Scouting builds character. It gives young men the chance to work together to solve problems, overcome challenges, and do things that are hard and sometimes uncomfortable.
Why do we camp in the snow? Because it builds grit, or in other words, character. Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, says that "the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control." Carrying a pack through the snow and sleeping in a trench develops and tests a person's character. It's one way scouting helps build young men into capable leaders.
I remember a winter camp with a group of eleven-year-old scouts. We camped in five feet of snow. Each scout dug a trench in the snow--longer than a sleeping bag and almost deep enough to sit up inside. With layers of plastic and straw on the floor and a tarp stretched across the top anchored by snow, each scout had his own personal snow cave. We left the trenches open at the head and the foot for ventilation, and most scouts placed their packs upright in the head of their trenches.
One mother looked at photos of the camp and sadly declared that it looked like "they were sleeping in GRAVES!" As graves go, I think these were pretty warm and cozy.
One scout I remember was on his first camping trip with us, and he probably weighed only slightly more than his pack. We waded through the deep snow to an area where we could dig our trenches, and soon everyone was ready to climb into the snow for the night. I was impressed at how positive and willing this young scout was as the night grew darker and fresh snow started to fall.
I'll always remember calling out from my trench in the early morning to hear how everyone was doing. From our first-time camper I heard, "Yeah, I'm here. I'm all right." He was so warm and comfortable in his trench that it was hard for him to want to get up. As I cleared the four inches of fresh snow away from the exit of my trench, I saw him poke his head up with a winning smile. This kid had grit.
A few years after the winter camping experience the young man I told you about achieved his Eagle Scout rank. At his court of honor he talked about that night in the snow, and it made me think about all of the life-changing opportunities he had through scouting. A few more years have passed, and now that young scout is full-grown and is serving an LDS mission overseas. From what I've seen in him, I'm sure that he will meet any challenge with grit, determination, and optimism.
That's why we camp in the snow.