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NOLS Teton Valley:
Home of NOLS’ Winter Program
By Abby Warner, NOLS Teton Valley Director

Situated against the western flanks of the Tetons and north of the Snake River Range, NOLS Teton Valley is home to NOLS’ skiing, snowboarding and winter outdoor educator courses. We are in prime backcountry skiing terrain—the skiing and riding off of the nearby mountains is some of the best to be had in the central Rocky Mountains.

NOLS winter courses have both evolved and stayed the same over the years. Our curriculum has kept its focus, while adding layers of professionalism. Having the latest equipment has helped the beginning skier learn travel and telemark skills more quickly. The winter environment remains unique and still offers a phenomenal experience for students.

Expedition skills are central to each and every winter course. The systems and habits that become second nature after nine plus days of living outside in the winter will improve your expedition skills, whether you camp exclusively in the summer or find yourself on a glacier en route to a major mountain summit. The last five years have seen a tremendous shift in how we both teach and model evaluation of avalanche conditions. Our current curriculum meets the same standards accepted by the American Avalanche Institute. NOLS students have the opportunity to receive a NOLS Avalanche I certificate after the completion of their course. They leave with a common language and a consistent structure with which to evaluate and assess hazards.

We have also kept up with the times in the realm of backcountry ski gear. Leather boots and skinny skis may hang on the walls of our equipment rooms, but plastic boots and shorter, fatter skis are what students take into the field these days. Investing in new gear has more than paid for itself in the fun students have skiing in the backcountry. And, while we still encourage students to sleep with their boots at night, now they only sleep with the inner boot and set the bulky shells next to them in their quinzhees. Ahh…a simpler system.

The solitude and clarity encountered on a crisp clear winter morning is still awe-inspiring. The sense of play inherent to digging shelters, building kitchens out of snow, and wearing so many layers (we are only identifiable by the colors of our hoods) pervades every course. The sheer joy experienced by a novice skier linking his first turn in powder and the advanced skier finding the sweet line through the trees unites expedition members. As does the hard work required to move and set up camp and melt water to create hearty meals. There is nothing quite like shedding your puffy Dacron™ layers and crawling into your cozy nest for a quiet night inside a dome of snow, knowing tomorrow will bring more skiing, more wonder and more fun.

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