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Soldiers Learn To Ski At Cold-Weather Ops Course
by U.S. Army Scott T. Sturkol
April 19, 2019

In each class for the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) at Fort McCoy, students receive approximately 16 hours of training in skiing ... one of the longest lengths of training time allotted for a skill set in the course.

The skiing training is completed at Fort McCoy’s Whitetail Ridge Ski Area of the Pine View Recreation Area. The ski area offers plenty of snow to complete the lessons, is quickly accessible, and is well maintained, said CWOC Instructor Joe Ernst, who works for contractor Veterans Range Solutions, which supports the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

Ernst said the ability to ski is critical for students.

January 11, 2019 - Students in the Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-02 practice skiing at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. In addition to skiing, CWOC students are trained on a variety of cold-weather subjects, including snowshoe training as well as how to use ahkio sleds and other gear. Training also focuses on terrain and weather analysis, risk management, cold-weather clothing, developing winter fighting positions in the field, camouflage and concealment, and numerous other areas that are important to know in order to survive and operate in a cold-weather environment. The training is coordinated through the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security at Fort McCoy. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Army photos by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy)

“Skiing is a primary method of travel in an extreme cold-weather environment,” Ernst said. “We teach our students to do this by utilizing currently issued equipment and through a step-by-step approach.”

The first eight hours the students train on skis is learning how the equipment works and how to move on the skis, Ernst said. The second day of training is more about the students learning how to build the basic skills they learned on the first day.

“We get a lot of students — I would say the majority of our students — who have never skied before,” Ernst said. “So, essentially, when they come here, they are starting from scratch. By the end of the skiing training, I would say on average that at least 90 percent of the students, maybe more, are competent in using the equipment.”

For the 2018-19 winter training season for CWOC, Fort McCoy purchased the latest type of skis for students to use.

The skis are slightly shorter than traditional Army skis used by service members for cold-weather operations, and the skis have better bindings, Ernst said.

“The students seem to be able to use these new ones better than the old ones,” he said. “The bindings seem to be more user friendly.”

Staff Sgt. Alexander Bess, a student in CWOC Class 19-01 and an instructor with the Fort McCoy Noncommissioned Officer Academy, said that overall, the course helped him build teamwork skills and made everyone in the course reach a higher level of understanding when working in unfamiliar environments.

“It made me not like the cold a little more, but I know I can operate in it (now) a little better,” Bess said. “The skiing and snowshoeing training were great blocks of instruction.”

Staff Sgt. Kelly O’Connor-Nagel with the 452nd Combat Support Hospital of Fort Snelling, Minn., also learned to ski and completed the course with class 19-01.

“This course was such a learning experience and really helped me,” O’Connor-Nagel said. “The instructors were phenomenal, knowledgeable, and so helpful. I am very happy I attended this course. It was very challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally.”

CWOC students complete 14 days of training that includes a wide range of cold-weather subjects in addition to skiing, including snowshoe training, how to use ahkio sleds, and setting up the Arctic 10-person cold-weather tent.

Training also focuses on terrain and weather analysis, risk management, proper wear of cold-weather clothing, developing winter fighting positions in the field, camouflage and concealment, and more.

Fort McCoy’s CWOC is modeled after the Cold-Weather Leader Course, which is taught by the Army Northern Warfare Training Center at Black Rapids, Alaska, said instructor Bill Hamilton.

Overall, six classes of CWOC are part of the 2018-19 training season between December and March.

Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin. The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services each year since 1984.

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