Snow camping is the most unforgettable of all outings. Scouts carry a pack into the backcountry on huge snow shoes. They spend the entire day digging a snow cave big enough for their sleeping bags. Then they cook and eat in an icy kitchen area and if they are lucky, there is a full moon so everyone can take a hike after dinner and experience the eerie sights and absolute silence of a winter’s night in the mountains. It is the hardest outing of the year. However, the difficulty and the anticipation, not to mention the otherworldliness of camping in a wintery wilderness, also make it the most memorable. For many Scouts, their first night spent in a snow cave is a defining moment – and the tipping point between boyhood and manliness.
That’s why it is so distressing to think that snow camping for local Scouts may soon be a thing of the past.
This week at Roundtable there was a training session about winter camping. The goal was to provide an easy first step for Troops who were thinking about camping in the snow and needed help getting started. About 20 leaders showed up and the interaction was good. The majority of attendees had a lot of experience with winter camping, and the few neophytes in the room got a ton of information and insights into planning and executing a safe and fun winter outing. Everything was great, until we got to the Q&A at the end and a hand went up in the back.
A veteran Scouter and experienced snow camper asked, “I was just wondering how other units handled adult recruitment,” he started. “Seems like we have been having a harder and harder time getting adults to go snow camping with us. And of course, if we don’t have enough adults to drive and help mentor the Scouts, we can’t go.” This remark set off a chain reaction of comments among the experienced leaders in the room, who all admitted they were having the same problem. One unit had cancelled their snow camping outing last year because there weren’t enough trained adults. Another said they had to beg Troop alumni to come back and camp with them, even offering bribes like restaurant gift certificates and money for gasoline. A third acknowledged that they had 20 boys ready to go this year, but only two adults and they didn’t know how they were going to handle it safely.
It’s a much discussed problem. As older, experienced outdoor leaders move on or get pushed out of Scouting, they need to be replaced. However, younger men in the program are less interested in high adventure activities that require expensive equipment, time consuming training and conditioning, risk management skills, and personal deprivation. So, as Troops cancel their snow camping outings for lack of trained leaders, the younger Scouts are unable to repeat the most exciting and empowering adventures of their older brothers. This is a growing problem.
Is there a solution? Possibly. What do you think? Can we continue to enable young men to experience the sights and sounds of a winter morning after crawling out of their snow cave – or is it OK to replace high adventure outings like snow camping with easier activities like car camping in Yosemite.
Please leave a comment and, especially, a suggestion of how to address this issue.
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