- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - With crampons on his feet and ice axes in hand, 10-year-old Max Dunlop started carefully ratcheting his way up a pitch at the Exum Ice Park at Snow King earlier this month.

As part of Colter Elementary School’s winter sports program, the fifth-grader was learning to ice climb with the help of Exum guide Dan Corn, who was coaching and belaying him.

“I’m going to lower you down,” Corn told Max. “Sit back. Remember you want your legs pushing straight into the ice.”

Max used his arms to push off and made it down without a hitch.

“I just thought it would be kind of unique to do,” Max said. “All the other ones were . stuff that I thought I could do already. I thought ice climbing would be something different.”

Ice climbing is a new sport for the winter sports program as well as for Max. Colter gym teacher Warren Ostler added the offering to the extended five-week program along with a winter wilderness course on Snow King and an avalanche awareness option at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The program ended Feb. 12.

Winter sports programs districtwide give elementary students the chance to try a variety of activities, including ice skating, snowboarding, and Nordic and alpine skiing.

“It’s such a great program for the kids,” Exum owner and ice climbing instructor Cindy Hargis said. “It’s amazing that they have this ability. We didn’t when we were kids. . They have this right in their backyard.”

The learning curve for climbing is faster on ice than it is on rock, she said, which helps introduce students to the sport.

“It’s scary, but it’s fun,” 10-year-old Chloe Stines said about ice climbing.

At the top of Snow King, students in a winter wilderness course crawled into snow pits to analyze the snow layers. Then they brainstormed how to help a friend with a broken leg stay out of the snow and wind in the mountains overnight.

“You guys ever noticed a natural hole around trees?” Snow King ski instructor and patroller Kevin Salys asked. “It’s called a tree well. You can always use those.”

Winter wilderness students also learned how to use a compass, build an igloo and give some first aid.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for them to learn some tricks and tools to go out and explore in the backcountry, what they’re probably going to do when they grow up,” Salys said about the program.

Living in Jackson, the kids may find themselves in a situation where the skills they talked about in the program could be helpful, he said.

Through the course, the students learned to respect the mountains.

“Being outside isn’t just about fun, it’s about survival,” 10-year-old winter wilderness pupil Alex Perez-Leon said. “If you get lost you can use some skills to get out of the wilderness and come back.”

The avalanche awareness activities took strong skiers to Teton Village to learn about digging pits, using beacons, assessing terrain and snow conditions and understanding the group dynamics of skiing with other people.

Ostler wants students to embrace Wyoming winters through the activities, he said.

“It’s important to expose students to the offerings we have in the community,” he said.

Ostler reached out to Exum, Snow King and the mountain resort this year to see what other options he could incorporate, and that’s how he was able to add the three new courses this year.

“My real hope is students try things they haven’t tried before, and then they go home and say, ‘Mom and Dad, let’s go,’” Ostler said.

For 11-year-old Desmond Concannon, that will be the case. He wants to go ice climbing with his parents now that the program is over, he said.

“It’s really, really fun,” he said.


Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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