Northern Tier is the site of the Boy Scouts of America's National Cold Weather Camping Development Center. Okpik Cold Weather Camping, Northern Tier's winter offering, is the BSA's premier winter camping program. At Okpik, Scouts experience a true Northwoods winter: learning how to thrive in subzero temperatures, travel across frozen wilderness lakes and construct their own sleeping structures out of snow. All trips are fully outfitted and provisioned, including almost all of the personal gear necessary to stay warm in the winter. A highly trained staff member, called an Interpreter, accompanies all crews on their trek.
The Okpik program is hosted out of the Charles L Sommers Wildernes Canoe Base, located outside of Ely, MN, on the very edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Four types of Okpik experiences are currently offered: Cabin Stays, Okpik Weekend Samplers, Okpik Treks, and Dogsled Trips
The Cabin Stay program is designed to introduce younger scouts to the idea of winter camping. Cabin Stay crews stay in a heated cabin each night, but fully explore the winter wilderness during the day. Cabin Stay participants may learn how to cross-country ski, snowshoe and ice fish.
A subset of the Cabin Stay program is the Webelos Okpik Weekend (WOW!) Program. The WOW! is very similar to the Cabin Stay with the exception that every Webelos participant is required to have an adult companion. The WOW! program is not High Adventure - it is designed to teach Webelos how to enjoy winter conditions and to introduce them to the opportunities that await as they continue their adventures in Scouting.
Okpik Weekend Samplers
The Okpik Weekend Sampler is designed to teach Scouts the basics of winter camping. In this program, crews will pack their gear onto sleds (or "pulks") and head out into the wilderness to spend 1-2 nights. Scouts will learn how to set up a winter campsite, how to build snow shelters and how to cook meals at low temperatures. In addition, they will get to try out a full array of winter activities.
The bread and butter of the Okpik Program, Okpik Treks provide older scouts with the opportunity to test their camping skills in a true winter wilderness. Crews travel by ski, snowshoe or foot into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for at least two nights, learning how to travel efficiently and enjoyably in the more difficult conditions of the Minnesota winter. Crews can expect to travel between 5 and 15 miles on their trek through a remote winter wilderness.
Okpik Dogsled Trips are designed to teach Scouts how to care for and run sledding dogs. There are two types of Dogsled Trips: Musher Camps stay in a heated cabin on base, and take the dogs out for half-day and day-long runs; Dogsled Treks head out into the wilderness with their dog teams and camp with the dogs out on the ice. In both experiences, Scouts will take ownership of a team dogs, learning how to feed, house, harness, and otherwise care for them.