Girls' day out: Girl Scouts explore winter activities

Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009

When some people think of the Girl Scouts, the first image that pops into their head is that of tiny tots peddling cookies. But scouting is about so much more than just teaching girls about entrepreneurship through the selling sweet treats.

Photo By Joseph Robertia
Photo By Joseph Robertia
Kristy Berington gives a dog sled ride during the Girl Scouts Winter Fun Day last Saturday at Johnson Lake State Recreation Area in Kasilof. Several mushers volunteered their time and their dogs to the event.

In Girl Scouts, adolescent and teen girls discover a balance of individualism and teamwork, through fun and enriching experiences, such as the annual Winter Fun Day, held Saturday at Johnson Lake State Recreation area in Kasilof.

"We're trying to get them to realize they can do outside stuff, in summer and winter," said Mickey Sopkowiak, organizer of the event, and a leader of Troop 95.

From Daisies, to Brownies, to Juniors, to Senior Scouts, there were more than 100 people in attendance for the event, including family members of the girls.

"We wanted to siblings to be able to participate, and we wanted parents to see how much fun the girls have," Sopkowiak said.

There was a myriad of events for the girls and others to partake in, and nearly all were winter-themed, such as the most Alaskan winter sport of them all: dog mushing. A large track was put in around the lake and several peninsula mushers volunteered their teams and their time to give the Girl Scouts sled dog rides. Of the four mushers, all but one were women.

"I set that up so the girls could see that it's not just the boys that do dog mushing and other things," Sopkowiak said.

Carrie Wang and Wayne Todd, from the Alaska Mountain and Rescue Group, were also on hand to teach the girls some basic principles of travelling outdoors in winter, and to teach them about some more vertical winter activities.

They showed the girls had to construct snow shelters, such as a quinzee -- a type of crude igloo. They brought some basic gear for avalanche rescue, so the girls could learn about using a snow shovel, rescue beacon and probe. They also brought some ice climbing gear for the kids, such as crampons and ice screws, so the girls could practice -- albeit on the flat frozen surface of Johnson Lake -- some of the basics of ice climbing.

"We may be on flat terrain, but this is still a way to teach them a few topics and give them some hands-on," Todd said.

Other activities the girls participated in included ice fishing, skiing and snow shoeing. The day also included an Easter egg hunt and a meal of hot dogs cook over an open fire.

Preparing to spend so much time outdoors was another lesson the girls learned, according to Gary Todd, leader of Troop 626.

"Today is about fun, but it's also educational, since the girls learned what they need to wear," he said.

Leading up to the weekend event, Todd said the girls learned about dressing in layers, and how synthetics can be superior to cotton clothing during winter weather when the wearer will be active.

"We taught them through examples. We took a cotton shirt and a synthetic one, and weighed them both, then poured a cup of water on them. The synthetic only retained a half cup of water, but the cotton retained a cup of water, and weighed a whole bunch more," he said.

"It really let them know, if they're going to be out, what they need to wear to stay warm," Todd added.

Sopkowiak said all the activities offered gave the girls a taste for things they may want to pursue more of on their own.

"Some of the activities, a lot of these kids have never done before, and all of the girls are from the peninsula, and some have lived their whole lives here," she said.

But in the end, new experiences were largely the goal of the day," Sopkowiak admitted.

"Hopefully, they won't forget this stuff for a while," she said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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