Winter brings new opportunities for recreation in Michigan

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The 4-H group takes an annual ski trip to Shanty Creek of about 40 kids to ski Schuss Mountain. Image: Theresa Whitenight

The 4-H group takes an annual ski trip to Shanty Creek of about 40 kids to ski Schuss Mountain. Image: Theresa Whitenight

By Becky Wildt

The long Michigan winters don’t stop outdoor groups from getting children outdoors and learning new skills

Ski Girls Rock at Mount Brighton is a program where female ski instructors teach girls to improve technique while inspiring confidence and team building. The program was designed for intermediate skiers by Lindsey Vonn, the 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion for alpine skiing.

“Skiing and snowboarding are life-long sports,” said Pat Schutte, the public relations representative, “Our goal is to make sure people are enjoying themselves while they’re out on the slopes so that they, too, get bit by the snow sports passion bug and can’t wait to get outside and enjoy our beautiful Michigan winters.”

For some of the colder days, the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor runs winter camps for campers to learn about animals. The weeklong Winter Camp Paws teaches campers about environmental education, conservation and animal welfare.

“Our mission at our humane society is to promote the loving responsible care of all animals in our community,” said Amelia Rodgers, education camp programmer. “We care about all living creatures and one of the ways that we do that is by education and outreach. We always include animal body language to understand animals from their perspective.”

Understanding animal body language as it may indicate signs of aggression or other emotions.

“We’ve also taught lessons on habitat and water conservation, as well as recycling,” Rodgers said.

Each day of camp includes an animal interaction and participation in a volunteer activity for the shelter such as making toys or treats for the animals.  Some campers already own pets while other families use the camp to teach their children about animals before adopting. For most, it serves as an opportunity to gain knowledge about animal safety and welfare.

Local 4-H chapters are also providing winter outdoors experience and team-building skills.

“Everything we do has an educational component,” said Theresa Whitenight, the outdoor adventure project leader for St. Clair and Macomb counties. “We do team-building as well as environmental components such as leave no trace outdoor principals, how to dress for the outdoors, erosion, and plant and tree names.”

“All they have to do is join the club,” Whitenight said. “It is $10 a year to join 4-H and there’s not really many requirements.”

Her group leads an annual ski trip with 40-60 members. They ski for the weekend and stay at a local community center. From the start, kids are encouraged to learn more about each other and begin team-building.

“We don’t just get on a bus and drive,” said Whitenight. “Every half hour we have them switch seats and learn new things about their partner. By the time we get to where we are going, they will know some people– oftentimes there are kids on the trip that don’t know anyone.”

The program doesn’t allow electronic games or cellphones. It emphasizes interacting with the other kids.

The group also does a two-day winter camping trip that’s not for the faint of heart.

“Last year I was amazed at how well they did — you really had to fight to want to be there,” she said.

“The first night they sleep in tents. Then the next day they pull sleds into the forest with backpacks on and then we begin to build snow quinzhees – snow shelters made by piling snow and then hollowing out a hole,” she said.

Whitenight believes in the importance of getting outside and being active regardless of the cold weather:

“Think about what you are doing with each hour of your day. Sitting in front of a TV is not going to bring you joy later in life.”

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