December 3, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 46°F


Author teaches Ithaca College students winter survival skills

Ithaca College students learned how to survive outside during a New York winter in a talk by the founder of Primitive Pursuits, a local nature education program.

Dave Hall, founder of Primitive Pursuits, recently published a book titled, “Winter in the Wilderness: A Field Guide to Primitive Survival Skills,” with co-author Jon Ulrich. This talk, given Nov. 4 in the Center for Natural Sciences, was part of his local book tour.

Eighteen students sipped hot cider and ate doughnuts as Hall talked, covering topics like maintaining core temperature, dressing properly, building snow shelters, staying hydrated, lighting fires and creating insulation.

Hall particularly emphasized the importance of building a snow shelter and explained how to build many different types, including quinzees — natural piles of snow that have been hollowed out — snow tepees, snow trenches, snow caves, snow pits, structured snow shelters, block shelters and igloos.

“All of these snow shelters, if built correctly, can save you,” Hall said. “They really provide a sanctuary. It’s an amazing thing.”

Hall said he was motivated to become more involved with the concept of primitive survival when he became a guide with Adirondack Treks, a youth adventure program, and went out with his first group.

“I realized that without a tent — without any of this stuff — I was useless to my group,” Hall said. “I couldn’t answer the ‘what ifs’ for my group, and that was a disturbing feeling that I didn’t like.”

He then began experimenting more with outdoor skills and founded Primitive Pursuits in 2001. He published his book in August. Hall said he was inspired to write it because there was very little practical, firsthand material about how to survive an American winter.

“I really want it to serve anyone who spends time outdoors in the winter,” Hall said of his book. “I want to give them the option of enriching or deepening their experience. I also want it to serve people in times when they weren’t anticipating dealing with winter.”

Jason Hamilton, professor in the environmental studies and sciences department, hosted the event. He worked with Hall through Primitive Pursuits and reviewed “Winter in the Wilderness” before it was published. Hamilton said these deeper, more enriching experiences with nature are very valuable.

“We need to really understand how our actions are affecting the outside system,” Hamilton said. “Just in terms of what does it mean to be a human in the 21st century? How do we build a relationship that both sustains us and all the other organisms that are out there? And the only way to really explore that relationship is to care. And that is built on having an emotional relationship.”

Hall brought a personal aspect into his presentation, showing multiple childhood photographs of his 18-year-old son Jacob and his 13-year-old son Aron assisting him in building shelters. His dog, Pearl, also made it into several photographs.

Freshman Felicity Holmes said she enjoyed the presentation and wished that Hall was a professor at the college.

“I decided to go because I’m changing my major to outdoor adventure leadership,” Holmes said. “I’m from California, and I realized that I don’t know anything about snow. And if I want to go hiking in the snow, I want to know how not to die.”

Hall ended his presentation with thoughts about why he enjoys his work.

“I find it overwhelmingly powerful,” Hall said. “It can change you. I remember the first time I made fire — you can’t take that away. Once you’ve done it and gotten good at it, it’s kind of like riding a bike. It’s cool every time even though I’ve done it thousands of times. I still find it magical.”

Annika Kushner can be reached at or via Twitter: @aekushner