

A: How did you know when she was ready for the expedition?
I knew she was ready because she did everything she needed to do. She pursued her passion and did every single thing she needed to do. I am not only impressed and proud as her dad, but seriously, as human to human, I am blown away by what did to be ready and then succeed on this goal.

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Mike and Lilliana Libecki skin up a slope overlooking Paradise Bay and a colony of penguins on the Antarctica Peninsula; Photograph by Mike Schirf

A: How were the conditions for skiing in Antarctica?
ML: They were pretty much what I expected, varied conditions, but mostly really great skiing. We were able to make some sweet turns! A lot of wind, spindrift, some mellow days, but we really endured some real deal Antarctic conditions. A couple days, when out skiing, we had at least 65+ mph gusts, but probably much more up higher. It was pretty special to endure some real Antarctic weather with her.

A: Will there be another daddy-daughter expedition?
ML: Yes, Lilli has been to ten countries and five continents so far. She has a goal to get to all the continents before her 13th birthday. We are heading to Africa for a pretty wild adventure in June. We are also heading to Austria to ski this winter. Adventure with my daughter is the possible adventure I can imagine!