Experiential Learning Applied to SLU Skiing Culture During COVID-19
The outdoors has been a major part of my St. Lawrence experience in the three years that I have been in Canton. Whether you are a first-year student, a member of the Outing Club, an athlete, an artist or musician, or a member of Greek Life, you manage to find your way outside. For me, I was always finding my way to Whiteface in Lake Placid to ski and explore. It was not until I signed up for snow science at SLU that my idea of skiing completely changed.
The snow science course at SLU is a great example of the experiential learning that students get to participate in throughout their time at St. Lawrence. In this course, a group of skiers get to travel to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to ski some of the most intimidating terrain in the country and learn about snow science.
One of the most important things about snow science is that there is a lot more to snow than you would expect. Jackson Hole had plenty of snow on this trip, which allowed us to apply our in-class knowledge while exploring the Teton Pass. While in the pass, we got to see the differences in snow conditions, terrain, and pitch, all of which are important factors in avalanche prevention.
At the end of the course, we all received our Level 100 Avalanche Certificates, but we also got a glimpse of the ski culture out west, which revolves around the backcountry and earning your turns (the phrase used to describe trekking up to a summit instead of taking a ski lift). I appreciated every minute of this experience and learned a lot in the process, but what I didn't know was how helpful it would be in the following months.
Fast forward a few months after this once-in-a-lifetime trip, and the world looked a lot different. St. Lawrence University has done everything in its power to keep its students and faculty safe throughout this year. The weekly trips to Lake Placid to ski in the Olympic Village have not been as frequent, but my experience in Jackson Hole has opened another door to getting outside and skiing. Throughout this semester, I have been seeking adventures closer to campus to get outside and earn my turns.
Luckily, it seemed like the snow did not stop falling in the month of January, and the snow piled up in the woods. This new ski culture at SLU has allowed me to spend hours in the woods to clear my head, while still getting an adrenaline rush while snaking my way through the hidden trails in the Adirondacks. For me, this culture makes for a much more gratifying experience because of the exploration of the Adirondacks. There is nothing better than finding a secret powder stash while you whip through the woods.
St. Lawrence has also been encouraging students to get outside because it is a great way to enhance mental health. In many situations, students have to submit safety plans in order to take these trips, and the school works fairly with all these students to make sure that experiences like these are fun and safe.
If anything, this change in the SLU ski culture represents a larger theme among St. Lawrence students. It has helped me remain incredibly positive and spontaneous even in one of the most difficult years of my lifetime. The students here at SLU are what make me love this school because I know that as a whole, we can take what we have and ensure that we will have a good time. After all, we are here to further our education, but make memories that last a lifetime as well. COVID-19 has changed what we as students do on a day-to-day basis here on campus, but it hasn't changed our ability to have a good time. We have to follow the rules in order to keep ourselves and the Canton community safe, but there are ways, like earning our turns, that help make our four years at St. Lawrence to be productive and enjoyable.
This revelation is not new for St. Lawrence students. In the many conversations I have had with alumni, they all talk about the fun experiences that they had while at SLU. Almost all of them speak about the spontaneous adventures that so many of us are still experiencing today. The experiences that we have here at SLU develop a foundation for the lifestyle that so many alumni still live in their everyday life. Yes, St. Lawrence students still go to school to learn and become prepared for their adult life, but they also embrace a lifestyle that allows them to have an enjoyable life. There have been generations of SLU students that have embraced this lifestyle and even in the COVID-19 era, students continue to embrace it.
For me, the experiential learning in my snow science course allowed me to learn about snow safety, but also prepared me to take advantage of spontaneous adventures throughout the winter. This is a great example of why experiential learning is so important to St. Lawrence’s education. It can be applied in all walks of life. These experiences help cultivate the outdoor culture that many of our students enjoy. I've appreciated the outdoors this year more than ever, and I am confident that SLU students for years to come will enjoy exploring St. Lawrence County and the Adirondacks.