What is the hardest part of a winter expedition? Climbing out of your cozy, warm sleeping bag to face the early morning frost. The best part? It’s all downhill from there. Literally.
When I talked to Chris, Instructor of the Colorado Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding course, he told me that one of his favorite things to do is unzip his tent and see a new layer of fresh snow blanketing the ground. “The winter for me is a place of wonderful extremes in which I have always found peace and quiet in the snow covered mountains.”
To get a better idea of the ins and outs of the Colorado Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding course, I contacted Chris, as well as Ty, who are both seasoned winter Instructors for Outward Bound’s skiing and snowboarding expeditions in the Colorado Rockies. Both are passionate, powder-hungry skiers and snowboarders who have instructed many winter courses in Colorado. They return again and again to watch their students grow and thrive in the snowy backcountry.
The Course Lowdown
There are many Outward Bound courses that involve snow, but there is no other course that devotes more time to skiing and riding than the Colorado Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding expedition. This 8-day course is packed full of winter camping, ski and snowboard instruction, and avalanche awareness clinics.
It begins like all courses with gear issuing, introductions and an orientation to winter camping. Students then get to carve their first lines at a local resort before heading out to the backcountry where they travel to a basecamp carrying backpacks and gear sleds. Here is where they learn about avalanche awareness and practice rescue skills. The remaining days are spent touring the Sawatch snowy wonderlands.
When I asked Ty why he comes back each year to instruct this course, he responded, “Along with Outdoor Education, my other great passion lies in backcountry skiing. I feel that there are few other venues wherein the consequences of not taking care of yourself and other teammates are more apparent. Along with an exceptional avenue in which to deliver the Outward Bound curriculum, there is nothing more fun than skiing fresh powder.”
What makes a winter course different than a summer course?
“Winter courses are very different than your average summer course,” Chris said. “…the days are shorter, and you may spend 10 to 12 hours in your sleeping bag with early bedtimes and late wake-ups. In addition to interpersonal skills, the technical skills focus is to practice backcountry skiing skills, familiarize yourself with avalanche education and have fun skiing powder.”
Chris noted that winter camping is an entirely different lifestyle than we’re used to. “When you get down to it, living in a winter environment is more about surviving then anything else. It allows you to eliminate the unnecessary thoughts and worries and focus on staying warm, staying dry and more importantly shredding pow (light, dry, fluffy snow). A winter course is special because you boil down your days to these handful of activities.”
What is it like to ski and snowboard in the backcountry?
Skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry is an incredibly unique experience because you get to feel what it’s like to ride untouched snow in areas where not many people go. Plus, the Colorado Rockies is a breathtaking area to spend eight days exploring. Chris adds that one of his favorite things about instructing this course is watching students who have never skied powder before get a taste of what it’s like. “As an East Coast transplant, I understand the pain of skiing ice.”
What’s the best part of camping in snow?
“You can finally create your own dream kitchen,” says Ty.
He’s alluding to the endless fun of creating snow structures at basecamp. Chris and Ty both agree that the best part of camping in snow is getting to build the coolest living arrangements. “Benches, tables, cabinets – if you can imagine it, you can make it out of snow,” Chris noted.
What’s your favorite story with students on a winter course?
Ty’s favorite moment with students was on a course during New Year’s Eve. They celebrated the new year with LED lights and glow sticks just before bed. “We all had a New Year wish for fresh snow to ski the next day… Mother Nature obliged and we ended up skiing a foot of fresh [powder] the next day.”
What do students take away from this winter course?
“What I see students taking away from these winter courses is a new found layer to what they can achieve,” says Chris. “It’s fairly common to hear: ‘That was the most difficult and fun thing I have ever done,’ and, ‘anything is easy now compared to that.’ Students find a strength within themselves that they never knew they had. For folks who truly seek out memorable experiences and challenging situations, who like to test themselves and see what they’re really made of, a winter course is the one for you.”
What would you tell someone who’s thinking about going on a winter course but isn’t sure?
“Do it” says Ty. “It will prove to you how strong and tough you are, and you will likely never ski in the backcountry in a more beautiful location. I believe life is all about embracing challenges and new experiences. I have found few experiences that are as challenging and simultaneously rewarding as a winter Outward Bound course. Also, you will get to drink as much hot cocoa as you could ever dream of.”
So, there you have it…
There are plenty of reasons to stay home, celebrate the holidays and be comfortable in a familiar place, but when you make that decision to go on an Outward Bound course, you choose to say yes to an adventure that will no doubt change your life. That’s why Chris and Ty come back year after year as Instructors. This winter is an opportunity to shake-up your routines and do something you never thought you would.
So what are you waiting for? There are going to be triumphs, moments of adrenaline, stunning alpine views, great stories to tell and of course, many challenges. But the biggest challenge of all is making the choice to come on this trip. Worth it? You bet.
About the Author
Eva Johnson has worked at the Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS) for two years as a Field Intern and Logistics Coordinator. She’s a Colorado native and if she’s not in Leadville working at COBS, she’s probably adventuring in South America, surfing on the rugged Oregon coast or teaching kids to climb rocks.
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