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For Moskowitz and his students, Idaho beckons

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Brad Moskowitz

Brad Moskowitz

Nellie Tamboe

Nellie Tamboe

Brad Moskowitz

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While Idaho may seem like a dull destination for some people, Professor of Environmental and Health Sciences Brad Moskowitz sees it in a different light. “The Sawtooth range of the Rocky Mountains in Idaho tends to have some of the best snow and the best skiing conditions in the country,” he said. “It has some of the greatest terrain and natural beauty that can be found in the continental U.S.”

Moskowitz’s upper-level Spring 2018 course, Winter Expedition: Idaho, will include a trip to the aforementioned state as part of the curriculum. During the first seven or eight weeks of the semester, Moskowitz will meet on Wednesdays with his students to discuss topics associated with backcountry ski touring and avalanche phenomenon.

At the end of the course students who complete it successfully will receive a level one avalanche credential from the American Avalanche Association. “It’s something they can put on their resume, they can frame it and put it on their wall if they want, but it is a really recognizable credential, nationally and internationally,” he said. “It’s a great first step for people who are going to become avid backcountry enthusiasts, and also if they want to move into the professional realm of guiding and leading trips in the backcountry setting for skiing and riding.” Students will also use class time to review their equipment and prepare for the Idaho trip taking place over February break.

The trip will begin with a flight to Boise, Idaho. From there the group will drive out to Sun Valley where they will gather food and equipment for their upcoming expedition, as well as prepare for the treacherous topography. “Students learn about the skills they’ll need and the knowledge they’ll need to go venture into avalanche terrain…” said Moskowitz. “It’s opening opportunities for them to understand the dangers and risks, and to better evaluate those dangers and risks so they don’t get themselves hurt or killed.”

The expedition entails six days of skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry of Sun Valley, Idaho. During this time students and faculty will be staying in yurts owned by the company Sun Valley Trekking, which has accommodated Moskowitz’s trips since 2004. “We have a very good connection with the owners of Sun Valley Trekking,” he said. “It’s really fun for me and for Mark Puleio, who co-instructs the course with me, to go out to Idaho and visit our friends.”

This ongoing relationship with Sun Valley Trekking has proved beneficial for Moskowitz’s students as many of them complete their internships with the company. “If you look online at Sun Valley Trekking’s web page you’ll see many of the guides are from the Johnson State College Outdoor Education program,” he said.

Some students have even found their future on the trip. “Many of them have gravitated to work for [Sun Valley Trekking,] and actually settled and developed a life for themselves in the Sun Valley region,” said Moskowitz. “So right now, there’s probably a handful of JSC graduates who live in Hailey, Idaho who own homes, have children and are doing the work they love in the place they love.”

Besides offering possible career paths, Moskowitz said that the trip will be an incredible experience for everyone involved. “We get to ski and experience some of nature’s beauty in a remarkable way, and that’s one thing right there,” he said. “In addition, they’ll be learning some of the skills that are required to be a leader, to be a guide, to be somebody responsible for others and making decision in terrain where there are inherent risks of just being there. So, I think that’s pretty important.”

Although the upcoming class is already full, Moskowitz says the course is offered every other year. “On the odd years, like 2017, 2019, we offer the same course number, but the venue is different,” he said. “So, we do a winter expedition that happens in the northeastern U.S., and instead of being focused on backcountry skiing and snowboarding, it’s focused on winter climbing and winter camping, so that class has a completely different skill set and focus of sort of winter climbing and mountaineering skills.”

For students who think they’re interested but are afraid to take the plunge there is a brand-new class being offered next semester that is closer to home called Nordic and Backcountry Skiing. “The intention of this class is to really introduce students to the skills of backcountry skiing and riding,” said Moskowitz.

Nordic and Backcountry Skiing meets on Wednesdays from 1-5 p.m. and includes two Friday field trips. “We’ll visit a few touring centers like Craftsbury Outdoor Center, or Trapp Family Lodge, and then after we develop some skills we’ll get wider skis and do some backcountry touring, and then we’ll wrap up with a full day of backcountry skiing with alpine touring, telemark or split boards, depending on the student’s mode of backcountry travel,” Moskowitz said. “That’s a great experience for people to get a taste of what backcountry skiing and Nordic skiing is all about, and a way to enjoy our winter wonderland that we have here in Vermont.”

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For Moskowitz and his students, Idaho beckons