Assignment 3: Skitrip 2 (22.03.2021-26.03.2021)

Where?

This Skitrip led us to Bjaen Turisthytte (north of Hovden).

 

What I have learned

 

How to build snowholes/ shelters in the snow

Emergency shelter

The emergency shelter is the most simple and quickest form of shelter. It is supposed to be a safe hiding place in bad weather conditions. We tried to build one in about half an hour time on the second day of our trip.

Usually for this kind of shelter it is most important to get out of the wind and weather as fast as possible. Therefore we searched with our snowprobes a place where the snow was as deep as possible and dug a small aisle (about the width of ones shoulders) into it. To cover the roof probes across and skis in the length will be a sufficient support for a tarp or an emergencyshelter and snow on top so it will not flutter nor fly away. The entrance can be blocked by a backpack, a lump of snow or the tarp hanging down (or whatever else would seem fitting). Sitting on a sleeping mat the night can be spent (hopefully) warm and safe enough.

Snowholes

On the third day of our trip we set out to build actual snowholes or big enough shelters to spent a (more or less) cozy night in. The choice of a suited place for a snowhole can be very important. In our case there was not that much snow lying in the area so a place behind a small mountain where the wind had gathered snow was chosen.

We all skied to this place in the morning carrying all the stuff that we needed to spend one night outside in our backpacks which felt quite heavy. When we had arrived and had put down our sacks we got a short introduction on what type of shelters were possible and which we were going to build. In our case the snow was not deep enough to fit all of us in typical norwegian snowholes, because they are build by digging straight through a snowdrift about two meters high and as broad as the shoulders of whoever is digging. After that sleeping benches can be dug out on eather side of the corridor a bit higher than the groundlevel (to create a cold-air-pit) and as long as the individual sleepers will need it. In the end the roof can be covered again by cutting out blocks of snow and placing them over the opening. Just a small hole will be left as an entrance.

Domeshaped Shelters

The shelters we build instead were, as we were told, invented in the bavarian alps by the german army. They could be done with only half a meter of snow and were well suited for keeping a whole group working together during the building process. Additionally they provide a way to get underground and out of the wind/ bad weather rather fast. The groups working on one shelter had the size of six people and everyone slept in the shelter he/ she had build.

First of all a place is sought where the snow is as deep as possible (in our case it where around 1,80m) by testing with the snowprobe. Then a circle with a radius of 0,5m around the middle is drawn to mark where to shovel away the snow. One or two people will dig down inside the circle until they reach the ground. Switching is possible but the snow around the hole will later be the roof and should therefore not be trampled down too much. The probe is left close-by to mark the shelter. At the same time a tunnel is dug to the ground in the middle. When this is finished and the middle is reached four people can move in there and form a „soccer-circle“ by leaning against the walls, the arms on the next ones shoulders and getting their heads down. A leader (the one closest to the entrance) should be chosen who will keep contact with the people outside all the time. One person should therefore also be laying in the tunnel and communicate with the ones inside and outside. Thereafter the ones in the middle can be covered by a tarp and snow can carefully but as fast as possible (groups join for that) be shoveled onto them. When there is at least half a meter of snow on top the people in the middle they can carefully get out of the tunnel. The roof will now support itself and the snowhole can be widened from the inside and snow can be additionally added on the outside. For stability it is important to keep the roof shaped like a dome. A tarp can be used to get the snow out of the tunnel easier.

Another way to build the roof is to cut out blocks of snow with a saw and let them overlap more and more towards the middle until the roof is closed. Cutting out nice straight blocks that will not break but also not be too heavy to carry takes some practice. The „mine“ for the blocks should be in a place with deep snow and a slope so the blocks will glide towards the cutter without too much effort. Our group used this technique (with help from our instructor) to build our roof. With the digging out the sleeping-dome in the middle my group was a bit unlucky, because we had some rocks on the inside and a wall of stone in the back which made us building the inside as big as possible (in every possible direction) in order to have enough room to sleep around the rocks. We finished just in time for dinner.

The night was surprisingly cozy and especially warm, since we slept cuddled together around the rocks and below the surface without the smallest gust of wind. Since we also slept on our tarpaulins we also kept rather dry. Also we felt rather proud that the roof did not sink down towards us a lot during the night, which is quite possible. (Therefore one should always have at least have one arms length room above oneself when sleeping in a snowshelter.)

Improvised Shelter

On the fourth day of our trip in the afternooon (after a short break to dry our clothes) an improvised shelter was build in order to spend the night there. We did not bring tents but everyone had their own tarpaulin, rope and shovel and from then on everything was allowed to use. My group found a nice sheltered place with a natural wall of rock in the back and some small trees growing on and around it. The tarpaulins formed the rooof and the ground. Since there was snowfall expected for the night it was important to straighten the roof as much as possible. This was achieved by tightening a rope knotted onto two trees for the middle of the tarpaulin and knotting the edges of the tarpaulin itself to trees as well. Additionally small (not to pointy) peaces of wood were knotted underneath the tarpaulin to have more possibilities to attatch ropes (or shoelaces) and have no gap between the overlapping tarps.

For the surrounding walls the snow was shoveled out of the middle and from the outside against our skis and some sticks.

The night was not as warm as in the snowhole but dry and we had a lot of room to stretch out.

Skiing Abilities

Generally I learnt a lot about falling (as last time). But on top of that this time we would also go skiing with a big and heavy backpack on our backs, which changed the way of skiing but also the way of falling. My personal result: better not fall (too often) with a heavy backpack. Instead it is important to pick more cautiaus routes, for example by zigzaging down a slope and always going up the hill a bit to slow down before turning. Also it gets even more relevant to choose ones own ways down through the snow, because the problem with tracks is that with everyone who follows them they will become more hardened and faster. If the ones that ski in the back of a big group follow them (especially if less skilled skiiers fall behind) it is really hard to keep control while going down a slope. Since it is in general not too easy to keep control if one is rather unexperienced and carries a heavy backpack, going slower in deep snow seems like a good idea. Additionally it helps preventing rear-end collisions which can be rather painful (depending on who lands on whose ski) and hard to entagle (who gets up first?).

Another part of ski-related abilities is formed by being able to adapt to different snow conditions. In our case this included using Klister at first since the old snow had warmed up and formed small icy balls instead of the usual shape of a fresh snowflake. Therefore gripwax did not provide us with enough grip to walk up the slopes anymore and instead the very sticky Klister was used. Furthermore the skiing itself, especially the turning and stopping became a lot more difficult with this old snow. Personally I felt a bit frustrated in the beginning, because it seemed to me that I did a lot better on the last days of our first trip than in the beginning of this one. Especially in combination with a heavier backpack a lot more energy was needed and also more practice. Even the falling (my favourite topic…) grew more unpleasent as the snow was rather hard and hitting it would hurt more than in soft, fluffy snow. When new snow fell in the night following the second day, skiing suddenly became a lot easier for me again and I could enjoy it more. All in all I had the feeling that I did learn more about different and partly new aspects of skiing.

 

Snowprobing

It can be important to be able to find people under the snow especially in terrain where avalanches can happen. We tried how it feels to hit a person with a probe. Fact is: it felt squichy. So for the future I have an idea what to look for if (what I do not hope) I ever have to search for a person. But we also learned how easy it can be to miss a person underneath the snow, especially when hitting between the legs. Also hitting a shin can feel a bit strange and not as typically like a person.

 

 

Group dynamics

Social loafing

Social loafing is generally not too easy on a trip where everyone has to carry whatever they need themselves and are responsible for keeping up themselves. Still as soon as groups start to work together it seems to be unavoidable. Personally I found myself giving in to social loafing a lot easier when I felt exhausted. I started to feel more or less useless, thinking the others could manage just as good without me or just stop thinking about the task all together. (More about exhaustion in the following.)

Another but somehow similar way of social loafing was committed by me when I hurt my finger shortly before building the improvised shelter on the fourth day. I felt the finger hurting and swelling a bit without really knowing what the matter was. Therefore I was very careful when I used it, I was slower and also more downcast. The other two members of my group where working well together achiving results faster than me. Still they would enclude me as much as possible and were very patient whenever a task would take me longer than usual. They were also fine with me taking a break if I felt like there was nothing I could do to help in this very moment. This altogether helped me a lot to keep all social loafing to a minimum and in the end we managed a very fine shelter with enough room to spend a (more or less) cozy night.

Competition

Competitions can be useful especially when children shall be motivated for a task. Also our teachers would use small competitions (who builds the nicest shelter?) to get us motivated. In our case, since we were all aware that we would spend the night in this shelter, our motivation was already rather high. Still it would motivate us to go around and take a good look at all the other shelters which was helpful to get different impressions. Additionally it was a lot of fun, especially since there were prices in the end and my group won choclate.

Group Cohesion

Since january we are a group and for quite some time I hardly knew many of the other members of the Outdoor Education Program (who where not living in my flat). Even now that we did some trips together I still feel like there are many smaller groups of which our course consists. These groups know each other rather well (sometimes even since before they came to Norway) and the members are often rather strongly connected. Of course this is partly thanks to the Covid-19-Virus which prevents people from meeting in bigger groups or intermingle as much as I guess would usually be the case. Still I found that all the groups seem to be very open and none of them exclusive. Generally, the longer I am here, the more I also get to know the others, of course. So even though it seems to be taking a lot of time under the given circumstances, I have the feeling that the cohesion in our course is getting better and better the more we get to know everyone and spend time together. Especially this trip with its somehow rather difficult tasks, which needed functioning as a team and the talks and songs around the campfire got us to open up a bit more and closer together. This I enjoy a lot.

Also our professor is of course somehow a part of the group and on the fourth evening of the trip he would provide us with warm soup in the evening. This felt like he was caring for our wellbeeing (as we learned a good leader should) and was therefore not just nice for the belly but also improving the group cohesion.

When skiing as a group I personally had the feeling that everyone was taking more care of one another than on previous trips, especially when it came to keeping distance in order to not run each other down. Possibly it helped that our skills concerning the skiing (or at least the estimation of our skills) actually grew better.

Exhaustion

Still I remember that whenever I myself did not feel too well it seemed to me as if less help was provided from others. This can probably be explained first of all because the others were probably also more or less exhausted at the same time as myself. Some activities like skiing uphill with a heavy backpack, building shelters in the snow or sleeping outside probably get most people to feel a bit spent from time to time. Regarding myself I noticed that I was less ready to provide help, when I already struggeled to keep up with the others, since catching up can be an additional effort. Additionally the harder the task or the more exhausted I get, the more I try just to focus on the next step and shut everything else out. Probably most others reacted kind of similar to that.

Another explanation could be that the more spent I would feel, the more my thoughts would focus on negative things (for example if I fell rather hard and had to entangle myself afterwards without anyone stopping to help).

Generally in groups where a more difficult task is to be achieved and many members start to feel exhausted, this kind of thoughts seem to be challenging. They can (momentarily) weaken the cohesion and keep individuals from putting real effort into a task. This can again lead to others adapting themselves and in the worst case the members of a group could spend more time beeing frustrated than working. Especially the leader has a certain responsibility to prevent this. In our case our leaders would do that rather effectifly by explaining the situation to us (the sun is getting lower and our snowshelter is still too small), getting us more aware of our task and why it was our own interest to achive it (we want to spend the night in there) and suggesting a way to carry on („powerplay“ from a certain time on, during a fixed period). This way we had the goal more clearly in mind and also the feeling, that we had an actual chance to achive it until a certain time. On top, one of our leaders would help us very directly by starting to dig himself. This also motivated the rest of us to follow his example.

„Gipfelmomente“/ Highlights

This term may sound a bit strange, but I found no better description. Usually on a trip there is so much to learn often by trying and therefore making mistakes or beeing pushed out of ones comfort zone. Obviously this can be a bit uncomfortable or hard work from time to time. But luckily there are also these very special moments.

On the fourth day after we left our snowhole we went up a small mountain. For this we left all heavy luggage at the bottom and went up carefully crossing over in a zigzag-course. The wind was strong but somehow reviving and the sun was warming us a bit. When we reached the peak we could see the vast, beautiful norwegian landscape with mountains shining with freshly fallen snow in every direction. In the sky small clouds where moving fast, exept from one stationary cloud, which was shaped like a UFO (lenticular cloud) seeming iridescent. Most of our group were amazed, all the weariness was forgotten and we felt like we actually achived what we wanted to. Even if not everyone may have felt exactly this way it was a special moment. Somehow this was rather individual, since everyone enjoyed the view themselfs and yet, since we got there together and enjoyed it next to each other I guess it also increased the group cohesion, especially by giving us something common to remember (many pictures were taken) and tell about.

Many of us made somersaults down the first meters of the way back while others would hold there skipoles, switching from time to time.