Donner Trail Winter Survival Program | SierraSun.com

Donner Trail Winter Survival Program

Gretchen E. Sproehnle
Special to the Sun

Your child heads outside and you and#8211; for the umpteenth time and#8211; remind your child to wear his or her jacket. and#8220;Mom, I’m a mountain kid. It’s not even cold out!and#8221;

True, our kids are and#8220;mountainand#8221; kids. We’re proud and fortunate to be able to raise them in this beautiful natural environment we call home. But this beauty can turn deadly in an instant when blizzard conditions set in. With Tahoe’s massive amounts of snow and unpredictable weather, many community members feel it is critical that our children learn survival skills should they ever find themselves lost in the woods with weather on the way.

and#8220;I think it’s imperative that children get an understanding of survival skills while they are young,and#8221; says Karen Witt, the coordinator of the Winter Survival Program offered by TTUSD at Donner Trail Elementary School atop Donner Summit. and#8220;Ideally, kids should participate in the program at least twice between first and eighth grade. The more experience they have in survival, the better.and#8221;

The course arms school children with the practical knowledge and skills they would need to better their chances of survival should they become lost in the backcountry. Witt relies on parent volunteers to help break classes into smaller groups, with one adult manning one of several stations. Students don snowshoes and trek between stations, learning about local wildlife, how to build a snow shelter, and how to read a compass. In addition, students learn about avalanche awareness, how to stay calm and how to make a plan.

and#8220;Different concepts make sense at different times of your life,and#8221; Witt says, another reason she advocates participation from such a wide range of age groups. and#8220;I present different information to the older kids than I do to the younger ones.and#8221;

At the Donner Trail Winter Survival Program, a typical day consists of a quick orientation and training session for parent volunteers and a rundown of snowshoeing basics before hitting the morning stations. Witt’s story-telling antics highlight the lunch hour, and then students visit more stations in the afternoon before calling it a day.

Many dates are still available for the remainder of this winter, and due to the abundance of snowfall this season, Witt plans to continue offering the program through mid-April. It is open to students of TTUSD as well as from schools in Reno and the foothills. The cost is $4 for TTUSD students and $8 for out-of-district students.

The Winter Survival Program is primarily user-funded, although not independent. Money raised goes to TTUSD; the district covers administrative fees. Over the years, the program has received funding from outside sources, some local and some from out of the area. For the last five years, a grant from the Alpine Winter Foundation in Berkeley, Calif., has helped with the purchase and upgrading of snowshoes and other equipment needed to teach the course.

and#8220;We make it fun. We play hide-and-seek with transceivers. Kids use their new orientation skills in a scavenger hunt along the Yuba River,and#8221; explains Witt. and#8220;The kids have so much fun they hardly know they are learning!and#8221;

Other community groups have a hand in winter survival education to our local school children. For more than 30 years, the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team has been sending volunteers into 4th grade classrooms in Tahoe City, Kings Beach, Incline and Truckee to teach the and#8220;Winter Awareand#8221; Program. The program covers an intro on what do to before you go outside, such as dressing in layers and telling a friend of your plans. The groups then move to outside stations for hands-on experiences with basic shelters, creating signals, and how to practice the and#8220;STOPand#8221; concept (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan). California State Parks also hosts interpretive walks and winter survival sessions to area 5th graders at their Donner Memorial State Park.

If the Winter Survival course interests you, and your child’s class has not yet participated, talk to your teacher about scheduling a date to participate. For more information, contact Karen Witt at 582-1019 or k.witt.789@suddenlink.net. For more info regarding California State Parks programs, call 582-7892.

and#8212; Submitted to the Sun by Switchback PR for Tahoe Truckee Unified School District