Class 8 has just returned from camp at Falls Creek in an ebullient state. One of the students, who struggles with being away from home, described it on the day we arrived as the “best camp ever”. He maintained that position throughout.
As we drove up the mountain there was a ripple of excitement running through the group. Some hadn’t been skiing before but for all of us there was something utterly magical about the sight of white snow against the dark tree trunks and crystal streams tumbling down the ravines. And, as we stepped off the bus there was a muffled stillness all around and the sharp sensation of the cold, still air against our faces. Yes, this was going to be something special!
Once we were set up in the lodge it was time to get our cross country skis. Again, the mood of expectation was palpable. The road through the village was crowded with strange looking snow vehicles revving past us. There were rows of buildings with very steep roofs and stalactites of ice hanging from them. The trees were a deep brown to black and were laden with smooth piles of brilliant, white snow. Every few minutes a skier would whoosh past us and disappear effortlessly around a bend. We truly were somewhere different, other- worldly.
On the second day we “geared up” for the proper task of learning to ski. We felt like warriors, putting on successive layers of protective clothing and equipment, ensuring we were prepared for the task ahead. There is something quite primal about placing something on your feet that will cause you to replace normal walking and running with another motion. It’s like learning to walk all over again. For some this deep uncertainty was evident.
Our teachers took us to a place, ominously called Windy Corner, to learn the basics and we had a day of gradually building up confidence in the “snow plough” and turning actions. Mercifully there was no wind and the snow was soft and perfect to learn on. The various skill levels became apparent and teachers got a sense of how to arrange the groupings for the following days. It was a time of reckoning for the students as they were making their own decisions about how far they could go on the slopes. One of the funniest moments was the group’s first attempt at scaling a steep hill by splaying the skis at the front and taking one clumsy step at a time to push themselves up. There were skis and limbs and sliding down in all directions.The results could have become a Youtube classic!
Dinner that night was full of talk of the dramas and events of the day. The other residents of the lodge were entranced by this vibrant bunch of 14 year-olds, who began the meal by singing “Blessings on the blossom” ( their choice) and ended the evening singing songs as a group and in solo performances. They later remarked on how impressed they were by the class’s courtesy, energy and talent.
The following morning we awoke to the sight of freshly falling snow and the eery stillness of mist and deep drifts. On the trip up to Windy Corner the trees were laden with extraordinary ice sculptures and the students’ mood was reverential. As the day unfolded there were many observations of the natural environment, a sense that they could appreciate its beauty and fragility. They could see it not just as a thing, a resource to be used for their own selfish pleasure, but as something to be cherished and protected.
The final two days were entirely different in mood. We traded our skis in for the downhill ones and stepped into the frenetic world of chairlifts and crowds and snow boarders hurtling down the slopes.There was the sense that humans had tamed the environment and turned it into a fast paced playground. With the new environment came a new set of factors to adjust to. For some the chairlifts were daunting. Getting on and off could be a real challenge with skis on. The speed of each chair, as it whipped around the corner and left you a split second to get on and drop the protective bar, was scary for some. For others it was getting used to the height. Then there were the new ski instructors to accommodate.
Students were divided into skill groups of four members and expected to look after each other, staying together at all times and being aware of any trouble. Teachers constantly moved from one group to the other to oversee their progress. After their lessons students went to the slopes that suited their ability and began to ski. Throughout the day students from Sophia Mundi could be seen (they were easily identifiable from their green arm bands!) descending one or other of the runs and rising up again in the chairlifts.
There were moments of hesitation and times when I thought I would be accompanied in the coffee shop on the last day by various students who may be finding it too much, but I ended up spending the time alone. By one means or another they all kept on going to the last, knowing that they could join me at any time. It was a very humbling experience for this teacher to recognise a similar fear of heights in some of the students and yet have them decide, with no pressure from anyone, to try one more time. On the last slope that I skied, having fallen again and recognised that when I got up I would still be hopelessly out of control with a steep drop ahead, I looked down the slope to my group. How I admired their persistence! What a triumph for them that they overcame their fears and got to the bottom still standing. And that they kept going after that. I was pleased that everyone had the good grace not to mention that I finished that slope with my skis on my shoulder.
As I sat on the chairlift by myself I could see the other students weaving through the trees of the “Foxtrail” run, effortlessly negotiating the turns and completely at home in themselves on the skis, not a care in the world. It was a joyful sight. There were many good stories from the days’ adventures, some of which I heard and many that are in the sole keeping of those involved. Clearly though, the skiing was a success for all.
It was a credit to the students that everyone showed consideration for the other members of their group. They stayed together, accommodating the slowest ones, showing concern when there were struggles and supporting each other throughout. An excellent show of group support. It was not surprising, therefore, that the only injury for the whole trip was a blood nose during a (sanctioned) snowball fight.
Many thanks to Jen , Ben and Richard for providing a safe, smooth and fulfilling snow camp experience for Class 8. For all it was a memorable time.
Robert Stemp, Class 8 Guardian