As the wind whips through the trees, a group of energetic people excitedly emerge from a van. Dressed to the nines in their outdoor gear, they eagerly unpack the van, load up the sled, and take off into the whirling whiteness of the Colorado mountains. Everyone ready for a day of fun and making connections!
Cottonwood Institute (CI) is the real deal when it comes to offering their instructors winter training time. Who needs a classroom when you have Mother Nature right in your backyard? And if the students are expected to play and learn in the snow, then the instructors should, too.
Nestled just outside of Boulder, Caribou Ranch Open Space Park was the perfect winter playground to not only hike and build winter shelters, but it also offered a great space to play games involving nature awareness, confidence, and problem solving skills, to name just a few.
Snow brings out the kid in everyone, especially CI board members, Chris and Tina. Coming along to experience a CI winter course, they were not only great students, but exuberant about playing in the snow. Flying through the air trying to capture an opponent in a heated game of knee tag (you’ll have to ask him about it), Chris made an unplanned snow angel while falling face first into the snow. Laughter immediately filled the still, crisp air, but then it was time to get down to business.
CI winter courses involve a lot of fun and games, but they also involve a lot of risk management, both on instructor levels, as well as students. So, while sipping on some hot tea, we took time to discuss the many risk factors and ways to manage the issues that always seem to tag along with the snow and the cold.
Two of the greatest takeaways from the 2019 CI winter training (besides the fun and games, of course) was being able to recognize different types of fun and understanding the three zones of self. Intrigued?
Simple. There are two types of fun: type one and type two. Type one is in-the-moment-fun. It’s full of laughter, smiles, joy, and contentment all in that moment. It’s the easiest to recognize. Type two, which helps build on expedition behavior (being prepared for a variety of scenarios whether you are a student or an instructor), is after-the-fact-fun. You know; those moments where you slipped in the mud, fell face first, froze your toes because you were too lazy to change into warm socks, fell in the mud again because Mother Nature decided to give you sleet all day instead of sunshine. But, later in the van on the ride home after the trip, toes finally warm, you can laugh about falling in the mud and realize what a wonderful time you had with your friends even though your toes were cold the entire trip. And, oh you learned so much about your strength and now are no longer worried about the test coming up next week. That’s type two fun, a bit harder to recognize as fun, but oh the stories you get to tell from type two fun!
The other huge takeaway was being able to identify the three zones of self: comfort, challenge, and panic. When students and instructors understand where they lie within these zones, it’s easier to push out of the comfort zone into the challenge zone (expanding their knowledge), actually widening the circle and creating a smaller and smaller panic zone. This in turn gets
them comfortable with being uncomfortable, widening their perspective as well as their strengths. Students are expected to challenge themselves academically, but at CI, they are also encouraged to challenge themselves physically and mentally.
Instructor training is more than just about building outdoor skills, it’s about building connections. And CI instructors, while extensively skilled in outdoor skills, are actually more skilled in their abilities with these connections. Connections with their students, co-instructors, the beauty of the outdoors, and the beauty of humanity.
And as the day waned, the sun broke through the whirling white beauty of the snow, reminding this group of energetic adults that there’s always beauty and space to learn no matter how busy life gets or how crazy the wind blows.
Beautifully written by CI Instructor April Pishna
Check out more photos of the fun here!