During the first two Fridays in February, a Grand County School District vehicle loaded with seven eager fourth, fifth and sixth grade novice skiers made its way 12 miles up the La Sal Mountain Loop Road, turning at Geyser Pass and powering through the mud and slush, before the rugged road transformed to the snow-packed Geyser Pass winter parking lot.
The seven members of the Grand County Middle School BEACON (Building Essential Assets through Community and Outreach Networking) winter survival club went up on the mountain to learn what it takes to survive in the wilderness — all while having fun.
Team leader Sandy White followed in her own Toyota pickup truck, packed with cross-country ski gear and extra clothing.
White said her favorite part of leading the club has been going up the mountain.
“Some kids have never been up there in the winter,” she said.
After arriving on the mountain, White laid out a tarp and the excited kids began to dress in layers and find the correct size of boots, poles and skis.
“Can I throw a snowball?” asked one student. “We aren’t allowed to at school.”
Walking into the deep snow, the kids learned how to clean off their boots, while balancing on one leg in the snow, before clicking into the bindings.
And off they went ... and then they fell.
White says the hardest lesson was learning how to get back up. Kids were laid out with skis twisted in awkward positions, struggling and slipping and falling and learning.
“Line your skis up,” White said. “Put your poles to the side to help lift you.”
White had them gather in a circle to give the ski lesson: Keep your hands in the pole straps so as not to lose them, she said, and then showed several methods to climb a hill by duck-footing or sidestepping, and how to pizza wedge down the slope.
The students were careful not to stick too close to one another as they zipped around a freshly-groomed track. After they built up confidence they were able to venture farther up the groomed trail to the first big hill.
“I’m doing it!” yelled a sixth-grader as he came speeding down the mountain, speaking a moment too soon before wiping out. Quickly returning upright, and with a big smile he asked, “Can I keep going?”
After an hour and a half of skiing, the students returned to the vehicles for hot chocolate, snacks and to help put away the gear.
In addition to the ski segment of the winter survival club, students learned about avalanche safety, being prepared with beacons and shovels and knowing how to spot areas with the highest avalanche danger. They learned the importance of waterproof layers and how to prepare a survival pack in case they become stranded. Students built dog sleds on skis with decorated cardboard boxes. They also learned about dog mushing and the Iditarod sled race in Alaska.
The cross-country ski experience will continue with the BEACON program at GCMS for two more Fridays in February, program manager Kaitlin Thomas said.
BEACON serves 650 students and their families each year at three school sites. Rim Cyclery and Moab Gear Trader donated all the ski equipment for the club.
“It is a great program,” said Rim Cyclery General Manager Kelby Groff. “I love supporting our locals.”