Big Mountains and Lots of Learning
Kids are by nature curious; they learn by touch, trial and error. The mountains rouse that same innate curiosity – enticing untracked snow beyond a rope line, or expanses of fresh snow in backcountry areas void of obvious warnings. Snowy mountains are meant to be explored, and the knowledge of how to venture safely can go a long way.
For the second year in a row I had the privilege of guest-coaching Snowbird’s Big Mountain Kids Camp. We had repeat campers and first timers, locals and out-of-towners, but more importantly, we had the luck of a few feet of fresh snow and a group that couldn’t be more excited to ski it.
We started out with a full day of freeskiing to break the ice, and met with the Snowbird Ski Patrol to learn about their avalanche control work. The kids even had the opportunity to meet Marty the Avalanche Dog and watch her complete a search for a “buried” person. This introduction sparked questions and discussion about what causes avalanches, why they are so dangerous, and what signs to look for.
Our second day of camp got an early start when we were treated to a couple of early trams before the lifts opened to the public at 9am. The main runs were freshly groomed and empty just for us. As we skied down we saw and heard the ski patrol running their early morning avalanche control routes, and even watched some charges go off from a distance.
The rest of our morning was spent catching air. The campers voted on wanting to practice jumping, so as we charged around Snowbird we jumped off of any safe jump we could find. It’s great to see what a group can do together. While some were hesitant at first, by the end of the morning everyone was jumping without thinking twice and they had a blast doing it.
In the afternoon we got down to the nitty gritty of some basic snow science and how to use our beacons. We ventured over to the Snowbird beacon park and broke into groups to learn about searching with beacons, how to shovel and probe, and what we can learn from digging snow pits. While in the beacon park, Hellgate, a well known slide path across the road, slid in full view of our group and couldn’t have been timed more perfectly. The campers saw a slide in action, which perfectly illustrated our conversations about avalanches and snow safety.
For our third and final day of camp we spent the whole day skiing. No serious lessons, just simply skiing anything and everything, and pushing our comfort zones beyond where we would normally ski. From trees, to bumps, to more exposed areas, we took advantage of all that Snowbird had to offer.
I grew up skiing on family vacations, and it’s amazing what you can learn in a few focused days on snow. This wasn’t an avalanche course, and I’m not an avalanche instructor, but I hope that this camp piqued these kids’ interest in learning more about snow safety in the future. There are so many amazing places to ski, both in and out of bounds, and when the time comes to venture out, that extra knowledge can make a huge difference.