Winter Sections: A Student's Perspective

Posted by: Sophia Kim on 3/16/11 4:52 AM

In the past week and a half, we've had several semester courses come back through NOLS Rocky Mountain as they transitioned between their winter sections to river, canyons, or rock climbing. We had the privilege of catching up with Audi Morrison, an Outdoor Educator Spring semester student and previous NOLS Teton Valley snowboarding alum. Here is an account of her Winter section:

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When thinking back on my winter section, it is hard for me to choose one single word to sum up the experiences. “Crushing” seems to be the most appropriate way to describe our group’s experience this winter in the Wyoming range. There was never a dull moment!

There are two pieces that made my winter section so worthwhile, the first was my group. I am blessed to have a stellar group, which I think ultimately makes the course. Being surrounded by such great people, who are equally eager to learn and succeed in the field has been so fulfilling. I wouldn’t trade spending time with these great course-mates—struggling up peaks, shoveling for hours upon hours, and spending evenings playing games around the quigloo*—for anything. There is nothing that compares to skinning up wind-scoured Lookout Mountain (our second peak of the day) with twelve other people, smiling and singing, “We Built This City.” It was windy as ever, the temperature was dropping, and we loved it nevertheless. For me, this is at the core of the NOLS experience.

I’d have to say the second piece was the coolest because it was so much more than just winter camping. This was my second winter course with NOLS. I came into this winter section thinking that because of my previous experience, I was well prepared. I knew I would definitely sharpen up my winter camping skills, Leave No Trace practices, and my avalanche skills; I came in focused on refining them all. Meanwhile, developing as a person and learning how to grow in a group had been pushed to the back of my mind. After about five days, however, all of my forgotten personal skills came rushing back into view. And it was AWESOME. Yeah, I knew exactly how my layering system worked and how to produce water quickly, but this section went so much deeper than winter camping skills.

While on my first course, I had already had learned about the four leadership roles and seven leadership skills of the NOLS curriculum, but I do not believe I truly grasped these crucial life skills until this second course. On the day of my first instructor check-in, coincidentally one of my most difficult days during this section, I finally realized, “Wow you have a lot to learn here, and you have such an opportunity to do this.” I went into my feedback meeting thinking I was ready for anything and excited to receive some winter camping feedback. However, although my instructor gave me very relevant feedback, it was not all easy to hear. It was instead the beginning of a major time of self-realization and some of the most helpful feedback I’ve ever received.

As a wise NOLS instructor, Liz Schmohl, once told me, “You can do hard easy, or easy hard.” It means that you can either choose to deal with the hard stuff now and make it easier for yourself later, or you can take the easy route and push the hard stuff away, but it will eventually catch up with you. I’ve incorporated this concept into my daily life and probably say to myself 100 times a day. I’ll never forget this incredible advice nor my friend who shared it with me on my first NOLS course!

I’ve found it’s always best to do hard easy. However, this was not my immediate reaction to my feedback—I was mad. The feedback was not even that I was doing things wrong, but that I could improve in different areas. Hearing this, despite being “so eager” for feedback, was hard, and I left my feedback session frustrated. I sat outside my quigloo for a good hour that night, gazing at the stars and processing my thoughts. Really, I had two possible courses of action: one, to be immature and stubborn, and ignore this feedback, insight, and advice from an accomplished instructor, or two, take this feedback from this instructor, who is full of knowledge and wisdom in these areas, and work on applying it to my life. So I slept on it.

When I woke up, I was still frustrated, but after having a hot drink and seeing my instructor smile at me from his quigloo, I realized I would much rather do “hard easy” and deal with the hard aspects now and embrace these opportunities to grow and learn; all of which would make things go more smoothly later. I decided to put my pride aside and listen and learn rather than think I had all the answers.

This is one of the things I love about NOLS. My experience has already become so much more than just surviving comfortably in different elements. Living on a NOLS course is one of the most amazing life building experiences I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of.

I love my group, I love my proctor, and I love the positive atmosphere of NOLS. I love being a part of something that is so gratifying in so many ways. I can honestly say there is nowhere else I’d rather be than surrounded by the community here at NOLS.

Now we are off to the Green River in Utah to have more adventures and self-growth to do in a warmer but still challenging atmosphere. We are going to crush it!


Audi Morrison

*A quigloo is a type of snow cave or snow shelter.