February, 2008: Year Three
For the past three years students in the Honor Program have made the trek to Denali National Park during its winter celebration. "Winterfest" offers opportunities for all ages and physical abilities -- although the activities and conditions vary from year to year, they normally include snow-shoeing, sled dog rides, ice and snow carving, a chili feed and valuable service. Honor Students have enjoyed a blizzard, -50F, sun, broken vehicles, icy roads, spilt coffee, and many other adventures. Each year, students stay at the Denali Education Center's Sheldon Center, Friday and Saturday night, and spend all day Saturday in the Park.
Prize Winning Snow Sculpture
During the 2008 Honors trip to the Denali Winter Festival, most of the group had decided to climb a mountain, or go on a guided snowshoe hike. However, a few--Molly Dischner, Gavin Baker, and Celia Miller--stayed behind to explore the festival. In their words:
"What we found to occupy us was a snow sculpting contest, open to children and adults. Most entrants were attempting Alaskan realism--moose, a dog team, even a toilet and giant couch. None of us is particularly artistically gifted, though, so we decided to do something totally abstract and different.
"Several ideas were thrown around--a mobius strip! Random squiggles! We decided on a set of pyramids (the top half of our rectangular block) with semi-spheres carved beneath. Attacking snow with chisels, knives, and what we believe were wallpapering tools, turns out to be a lot of fun, but also more difficult than it seems. One of the six pyramids ended up a bit too narrow, so it was lopped off into a Mayan-style stepped pyramid. Molly eventually stepped back from carving and acted as official photojournalist of the event. The spheres were possibly the coolest part of the whole thing--we carved the sculpture to be peppered with tunnels so that two people, lying down, could put their hands through and have them touch. We titled the piece Low Realism and won the Most Creative award--and a whole bag of swag from Denali National Park."
February, 2009: Year Four
For the fourth year in a row, a group of honors students trekked to Denali on February 20 for a weekend of playing in the snow at the community’s annual Winterfest celebration. Over the weekend, students volunteered with the Denali Education Center and enjoyed lectures, outdoor activities, a tour of the Usibelli Coal Mine, and lots of free food.
A small group caught the kick-off lecture at the McKinley Community Center on Friday night, given by polar explorer Troy Henkels. Henkels presented photos (taken by fellow traveler Laurent Dick) and a video from the Antarctic expedition he undertook with six other guys from December 2007 to February 2008. After nervously questioning Henkels about how they, too, could become explorers, that group met up with the others at the Denali Education Center’s Sheldon Center for a late spaghetti dinner and posh sleeping conditions. (Every student had a boxspring and mattress to sleep on.)
Saturday morning, students helped with shoveling snow around the Education Center’s campus, and then drove to the park for a day of fun. Students (and two parents) had a wide-variety of activities to choose from and sampled a little of everything between them.
Prize Winning Snow Sculpture
Three students wandered into the 2009 snow sculpting competition after their peers had drifted to other activities, and wound up winning “Most Creative” for their effort. This year, seven were eager to participate. Before any other adults had entered the competition, the group staked out a medium-sized block of snow and began plotting their masterpiece. The sculptors worked all morning and produced a low realism snow serpent that incorporated a variety of species and a tunnel through the coils. When they returned from their afternoon activities, they had won Most Creative for the second year in a row, and another bag of swag – and decided they’d be back to defend their title in 2010.
Usibelli Coal Mine Visit
In the afternoon, one group headed to the Usibelli Coal Mine where they were taken on a driving tour of the facilities and heard a little about the process by which coal travels from the hills of Healy to the cogeneration plant on campus. Meanwhile, others chose more active pursuits – skijouring along the park road or racing up Mt. Healy to join the snowshoers.
Art and then Back Home
At the end of the day, snow sculptors and hikers alike visited with a world-champion ice carver, and a few students gave the art a go. Everyone feasted on chili and cornbread at Healy’s Tri-Valley Community Center, and then climbed into the van to quiz one another on world geography as they drove home.
*Click on the picture for a larger view