Tahoe students gain open-air education
Ski season might be coming to a close at Tahoe resorts, but for local students participating in the Pass It On program, backcountry snow is providing more than just fresh tracks. A dozen students from Coldstream Alternative and Sierra High are learning survival skills, avalanche awareness, team-building and self reliance from Truckee guides Peter Mayfield and Tom Beckering, who have been guiding groups together in the backcountry since 2002.Hayfields former outfitter, the Sierra Guides Alliance, was the first guide company in the country to offer backcountry snowboarding trips. [The students] are learning about their own back yard. These kids live up here and they get out, but very few of us really understand the landscape, Mayfield said. And it works within their school system. These are kids that want to go, and they have to be on top of their school work. Plus, they dont have athletic programs or these kinds of activities at all. Pass it On began as a summer climbing program funded by a $2,500 grant from Placer County Health & Human Services. Mayfield said the program was so successful that he wrote a new grant for $2,000 to launch a winter version.Participants take five day-trips and an overnight trip to such various Sierra locations as Mt. Judah, Squaw Valley and Carson Pass. While out, the students learn to dig snow pits, understand topography and observe tree species, Mayfield said, but the focus is on personal growth and individual reflection.You get to experience Tahoe for what it really is. To be all by ourselves, and to not have the tourists and the lines you get to just go out and ski. Its a lot of work, but its just the best skiing of your life, said Ari Narlock, a senior at Sierra High. We edge each other along. We encourage each other, and if someone needs help, you give them the push thats needed, Narlock added. Pass it On is a program under Mayfields nonprofit, GateWay Mountain Center, which has offered field education programs for school groups since 1994.I gained some knowledge about avalanche awareness, which is good for when I go out snowmobiling. I think California should have these programs funded region-wide to teach kids how to stay safe and save lives, said Coldstream senior Bret Wright. We did it all as a team, so a lot of effort went into it. We all worked together to achieve our goals.