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Illinois Scouts Brave the Slopes for a Cool Merit Badge

Life Scout Paul Lehmann and his sister Ann, a Second Class Scout, stood at the top of the slope. It was Paul’s fourth time visiting Devil’s Head Ski Resort near Merrimac, Wisconsin, and he had all the confidence in the world.

“I had gone down most of the hills before,” says Paul, 14. “All the beginner green and blue ones, and also the orange-marked terrain park. Even three of the advanced black-diamond hills.”

“But I hadn’t,” laughed Ann, 11. “It was my first time. All I could think was, ‘Wow, we don’t have hills like this where we live in Illinois!’”

With people waiting in line behind her, Ann jammed her right foot down to lock her ski boot in place and squinted against the glaring sun pouring down the slope. Leafless oak and aspen trees marked the left and right boundaries of the run, while a wide ribbon of pure white snow ran between them.

After some encouragement from other Scouts, Ann nodded and pushed herself out of the gate. The wind stung her face and watered her eyes, but she kept on her feet as she raced down. She was skiing!

FROM PRACTICE TO PERFORMANCE

Boys Troop 9 and girls Troop 2019, both of Champaign, Illinois, were spending the weekend at Devil’s Head to earn the Snow Sports merit badge. Many of the requirements were checked off in troop meetings before the ski trip. But before they could earn the badges, the Scouts first needed to step out into the cold.

“We did a lot of activities to prepare for the trip,” says Makenna West, a 13-year-old Second Class Scout. “We layered up the Scouts with all they would need to survive time in the snow. This gave them the chance to see how it felt to move around with unfamiliar gear.”

“But it’s one thing to read about it, and another to do it!” says Daniela Stewart, a 12-year-old Tenderfoot Scout.

One of the toughest requirements was to “make a controlled run down an intermediate slope and demonstrate short-, medium- and long-radius parallel turns, a side slip and safety stop to each side and traverse across a slope.”

“Keeping things under control when you’d never skied before wasn’t easy,” 11-year-old Tenderfoot Scout Curtis Hanson says. “We managed the turns and stops, and after I got to the bottom of the hill, all I could think was: ‘I want to do it again!’”

THE VALUE OF EXPERIENCE

Skiing is a centuries-old way to travel. In the late 1800s, innovations to skiing equipment popularized downhill skiing for fun and competition, though the sport didn’t catch on in the U.S. until the 1920s and 1930s. Ski resorts opened up all over the country, and now millions of people enjoy them each year. Devil’s Head has been a skiing destination for Troop 9 for the past few years.

“Most of the older guys had been there before, and they gave a lot of advice to help keep us safe,” 11-year-old Scout Addison Dyer says. “Some guys took some good tumbles. You kind of chuckled when someone fell and cheered when they got up. We rated the falls like in the Olympics. Nobody got a perfect 10, but they came close.”

Tumbles will happen — skiing requires balance and proper technique. Supporting each other during a shared experience is important, especially for those who are trying something new. Snow sports can be strenuous; you need to be physically fit.

END OF THE RUN

By day’s end, everyone was tired but happy. Their time on the slopes wrapped up with only a few sore muscles, and they gathered at the bottom of the hill to trade jokes and stories before heading inside to roaring fires, pizza and a heated swimming pool.

Through careful preparation, solid teamwork and a dash of bravery, the Scouts finished their time at Devil’s Head.

“And everybody earned their Snow Sports merit badges,” Ann says. “I didn’t try any of the double-black runs, but there’s a whole lot more skiing I want to do.”

“And next year you can teach me a few new tricks!” Paul says.


SNOW SPORTS MERIT BADGE

Downhill skiing isn’t the only winter sport you can do to earn the Snow Sports merit badge. You can also try cross-country skiing or snowboarding. For any activity, make sure you wear a helmet and stay in designated areas.

FOR YOUR SKI TRIP

Here’s how to be ready for your own trip to the slopes.

1. Exercise. Stretch every day for 5-10 minutes. Go jogging three times a week for at least a mile. To help build those hill-climbing leg muscles, skip the elevator and take the stairs.

2. Prepare. Brush up on your first aid. Make sure at least one person in your party has a good first-aid kit and knows how to use it. Dress in layers. If you wear only one thick coat, you will become very uncomfortable. Don’t forget the little things! Hand sanitizer, extra batteries and a pack of playing cards can come in handy.

3. Where to Go? There are more than 200 ski resorts in the U.S. This means wherever you live, it shouldn’t be too far to get to one. Each resort has its own specialties. Some feature challenging runs, while others cater to first-timers. Pick the one that best matches your abilities and interests. Most resorts offer discounts on lift tickets, rooms and equipment rentals if you have enough people in your party. So try to take your friends!

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