The Browne Center

“Winterizing” Your Ropes Course

“Winterizing” Your Ropes Course

By Jeff Frigon

The winter of 2015 has brought record snowfalls in the Northeast; upwards of 5 feet in the last month.  We still program in the snow and these unprecedented snowfall numbers in such a short span has added additional challenges to winter use of our course!

It was a learning process as to what worked and what didn’t, and we thought it could be beneficial to share our experiences.

Resources you will need

  • Snowblower (*see cautions)
  • Snowshoes or skis
  • Shovels
  • Water
  • Ibuprofen or anti-inflammatory/painkiller of choice
  • Time

Snowblowers, a cautionary tale

In years’ past, we have used a snowblower to deal with higher volume storms and shovels for smaller volumes.  This year, by the time we were able to start clearing, there was no way a snowblower could have been used, even IF we could have gotten it over the plow truck snowbanks on the perimeters of the course (5’-8’ high and counting).

Tips for those thinking about using a snowblower to clear their course:

  • Clear the area of debris.  Snowblowers cannot handle sticks, rocks, large wood chips, forgotten playropes, etc.
  • Use the highest Auger Height.  If your snowblower has an adjustable auger height, put it as high up as possible to keep from scraping up above-mentioned debris and clogging the mechanism.
  • Bring lots of extra shear pins.  Shear pins are metal bolts or clevis pins made of soft metal that is designed to break away or “shear” off when the auger clogs with debris.  It is this shearing off that will save you from damaging your transmission.  Shear pins cost a dollar or so.  Transmissions? Hundreds.


To work hardening then

Our primary tool for preparing the course with no snowblower?  Myself and work hardening: also known as walking repeatedly over the same area, compacting the snow.  Usually best achieved with skis or snowshoes first and then booted feet.

Below are some Element Specific tips and hard learned lessons…


The Wall

I work hardened all around our wall after carefully shoveling off the platform on top.

The Wall requires added care and hardening due to the intense nature of spotting; you want your spotters to have as solid a footing as you can give them!

Also be sure to harden a large enough area for spotting and include spotting zones off the backside as well as extra attention right next to the wall, so that feet don’t slide into the “well” that can be created by melting and drifts.

Romping dogs can be helpful in the work-hardening process.

3.wallbase    4.walldogs

Cabled Elements

  • While wearing snowshoes or skis, work harden the entire area around your element, including a good 4-6 foot area all around it for spotters.
  •  I found that at 200 lbs, it would take at least 3 laps/rounds of work hardening and stomping to get the area to start to firm up.
  • Once everything is work hardened, if your cables are not free of the snow, dig them out, removing the snow from directly under the cables only, creating a kind of pit.
  • This is a photo of a work- hardened, dug out Wild Woozie.  This took me about 45 minutes.
  • Remember to dig out all your hardware and connection points!  If you cannot inspect it for damage, you should not use it!  Winter’s freeze/thaw cycles, as well as any wind/events, can cause damage that is then buried by snow!!

5.wildwoozy   6.connection

Swinging Elements

Swinging elements present a slightly different challenge:  note the un-weighted nitro swing here about an inch from the snow’s surface.  Once weighted, the swinger would be gouging out a trough in the snow.  Although amusing to think about in soft snow, imagine spotting this as a facilitator? 

For our Double Nitro (a.k.a. Multiswing or Dos Nitros), I was not happy with the amount of compaction work hardening gave me, so I opted to dig out the whole thing, work hardening the takeoff zone and using one of our 2’ by 2’ platforms as a kind of deck to add stability.  This was very functional and, I must say cool and fun to do!


7.nitro  9.nitroscape


Also, to state the obvious, if you program with folks wearing snowshoes…. This is a very bad idea.



 Whale Watch/Moby Deck

My “assistant,” Salty Dog here is sitting ON our Whale Watch prior to removal of almost 3 feet of snow.  I shoveled off the whole deck, then work hardened the area around if for 4-5 feet.

Special safety precautions are needed to run the whale watch in these conditions; making sure folks enter and exit from either the fulcrums or from one side that is “bottomed out.”  In addition, strictly enforcing the 3 foot rule is vital, as the snow immediately adjacent to the whale watch will slide UNDER it when weighted/trod upon (because there is no snow under the whale watch, it will slide and fill the void).

I know this because I must’ve slid my snowshoe clad foot under the darn thing a dozen times while work hardening it!



Hopefully you found this helpful, got any tips of your own?  Let us know!

The Browne Center has been providing innovative experiential learning programs since the early 1980s. We provide a wide range of programming from comprehensive trainings to shorter one-day sessions. Our learning programs evolve to meet the needs of our clients and our diverse client base allows us to draw upon best practices from a variety of disciplines and remain sensitive to specific needs and outcomes.

Creating a dynamic program based on your group's specific goals is our approach with every single client. We can provide an action-packed program to meet your needs – whether you are coming together as a new group, integrating new members, building positive group relationships, addressing specific behaviors, or striving for performance excellence.