Winter Staff Training with Cottonwood! Written by Teagan Papke. Check out our photos here!
What does a winter staff training at Cottonwood Institute entail? A snow-stomping hoedown (or… “snowdown”); a beloved quinzhee named Quinn; lunch with hot cocoa and donuts; snowshoes and sunshine; laughter; teamwork; reflection; sharing; and a ski-in guest star appearance from Paul Dreyer, CEO of Avid4 Adventure.
In late January, Cottonwood staff, instructors, and Changemaker assistant instructors headed out to Caribou Ranch to bond and refine our outdoor winter skills. We started the day by learning about environmental risk mitigation, safety protocols in winter conditions, and how to appropriately gear up with snowshoes and packed sleds. We had a beautiful snowshoe hike, during which we stopped to practice animal tracking skills and identify hiking etiquette for various types of winter trail-goers, skiers and snowshoers alike.
Once out in nature, we got to work learning about quinzhees, which are a type of First Nations Canadian snow shelter. This activity was packed with lessons about teamwork, leadership, survival, land acknowledgments, snow science, safety, appropriate and smart layering, and safe tool-use. There is so much rich learning to find, both implicitly and explicitly, in the collaboration that is required to build a quinzhee! We even found a fun and creative way to stomp down the snow in order to make a flat base by dancing together in a line-dance style hoedown…which we may very well need to coin a “snowdown!” Once we had created this strong platform on which to build our shelter, we worked together to shovel the snow into a proper quinzhee shape. We patted down our snow hill, admiringly named it ‘Quinn the Great,’ and set off to re energize with some delicious lunch while we waited for the snow pile to sinter (compress).
Lunch was beautiful as Colorado delivered a perfect “bluebird day” with sunny, blue skis. Our instructors experimented with the best approaches to layering and utilizing extra, dry clothing and we chatted and got to know one another better over sandwiches, hot tea and hot chocolate, snacks, and donuts!
After lunch, we returned to the quinzhee to begin the digging out phase. We started shoveling an entry tunnel and excavating the chamber, while simultaneously learning tidbits about snow science. We were hard at work when none other than Paul Dreyer, CEO of Avid4 Adventure, came passing by on skis. He spent time with us discussing the importance of intentional debriefing, guiding us through debrief strategies, and helping us practice meaningful reflection activities as an essential component of Experiential Learning Theory.
We wrapped up our day by deconstructing our quinzhee and holding a closing circle as a team after our snowshoe trek back to the trailhead. Through teamwork and shared learning, we were bonded and more knowledgeable at the end of the day, satisfied from a day well-spent in nature, and already looking forward to the next information-packed and FUN staff training!