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Breaking the Ice: Winter 2016

By Jacob Winnicott

On a cold and snowy 12th of December, team Insight On Ice slowly pulled up in front of their new home for the next month. The excitement on our eager faces was obvious, particularly those who had never experienced the chilly tingle of freshly fallen snow. The Genting Secret Garden Hotel towered before us, impressive, intimidating and yet oddly comforting, the promise of warmth radiating from within.

This was to be the first step on a new journey for Insight Adventures, our first snow school winter camp. And what better location than at the home of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, a small town in the mountains roughly 5 hours north west of Beijing, where fresh snow falls 4 months of the year and the threat of pollution is a distant memory.

On Day 1 of camp, the students arrived into Beijing from all over China. Our previous information suggested that their English was going to be limited but we were pleasantly surprised to find most students were competent, and in some cases excellent, English speakers.

The first day was all about integration, helping the kids settle down and get to know each other, “break the ice”, as it were. Many of them did not know anyone else when they arrived so it was crucial that the group leaders helped them settle and get comfortable as quickly as possible.

After a successful first day, the second day mainly consisted of traveling by bus to the programme location. Time passed by faster than expected with Insight staff breaking out a variety of different games along the way.

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Once we arrived at the hotel and after all the exciting checking in had taken place, there was a very special and important activity that needed to occur: A SNOWBALL FIGHT!!! Chaos reigned for the next hour as kids and instructors alike delighted in pelting each other with expertly made snowballs. It was the perfect way to start a week in the snow.

As the excitement and anticipation grew, the third day dawned upon us. The students had been told what was to come in the previous debrief... but not entirely - leaving plenty of room for surprises! And a surprise it was indeed as we spent most of the day building “quinzees” – a type of dugout snow shelter. Similar to an igloo, except that it is not made with blocks of ice, a quinzee is made by first piling snow before tunnelling it out until there is an entrance and a small room inside. Quite a genius invention that is surprisingly effective against the cold.

The afternoon consisted of a catapult war that began with the idea of building a snowman army and then trying to destroy them. However it became group 1, commanded by Jane, and group 2, commanded by Lynn, trying to destroy each other with ice balls!

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The debrief leading into day 4 was filled with a sense of anticipation as the next day was what most people had been looking forward to the most. It was one of the main reasons most of the kids had signed up. It was, of course, the skiing. But first, as day 4 dawned, disaster struck. Viv Luo had foolishly decided that a midnight hike was the perfect solution to her insomnia and, due to her for night vision, had gone "missing" overnight. So that morning, after a hearty 5 star breakfast, we gathered the kids together and the "rescue mission" began.

After a long hard search that involved hiking up the side of a mountain with snow up to our waists and discovering various personal items belonging to Viv, we finally discovered where she had disappeared to…..a tent that we had walked past that very morning! Although there were skeptical kids who saw through our well staged rouse, a reward of hot chocolate was enough to silence the doubters and we all kicked back and relaxed, a steaming mug of had hot chocolate in one hand and a sense of hard earned victory in the other.

Once all the excitement of the rescue was over, the serious business of skiing was the main thing on everyones mind. We geared up and met up with the instructors after lunch. The kids were divided into 3 groups based on their ability levels and then went their separate ways to begin an afternoon on the slopes.

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The following day, the instructors were as good as their word and every student made it to the slopes. It was skiing all the way for the whole day and the students were unrecognisable by the end, most were better skiers than us! We were all very proud but none more so than the parents who had joined us. They were overjoyed that their children had displayed such talent and improvement over such a short space of time and we all totally agreed. It was a proud and successful day for all those involved.

We were edging closer and closer to the end of the trip as day 6 rolled around. For some of the students this was to be their final day and we wanted to make sure that it was as special as all of their previous days. So, in a genius wisdom, we decided that a morning of tubing followed by an awards ceremony was the perfect end to our stay at the Genting Hotel.

The tubing was fantastic, the kids basically sitting in inflated rubber tubes and then shooting off down a snow covered runway trying to go as fast as they could and break all possible world records set before them. 

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After tubing, a big awards ceremony took centre stage. Group 1 went first with Jane and Jacob, the group leaders, highlighting various achievements of the kids during the week and the rest of the group trying to guess who were taking about. Pat and Lynn followed and all the kids were recognised and appreciated for all their effort and application during the whole week.

Once the emotional ceremony drew to a close, there was much scurrying about as we all packed and mentally prepared ourselves for the long drive back to Beijing. The 5 hour journey loomed and we all settled back for another round of games and entertainment. However this time there was the promise of Beijing duck waiting for us at the other end which somehow managed to make the journey pass a lot quicker! The duck was as good as we imagined, plate after plate was devoured! It was also a send of meal for certain kids who were to leave once the meal was done which added to the occasion. Fun, games and stories were exchanged as the meal and trip drew to a close.

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There was only one thing left to do that evening; the final debrief. Group 1 and group 2 split off and the group leaders endeavored to hep the kids realise all that they had achieved during that week. Over in group 1, tears were flowing freely as emotions ran high. These kids were slightly older and had bonded very well during the week. They were a very strong team so a lot of emotions and appreciations were flying around. Group 2 were slightly younger so were far more interested in larking around! However they also took the time to appreciate each other and themselves in what had been a fine week for them.

After that a few of the kids took their leave with their parents to cheers, tears and laughter from at the rest of the gang. The rest were to leave the next day. And so they did after a truly delightful buffet breakfast! One by one the kids hopped into various modes of transport to make their way home with memories of snow-filled fun, self discovery, superb achievements and lifelong friends.

As for team Insight On Ice, it was above and beyond all the way. The parents were delighted with everything that we had done and the kids were smiling from ear to ear. It was a monumental success and superb effort from all involved.