Students learn winter’s wicked ways |

Students learn winter’s wicked ways

Photo by Renee ShadforthStudents get a lesson on snow cave construction.

Fourth graders at Truckee Elementary learned the importance of signals, shelter and STOP when volunteers from Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue taught them about winter survival last Friday.

“Fourth graders are at the age where it is crucial that they have these skills,” said Dirk Schoonmaker, a 10-year volunteer with Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue. “That’s when they start going out to snowboard or ski without their parents.”

Each year, the search and rescue volunteers visit six area elementary schools for their Winter Wilderness Survival Program. There were about 120 students participating at Truckee Elementary from Mike Franey, Tamara Anderson, Alice Nicholls, Betsy Ford, Dianne Collinson and Marjie Prisco’s classes.

Volunteers split students into six groups, and each group visited three different stations.

At one station, students learned the importance of signals to help searchers find them if they’re lost. Volunteers told the fourth graders the importance of carrying a whistle and how to make a large cross out of pine needles so search and rescue could find them if they were lost in the woods. Also, volunteers showed students how to make themselves big and obvious.

At another station, volunteers taught students the significance of S.T.O.P. (or stop, think, observe and plan).

“This is important because it helps children or grown ups to not get lost and know what to do when they do get lost,” said Craig Kraus, a volunteer with Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue.

At the third post, students learned how to create their own shelter by building a snow cave or using any available materials, like ski poles or tree branches.

Each student waited patiently for their chance to crawl into the snow cave built by volunteers.

“The great thing about fourth graders is they really pay attention,” Schoonmaker said. “When we come back a year later (to teach the new fourth-grade class), they seem to remember all of the acronyms we taught them.”

Although winter survival is important, Schoonmaker said, most children get lost in the summer months.

“All the things we teach for winter survival hold true in the summer, too, except maybe no snow on the ground,” he said.

The Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team has survival programs available for all age groups. The team receives funding for the winter survival program from its annual Great Ski Race, which will be held March 2 in Truckee.

For more information, find them online at

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