Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness places great importance on student safety and comfort year-round. In the winter months, every student is outfitted with the gear necessary to remain safe, warm and present. In addition to their standard gear, students are given insulating layers, water-and wind-resistant pants and jackets, snow boots, winter-grade sleeping bags, gloves, hats, thick socks, and more as needed. When students are comfortable and safe, they’re best equipped to focus on their relationships and personal development
The climate in North Carolina and North Georgia is typically milder than that of the Northern or Western U.S. wilderness areas. The National Weather Service reports: “Oftentimes, stretches of mild weather will alternate with cold spells [in North Georgia]. Winter high temperatures average in the mid 50s to lower 60s. Lows average in the mid 30s. Lows of 32 degrees or lower can be expected on 40 to 50 days. As for snowfall, the average annual total is less than one inch” (Weather.gov).
Each department at Blue Ridge Wilderness is integral to the process of keeping students safe and healthy. Staff work around the clock to maintain communication with all groups, to bring gear, food, and fuel to the field, and to support Field Instructors with whatever they need to ensure student safety. The Blue Ridge team takes a conservative approach to winter safety measures; when deemed appropriate, staff are prepared to deliver tents to groups or to bring students indoors.
The sparse winter tree canopy in the North Georgia region allows for long-range mountain views and ample sunlight compared to shadier summer days. Blue Ridge Field Director, Thomas Miller, shares some of the benefits of winter programming at Blue Ridge: “In addition to fewer bugs and a more mild climate, students often get to enjoy more sunlight, views and, typically, a higher ratio of staff.”
Centering on self-care and teamwork, winter time at Blue Ridge also coincides with unique therapeutic benefits. Thomas explains, “Some of our socio-cultural associations with winter-time lend themselves so naturally to Milieu Therapy. It is often a time of introspection and reflection… When that reflective quality is brought to a small community, gathered around a fire, it seems inevitable that something vulnerable will be shared; an opportunity to try something new... Simple tasks, like collecting wood, end up being received as great acts of service.”