By Ian McDermod
This past January, 12 students, 3 instructors, and myself braved the harsh winter alpine environment in APU’s Intro to Winter Wilderness Skills block course. We were engaged with ski touring, avalanche awareness, safe travel procedures, snow science, cold weather physiology, and effective winter camping skills. On top of these skills, we would spend nearly 16 days and 13 nights in the field. Not only did this open a door into student’s snow science and winter travel world, but it also gave us an experience like no other.
Throughout this course I saw the active learning component of APU come alive within my fellow students. We would all pitch in to build camps, sculpt kitchens out of snow, and cook nutritious meals in below freezing temperatures. We would all group up when touring and discuss our opinions on routes to take, slope angles, and the potential avalanche dangers that the mountains would present before us. We would dig snow pits together, cheer each other on in avalanche beacon scenarios, and finally come together at the end of the night for an evening meeting—where we would share news, stories, schoolwork, and laughs.
The dynamics and teamwork within the class was the strongest I’ve ever seen in a large group of 16 individuals. Even when I felt a sore throat from a cold virus, or the winds were blowing at almost 40mph when trying to set up a tent, I felt a fire in my eyes to push on. This fire was lit by the positive energy and morale brought on by everyone in the group. Everyone was pushed past their own self doubts to succeed, and that is truly an amazing thing to witness in such a highly demanding course. Just like myself, I know that everyone walked away with a unique an amazing experience. I know for me personally that I will never look at snow and the cold weather the same way again without thinking of the knowledge and experience I gained from Winter Wilderness.