Boy Scouts test their mettle in annual winter survival event

BENNINGTON -- A "winter survival" event for Boy Scouts of America troops from throughout western Vermont's Ethan Allen District had to be delayed one week after recent heavy snowfall -- not for the scouts' sakes (they're always prepared) but because many troop leaders plow snow or would otherwise be unavailable to make the trip, according to Robert Treat, committee chair of the local district which serves Addison, Bennington, and Rutland counties.

The 2013 Klondike Derby took place this past Saturday at Bennington's Willow Park and was hosted by local Troop 353. About 75 scouts from an assortment of troops attended and participated in a myriad of winter-themed activities including fire-starting, building primitive shelters, and outdoor first aid.

From first-year scouts to the top ranks, "(they) all work in teams and it's fantastic to see it happen," said Cathy Robideau, a Shaftsbury native now living in Rutland who helped run the weekend event.

"It's a youth-run organization," she stressed. After the "cub" level (for ages seven to 11), scouts are expected to be mature enough to lead their own groups and problem-solve for themselves as to how best to set up a shelter using only the bare minimums: rope, three poles, and a tarp.

The entire idea of the derby is to re-create conditions and skills useful in the frigid Klondike, Treat said in an earlier interview. Scouts should be able to craft "bear bags" (to keep food tethered out of reach of wildlife), orient themselves using a compass ("The boys have to know how to use a compass, then they're allowed to use a GPS," Treat said), and measuring heights and distances from afar.

Scouts also had to make desserts in makeshift dutch ovens and prepare their winter "patrol sleds" with all their necessities. Capping the daylong event, troops participated in competitive sled races across the lower Willow Park fields.

The Klondike Derby is an annual February event that rotates around the Ethan Allen District. Although the districtwide events are good opportunity for scouts to meet their peers from outside troops and form friendships, Robideau said the same held true for troop leaders and other adult organizers.


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