This January, 70 elementary kids filed out of Boise’s Bogus Basin Nordic Center in groups led by SnowSchool volunteer guides. They were bound for the surrounding wilderness and the educational wonders it held. As they ventured through the forest on snowshoes, they caught glimpses of Treasure Valley and the Seven Devils Range in the distance. Along the way, they stopped to learn about the area’s plants and animals, discuss its ecosystem, and conduct a snow pit analysis. For many students, this was their first time snowshoeing—and their first visit to a national forest.

For 10 years, the SnowSchool has aimed to introduce students, often those underserved, to winter’s landscape and ecology, and foster an appreciation for nature, as well as a healthy, active lifestyle through snowshoe recreation.

Every year, the national program hosted by Winter Wildlands engages approximately 28,000 students at 45 independent sites across America’s snowbelt. The science-based program seems enough to make adults jealous.

“The kids conduct snow/water equivalency tests, climb inside the SnowSchool igloo and of course go belly sliding,” says Kerry McClay, national SnowSchool director. “And snowshoes provide a critical means of exploring the natural world through an experience that is both exciting and educational.”

The hands-on outdoor science lessons connect to classroom curricula. “Back in their classrooms the students will work through the winter with local hydrologists to continue to monitor their local snowpack depth and water content via SNOTEL data,” says McClay. The program has been a huge success with teachers, kids, teens, parents and public land managers.

In the woods, instructors say it’s hard to deny the excitement and smiles on the students’ faces as they watch them experience for the first time the inspiration that nature provides.

For more information on the SnowSchool, as well as a list of SnowSchool sites by state, visit: www.snowschool.org.

MSR annually provides approximately 150 new pairs of discounted snowshoes to Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool sites nationally.

A program of Winter Wildlands Alliance, SnowSchool is an unforgettable winter adventure that combines hands-on science education with outdoor snowshoe exploration for 28,000 K-12 students each winter. Our network of 45 independent sites has recently expanded to include three additional SnowSchool sites: Discover Your Forest in Bend OR, Mt Baker Ski Area in Washington state, and Justin Trails in Sparta WI: Below is a quick look at what these sites are planning for the upcoming year. Find all of our SnowSchool sites at www.snowschool.org.

Mt Baker Ski Area joined the SnowSchool program this fall with the aspiration of providing hands-on snow science education programs for middle and high school students living in the greater Bellingham area and surrounding regions. Working in partnership with WWA, Mt Baker Education Coordinator Kerry Hermann (kerry@mtbaker.us) has developed a plan to pilot these programs for the very first time during the winter of 2014. Working to develop this program from the ground up, Mt Baker is utilizing curriculum developed by WWA SnowSchool to plan these outings in coordination with local school district teachers. More information to come as the program is launched this winter!

Discover Your Forest has joined the SnowSchool program with the aspirations of improving and expanding their existing winter education programs. DYF’s Project Snow program annually engages thousands of local elementary students in on-snow education programs near Mt Bachelor ski area in the Deschutes National Forest. Conservation Educator Karen Gentry (kwgentry@fs.fed.us) from Discover Your Forest approached WWA seeking collaborative assistance with curriculum development and new ideas of providing students with engaging on-snow activities. More information to come as the collaboration continues this winter!

Justin Trails in Sparta Wisconsin joined the SnowSchool network this fall with the goal of launching a new winter outdoor education program for local elementary students. With an abundance of snow and forested snowshoe trails, Justin Trails is ideally situated to provide this experience for local students. Justin Trails approached WWA looking for curriculum ideas and logistical support as they work to develop this program from the ground up. More information to come as the new program is implemented this winter!

Find information about all of the sites in our SnowSchool network here!