Emerald Connection, January 30th, 2024

By: Doug Davis

Winter Skills is always a test, but not in the sense you might think. When I first started at SMS, students felt obliged to share the hype of this treasured tradition often and early. By the all-school camp trip in August, I had learned of their cold weather fortitude, fire-starting abilities, and enduring isolation in the backcountry. Now, with the hindsight of plenty of Winter Skills trips behind me, I’ve borne witness to all these skills developed and executed over the years. Despite the importance of building backcountry safety and acumen in our middle schoolers, I feel it misses the full value of the trip, in my opinion. What I’ve come to cherish most about the trip is the coalescing of each unique team of students and how it always seems to push them to consider how they want their legacy at the Emerald Campus to be remembered.

This year, the 8th-grade trip took on a new challenge–a 2.5-mile ski/snowshoe traverse to the High Lonesome Hut, a 10th Mountain Division Hut along the Continental Divide near Fraser, Colorado. Students traveled under their power, carrying their gear as well as all group gear to an off-grid hut around 9,000 feet in the backcountry. For some, the travel to the hut was the longest skin or snowshoe they had ever done.

Watching students navigate touring skins, pull sleds, evaluate the variable terrain, and snowy conditions felt very much like Winter Skills success. I feel confident that even if the backcountry is not their preferred destination, all students will feel prepared to ask questions, observe terrain for safe travel, carry the appropriate gear, and look out for one another. The hidden skills that were also very apparent to me were the positive group dynamic and the unique contributions of every member of the team.

Maybe it is best expressed in some “shout-outs”. Post-dinner, we developed a new game dubbed, “Positive Vibes Spoons.” A normal game of spoons, with a positive twist–the one without a spoon instead shares something they enjoy about each of their peers/competitors. This started slow but eventually found its footing with skeptical middle schoolers. It was a great metaphor for their development over the years and how they have learned to be vulnerable, open, and honest with themselves and each other.

So, in the same spirit, I offer my “positive vibes.” I am proud of the team’s technical accomplishments as well as their commitment to each other and to finding joy in all the small stuff. And as individuals, I am equally proud. Bee, carrying the group sled up the last hill was impressive. Hadley, your upbeat attitude made everyone better. Chef Grace, your quesadillas were fire. Bella, your willingness to always offer a hand, in the kitchen, on the trail, and back at campus was so appreciated. Tryg, your calm demeanor eased tensions and anxieties. Xav, your panda onesie dances lit up the hut. Mitchell, your humor opened everyone up. Soren, you put the team first by pulling gear and watching out for people that were struggling. Henry, you kept the fire going all night so we all could sleep comfortably during the night. Megan, you inspired us to push hard on the trail. Chloe, you found fun in all the quirks of the hut by scaring us with fake snakes and old dog toys. Annika, despite your absence, your spirit inspired impromptu sing-a-thons and lots of dancing!

And to Kristi, my colleague and partner in this adventure, thank you for taking on your first Winter Skills with gusto and joy. It was a blast.

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