While many view winter often as a time of inactivity and staying indoors, campus rec departments across the country are making the most of the season with creative wintertime programming.
One of the popular and creative wintertime offerings from Weber State University (WSU) Campus Recreation is the Winter Trails Series. Hayley Prine, the Outdoor Program coordinator, said the series familiarizes people with the outdoors and lets participants see what’s accessible in the area surrounding Ogden, Utah.
The program is typically two snowshoe hikes and one cross country ski outing. One of the hikes takes place during the day and the other at night under a full moon. The cross-country ski day operates as an intro to the activity.
“We’re very fortunate to have really nice trails out here for cross country skiing,” said Prine. “We have a neat organization that operates those trails called Ogden Nordic. The programs always fill up. They’re very popular, and we try to make them as accessible as possible when it comes to price. People outside the university can join as well. We’ve done a great job of integrating ourselves into the Ogden community at large. It’s nice to be able to get that collaboration between the students and the public.”
EXTRA CREDIT: At the University of Michigan, the winter recreation activity of the season is dogsledding.
Other outdoor winter offerings at WSU are avalanche education rescue-level courses through the American Institute for Avalanche Research and custom trips which includes ice climbing both locally and in Colorado.
“Being in Utah, we’re really fortunate to have a lot accessible to us,” said Prine. “What we really want students to know is we do have a lot of options for them. It would be a disservice to our students if we didn’t show them the rest of the area.”
However, winter fun can happen inside, too. For example, the University of Maryland’s (UMD) RecWell department offers a scuba program and free swim lessons to students during this time.
Stephanie Draminski, the assistant director of UMD Aquatics & Safety, said students, faculty/staff and the community really like the scuba program.
“The program provides all necessary training requirements to become Professional Association of Diving Instructors certified, which is a worldwide, recognized scuba certification,” said Draminski. “We partner with a local quarry to offer open water dive opportunities to meet certification requirements. In addition to the certification training program, we offer a Discover Scuba series that provides an opportunity for members to try it out and learn more. We also work closely with the American Red Cross for our Learn to Swim program to purchase equipment and provide instructor support.”
UMD RecWell also sees high participation with Intramural basketball during the winter months as they typically host a weekend tournament in early December. Jason Hess, the assistant director of Intramural Sports and Reckord Armory, said wallyball is another sport that’s popular and easy to fill for both league play and weekend tournaments.
EXTRA CREDIT: While creative programming can mean new classes or equipment, it can also mean little changes to already existing programs.
For those looking for a more direct fitness option, UMD’s Theme Cycle Saturdays are a special programming opportunity. They allow student staff to be creative due to its low cost and no equipment movement.
“Our student cycling instructors are tasked with coming up with a special ride theme and we promote this with fun digital graphics in our facilities and on our social media channels,” said Tami Lee, the assistant director of Fitness and Wellness. “These classes include themes most often centered around specific music artists, like Taylor Swift and eras of music.”
Indoor offerings are also important at WSU where the brand-new technical training center runs rappelling and climbing clinics all winter long. Prine said kayak roll clinics with aquatics are also popular and instruct folks on white water floating. To ensure participants are well-supplied and prepared for their explorations, Prine said RentMaster software is used for rentals and inventory while Rock Gym Pro and DoSportsEasy are used for registration purposes.
However, effective wintertime programming doesn’t have to come in the form of intramural options or adventurous excursions. For example, Princeton University holds several events during the season like the Winter Fitness Fest.
Andrew Brown, the Fitness Center evening supervisor at Princeton Campus Rec, said the fest is a hybrid event where members have the option to ski 100 meters at Level 3 on a Concept2 SkiErg as fast as they can or guess how many candy canes are in a jar. Members submit their results in-person or by scanning the QR code flyer. Top performers across divisions win prizes and the winner of the engagement activity also receives a prize.
EXTRA CREDIT: Create a win-win scenario for your department with increased cash flow and engagement.
“The fitness center is decorated with winter decorations to look like a winter wonderland,” said Brown. “By giving the members an option to compete in the fitness event or participate in an engagement activity, there is something for everyone depending on their preference. This was well received by participants.”
Another Campus Rec event that saw high levels of participation and positive feedback was the Virtual Frozen 5K. Brown said he came up with the idea after promoting the 2021 NIRSA Region 1 Virtual 5K.
“I thought it would be great to replicate that virtual 5K experience in the wintertime when the university is hosting various programs,” said Brown. “I sent students and staff a racing bib and finisher’s certificate if they participated in the race. To get credit for participating in the 5K, participants send a screenshot of their results using free run tracking apps such as Strava, Garmin, MapRunner, etc. It promotes physical and environmental wellness as a group during the height of winter, which is not easy.”
Brown said virtual offerings during winter months when students and staff aren’t on campus can make a large impact on participation. “I noticed programming in the winter is the perfect time to reach out to those who are on campus but may never have been in the facility or participated in fitness events,” said Brown. “You may be the beacon of inclusivity, community building and personal growth for the individual at this time.”
Regardless of the program or event, Brown’s advice holds true for all campus recreation departments: Reach out and meet students where they are, no matter the time of year.