It may come as a surprise to Scouters in Montana and Wisconsin with their cold weather camping traditions, but for many Scouts in other areas, winter has become a camping holiday. Parents and Scout leaders in warmer climes point to the high cost of acquiring cold-weather clothing and the risks associated with driving boys to the mountains on snowy or wet roads. In addition, many don’t like hiking, cooking, and camping in bad weather – not to mention all the planning and safety issues to consider. For them, real camping in winter is just too much trouble.
To keep their program going when the weather is bad, some units organize outings in the city. Overnights in museums, park gazebos, rock climbing gyms, and fitness centers are possible; and, if they are lucky, the boys might even sleep in decommissioned battleships or submarines in some areas. Many Scout Camps are also open year round and they often have enclosed areas for sleeping and daytime activities. A few boys even organize winter campouts in the backyard of their Patrol Leader where they can easily evacuate to the living room if it starts to rain. And while all of these are great Scouting experiences, they do not always deliver the adventure of Scouting that is described in the Scout Handbook. Real Scouts spent at least part of every year dealing with real winter weather.
If your unit does not have a tradition of overnight camping in the snow, then it might be wise to start out with some winter day trips. They are usually less challenging than overnights and more accessible to participants with little cold weather experience. All you need for a day trip is an idea, a destination, and some leadership. (Plus a new Tour Plan.)
The majority of Scouts live within a day’s drive of a ski resort – so for most, there is no excuse for not organizing a one-day Troop ski or boarding outing. Sledding is also possible in many areas. Most resorts provide group discounts – some even offer snow sports merit badge programs. Just remember the safety issues. BSA now requires boys to wear helmets on the slopes and it’s a very good idea to make sure boarders are wearing wrist protection. Older Scouts can resist both helmets and wrist protectors, so you might have to make a big deal about it ahead of time.
However, a winter day-trip does not have to be about downhill skiing or boarding. Here are some other ideas to consider:
Snow Shoeing is possibly the fastest growing winter sport in America. Just strap the snow shoes over your boots and start walking away from the parking area. It delivers immediate gratification. Head down to your local REI or sporting goods store to rent some snow shoes. Then pack a lunch, put on your clothing layers, and head to any wilderness area with snow.
Cross Country skiing is not as exciting as its downhill relative, but it’s still pretty fun. It’s easy to learn for even the most uncoordinated boys and adults. Cross country skiing does not require expensive lift tickets, and will not usually result in scary falls while hurdling out of control down a blue diamond slope. Most cross-country resorts will rent skis at very reasonable prices.
Igloo Building is not easy, but a group of Scouts can certainly put together a credible structure in an afternoon. This gives everyone a taste of what snow camping is all about and proves that they can actually create a safe place to spend the night no matter how cold it gets. (Note: it is a bummer to spend all afternoon building a structure, only to tear it down without sleeping in it.)
Photography takes on a whole new aspect in a snow covered environment. Find a counselor and work on the merit badge or pass out disposable cameras for a photo scavenger hunt. Then post the pictures on the Troop website.
Snow Sculpture Contests can be organized in a number of ways. Picture an entire army of snow men in a field, each built by individual Scouts hoping to win a grand prize. Larger Patrol sculptures could be built and judged around a theme (animals or Scout Leaders are examples) or judge them on originality, height, sex appeal, or difficulty. Make sure you plan ahead and bring the right tools and decorations to finish your masterpieces.
Overnight outings are more difficult to organize and execute, but they are usually worth the trouble. With this in mind, many Districts organize Klondike Derbies or winter Camporees. Most Klondike Derbies welcome visitors from other areas so find one in your state and participate. (Google Klondike and you will find that there are an astonishing 790,000 results from which to choose).
Older Scouts need to be challenged, summer or winter. That means helping them find exciting activities and convincing trained adults to participate – not always an easy task. However, if you don’t keep them engaged in January and February, your Venture Crew might not be around when the weather finally does improve.