Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Into the trees!

I had a decent workout week last week.  I got to CrossFit 3 times, and I felt strong on my front squats on Tuesday.  Thursday's workout was tough, and I was ready for a rest day by Friday, knowing that snowfall through the week had changed the skiing conditions dramatically.

We had the green light on Saturday to start exploring tree lines.  I had 6 of my 7 students, and one of them got a late start to the season, so he's a bit behind the others.  Because of that, I focused on intermediate tree runs in the mid-mountain.  It was a brutally cold day, and I didn't want to force a group of 7 year old students to the summit anyway.  We had a lot of fun in the intermediate tress - Eden, Pump House Woods (not on any map), the Gallery (also not on any map), and Lower Domino Woods (not an official tree run, but its location is fairly obvious).  My biggest issue was having the boys stick to our safety protocols.

I am noticing one big difference between the older students I had the last few years and the students I have this year.  The older students simply tune out adults at times.  The 7 year old students seem to listen, but 30 seconds later, they can't recall a word that I've said.

We have a handful of rules in the trees.  Goggles on.  Pole straps off.  Everyone has a buddy.  Never abandon your buddy.  Everyone stays in sight of everyone else.

I'm happy with how most of these rules are being followed, but the last one is an issue.  When presented with a large glade, the boys just want to go.  They spread out quickly.  In a fairly open glade like Eden, I can stand at the top and see just about everyone.  But, in the Gallery, 2 of the boys pushed far, far to the right and used a different exit than the rest of us.  For a couple minutes, I had no idea where they were.  This might not sound like a big issue, but if someone gets stuck in a tree well or gets hurt, and I don't know where they are, this can be a major safety issue.  On a day as cold as Saturday or on very difficult terrain, the risks are amplified.  I spent a lot of time reinforcing the rules this weekend, but once people start moving, the rules seem to be forgotten.

Sunday, I had all 7 of my students for the first time this season.  It was also much warmer than Saturday, and I took that opportunity to spend most of the morning teaching some skills.  Just before lunch, we skied a popular tree line that ends in a creek bed shaped like a natural half pipe.  I found the snow a bit thin, but the boys blasted through it at high speed.

Because a lot of people wanted to beat an oncoming storm, and people wanted to watch the Patriots play Sunday night, a few students left at lunchtime.  As we headed out from lunch, I realized I had some of my strongest skiers remaining.  The boys asked if we could ski Egan's Woods.  My first thought was no, because I'd heard it was somewhat icy under the snow.  But, the temperature was above freezing, so I agreed.  We did skip the tree line above Egan's and used the standard entrance.  Things were a bit firm and thin, but it was a fun line.  On the next chair ride, the boys asked to ski the steep tree line known as Christmas Tree Woods.  They had skied the previous line so well that I agreed.  As we entered this line from The Mall, I reminded them to stay within sight of each other.  This is a line that gets wider and wider as you descend, and it's easy to get separated.

And, before we got halfway down, we were indeed separated, with 2 boys skiing near The Mall (the line I'd recommended) and 2 others skiing by Stein's Run.  At one point, I was helping one boy who had popped a ski off.  As I got him going again, I could hear the other pair yelling to me, but I couldn't understand what they were saying.  I basically yelled for them to head down and towards The Mall, but I wasn't sure if they could hear me.

Not wanting to take a chance, I pushed towards Stein's and found one of the boys stuck in a small pine tree.  I got him back together and had them start pushing back towards The Mall, but we couldn't catch the other 2.  Then, the same boy, who was clearly getting tired, got stuck again.  I asked him and his partner to abandon the tree line and ski to The Mall, but it took them a long time to pull that off.  Once I knew they were on the trail, I headed down to find the other 2.  They had followed protocol and I found them quickly.  But, it still took 10 more minutes for the other pair to clear snow from boots, put skis back on, and ski down.

So, we ended up separated for 20 minutes or so.  With teenagers, this would not make me uncomfortable.  But, with the younger boys, I was concerned for a bit.

The mountain has received another 17" of snow since Sunday.  We will clearly be in the trees again next weekend.  And, I'm going to have to say it over and over and over, but we need to all stay in sight of each other.  Safety always comes first, and for me to keep them safe, I have to know where they are.

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