By Joe Nagle, our Field Director
People are often intimidated by the idea of cold weather camping, but it can actually be the most powerful time of year to work with students at Aspiro and provides a great platform for therapeutic experiences. I want to highlight some of the little-known upsides of cold weather camping and how we keep our kids comfortable. I also want to prove that despite the cold, winter camping is profoundly impactful, highlighting the simple pleasures of field life. Below are the best tricks I’ve learned to get the most out of winter in the wilderness.
SNOW IS ACTUALLY YOUR FRIEND
I imagine you are thinking that this isn’t the case, but the fact is that if you know how to use snow to your advantage, it can turn a cold night outside into a warm, cozy den. Our guides practice working with snow to their advantage, and often even prefer having snow around to help build elaborate shelters when the nights get cold. One can be as creative as possible and a snow shelter can rival a small palace. The possibilities are endless. Snow shelters and a high quality, – 40-degree sleeping bag, make for a warm night, no matter what is happening outside the shelter walls.
You will never appreciate warm tea like you do in a shelter after a big day in the snow. Students and staff learn to make it the way they like best, then repeat this, every chance they get. Tea also doubles as a jacket warmer: a warm water bottle, also called a “hottie”, becomes your own little portable space heater. Tuck it into your jacket, other layers, or even your sleeping bag to sleep warm all night.
STYLE IS EVERYTHING
Yes, even in the wilderness style counts – just not how you think. Our students and guides are equipped with the right clothing for their adventures and also taught how to use it properly. Learning how to appropriately dress for cold is crucial for winter camping comfort. The right layers, in the right order, make a blustery day a literal walk in the park. First, field staff teach the students to use a wicking layer next to the skin to help move moisture and keep everyone dry. Next, layer on an insulating layer to keep that heat trapped in – think of a cozy fleece. Finally, a waterproof shell helps protect against the elements. Adding more layers to stay warm is always an option, and allows for warmth despite the weather.
WHEN IN DOUBT, DANCE IT OUT!
You won’t see anyone just huddled up and stationery at Aspiro, because activity is key for winter warmth. Our students stay active during the day by participating in adventures such as hiking, skiing, climbing or biking. When back at camp, our groups all practice warm-up routines throughout chilly days in order to keep moving and stay warm and safe. They stretch, do exercises, or go for brisk walks to get moving. But the really savvy groups will dance. That’s right. When you are getting cold, the best solution is to jump around and have an impromptu dance party! Music optional.
PEACE AND SOLITUDE
As I said before, winter adventuring can be intimidating for some. While many people stay inside during these months, at the Aspiro wilderness therapy program, we know we can skillfully create warmth and get out to the beautiful places Utah has to offer all year long. We are lucky to move through vastly different landscapes, and winter presents its own beautiful twist on the scenery. During winter we are able to access incredible places in the state that might be overpopulated in the spring or summer, but that are largely abandoned during the colder season. Often, we get the most popular spots in the state all to ourselves. Our groups take full advantage of the solitude and peace that comes from the lack of other visitors.
Winter is an incredible season that our students learn to truly appreciate. They relish in the quiet, find moments to reflect and practice mindfulness, discover gratitude for the beautiful landscapes, and learn what it takes to stay warm and enjoy it all!