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Why Every Student Should Spend a Night in the Snow

Clayton Webb, Director of Outdoor Education
Only a handful of days separate us from the shortest day of the year.
While the early departure of daylight can often leave us feeling gloomy, this same dark and cold season provides the chance for students to embrace this challenge as one of the greatest opportunities to truly live out the GNS core values. 

It takes notable courage to undertake backcountry camping in the winter. There is no doubt that there is a risk of discomfort when we give up some of the luxuries of home we have become so accustomed to. While the ease of electricity with the flip of a switch is replaced with the dull glow of a headlamp, the night sky becomes the new home entertainment system. The shortened daylight becomes a luxury as the lack of light pollution and crisp, cold air that is unable to hold much moisture creates a view of the night sky unparalleled by those we glimpse in the city. 

Breaking trail on snowshoes can be a daunting task alone but as a group, the effort lessens as each consecutive set of snowshoes moves down the line. The last in the chain cruising along effortlessly compared to those at the front. There aren't many more tangible examples of a community working together to realize a common goal. One that can not only be seen but felt on the way to camp.

It is rare for us to experience immediate feedback on the consequences of our actions but camping in the winter environment provides us endless opportunities for this experiential learning. Something as simple as laying down a set of mitts carelessly in a damp snowbank quickly becomes a truth as the dim warmth of the sun disappears behind the nearby mountains and we need to take responsibility for both our action and its consequences. 

Fortunately, these opportunities make way for caring. A shared pair of mitts or a hand warmer pack between tent mates outweighs a simple mistake and creates a bond that can extend from the backcountry to the classroom and beyond. 

While camping in the winter can have its rigours it is the contrast of the challenges and successes which make the highlight moments that much more powerful. I have heard many students use the word “magic” to describe their winter camping experience. While outdoor education is truly a team effort it creates infinite opportunities for individuality to shine through and for leaders to be discovered. The magic for me is that these experiences often uncover the reluctant leaders. These are not usually the same ones who appear in the classroom or on the sports field but those individuals who—when the four walls of a classroom or the boundaries of a playing field are replaced with boundless backcountry expanses—emerge as leaders amongst the group.

Based on all of this it should come as no surprise that winter trips form a pinnacle of the Outdoor Education program at GNS and create opportunities that I think every student should be taking advantage of. 

GNS is pleased to be offering the following Outdoor Education Winter Adventures for students in Grades 6 to 12. Emails inviting expressions of interest will be sent in the coming weeks. Please note, the Grade 6 Mount Washington Adventure Day will include all students in that grade.
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Glenlyon Norfolk School

Junior School (JK to Grade 5)

Middle (Grade 6 to 8) and Senior (Grade 9 to 12) Schools

We wish to acknowledge and respect the Lekwungen-Speaking Peoples on whose traditional territory we stand, and the Songhees, Esquimalt and Wsáneć Peoples whose historical relationships with the land, where we live, work, play and learn, continue to this day.