Polar Explorer, Guide, Educator, Speaker, Safety & Logistics Consultant

Kids in Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool run in the mountains and throw snowballs on snowshoes

We’re getting ready for another winter to get kids outside and in the snow!

As teachers and students across the country prepare to head back to the classroom this month, we’re also getting ready for the next season of SnowSchool. We’re especially excited to bring a new and expanded version of SnowSchool to school districts like the Basin School District in rural Idaho.

“At Idaho City High School and Basin Elementary School, we are implementing SnowSchool from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade.” said Superintendent Brian Hunicke.  “It’s a great way to get kids outside in the winter time, into nature, get them snowshoeing and involved in snow science and all kinds of STEM activities.”

To bring SnowSchool to students in the Basin School District, Hunicke and district teachers are making use of snow-covered forests, school district land, and U.S. Forest Service lands that surround the schools.

Hunicke worked collaboratively with WWA SnowSchool over the past year to develop a winter science curriculum suitable for engaging all students across the district, and this coming winter provides a pivotal opportunity to implement the increasingly refined plan.

“The kindergartners are coming out and learning some basics of snow and snowshoeing and then we’ve scaffolded the learning all the way up to 12th grade, where they are doing some snow surveys, integrating math, calculating slope, things like that.  And we have everything in between, a huge range of activities,” said Hunicke. “If we are lucky, we have about two months out of the year where we have a pretty fair amount of snow, so we are able to come out here and do math and snow science.”

We’re especially excited about Basin School District for another big initiative we’ve got planned this year: integrating our program with the NASA SnowEx citizen science project.

This NASA Earth Science mission aims to further advance new technology and remotely detect snow-water content from aircraft and, ultimately, an orbiting satellite. The Basin School District happens to sit in NASA’s 2019-20 flight path. NASA needs students to collect snow density samples and send their measurements to researchers so they can compare  on-the-ground data with information collected from the aircraft.

WWA ambassador and Boise State University snow scientist Hans-Peter Marshall is leading the mission. Several of the aircraft flight paths in California, Idaho, and Colorado will fly directly over SnowSchool sites, just like the Basin School District.  This project presents an exciting and authentic citizen science opportunity for SnowSchool students.

High-level science is certainly part of the SnowSchool curriculum, however, the ultimate goal of the program remains. We simply want to connect kids with nature in the winter.

“The nice thing about winter is it’s the perfect time to get kids outside. They are all stuck inside and they get a little antsy. This is the perfect time of year to get kids outside and get some exercise,” said Hunicke.

Every year, Winter Wildlands Alliance teaches dozens of educators across the country about fun and hands-on activities to do with kids in the winter.  After going through our SnowSchool training, Superintendent Hunicke showed the 8th graders in Idaho City how to cut igloo blocks using a snow saw. Every student got to cut a few igloo blocks and contribute to the finished product!

Big SnowSchool shout-out to our friends at KEEN Effect and Mountain Safety Research for helping make this project possible!

One last thing: The SnowBall semi-formal shindig is on the calendar for October 25, during our Wild Weekend. Mark your calendars and get your tickets. It’s going to be a super fun night of dancing, live music, and drinks!

Never in the long history of our public lands system has there been such a broad array of serious, systemic threats—political, philosophical, economic and environmental. These are lands we all own together. Lands we all care about and depend on. How can we work together, starting at the grassroots level, to confront these threats, improve our approaches to public land management, improve access for all people, and at the same time ensure the long-term sustainability of natural landscapes and ecosystems?

We believe the first step is to host an inclusive gathering of colleagues, stakeholders and fellow activists to ask hard questions and talk solutions that will inspire and empower people to get involved in their public lands. 

Join us in Boise the last weekend of October for the Wild Weekend, a gathering that will equip you with knowledge and tools, connect you to a network of fellow outdoor enthusiasts and advocates for public lands, and fuel your excitement for the upcoming winter. Wild Weekend encompasses three keystone events: the Grassroots Advocacy Conference featuring keynote speaker James Edward Mills, Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere, and SnowSchool SnowBall. There will be speakers, ski movies, dancing, adventures, panels, and so much more. 

Here’s a rundown of everything we’ve got planned during the Wild Weekend. Choose from the Grassroots Conference, Backcountry Film Festival, SnowBall, or join us for all of it. Register now. 

The flyer for the Grassroots Conference, Wild Weekend, Backcountry Film Festival, and SnowSchool SnowBall

8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference 

October 24-27

Conference: $250

The theme of the conference is Growing Equity in Public Lands, and the goal is to empower as many people as possible to get involved in issues affecting public lands. 

Join policy makers, athletes, grassroots activists, scientists, educators, mountain guides, local elected officials and other recreation and conservation stakeholders and activists from across the country for a weekend full of engaging workshops and discussions on issues important to public lands, winter and sustainable recreation. Get the latest developments in policy and planning issues, share grassroots successes and strategies, meet with public land managers, gain new advocacy tools and spend quality time with colleagues, partners, new friends and allies. Help us find a way forward.

Thursday night’s keynote speaker is James Edward Mills, author of The Adventure Gap. Mills is an award-winning journalist and media producer whose work revolves around outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living. 

On Friday and Saturday, panels will cover a spectrum of topics that dive right into the heart of the biggest issues facing public lands right now. Sessions include: Planning the Future of Public Lands; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on Public Lands; The Pros and Cons of the Outdoor Economy; Messaging the Sacred; Collaboration Case Studies; Climate Action; E-Recreation; Recreation and Wildlife; Experiential Education; and Finding Sustainable Funding for Public Lands.

REGISTER NOW.

The Backcountry Film Festival header is displayed during a snow storm

Photo: Dev Seefeldt

15th Annual Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere

October 25, shows at 6:30pm and 9:30pm

Tickets: $20

For 15 years, Winter Wildlands Alliance has pressed play on the Backcountry Film Festival, an event that has raised more than $1.3 million for grassroots groups around the country. Join us for the world premiere, with films showcasing blissful powder turns, alpenglow across the mountains, stories about human-powered pursuits, and people who are passionate about protecting public lands. 

Stoke the vibe before the show or keep it going after a party from 7 to 9pm at The North Face store in downtown Boise, with live music, beer, and more fun. 

Film submissions are currently being accepted. If you have a short film that you’d like to submit to the Backcountry Film Festival, here are our submission guidelines. Stay tuned for the full lineup. 

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Two people in white skirts dance in ski boots during the snowball fundraiser for the snowschool

SnowSchool SnowBall 

October 26, 7-11pm

Tickets: $30

Join the Idaho backcountry community for a semi-formal evening to celebrate the upcoming season. There will be live music by the Lonesome Jetboat Ramblers, plus dancing, craft beer, drinks, raffle items, and a food truck. Proceeds go to Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool, an educational program that introduces kids to human-powered winter recreation and teaches them about the snowpack. Each year, SnowSchool works with 35,000 children at 70 sites across the country. 

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Credit on film poster illustrations: Tony Deboom with Endurance Conspiracy

“Nothing brings the solitary backcountry skiers out of the woods like a night of films and beer and community.” —Gus B, from Wenatchee, Washington

Fifteen years ago, the staff at Winter Wildlands Alliance pressed play on a ski movie called Sanctified. It was produced by KGB Productions and Newschoolers, of all places, called it an “environmentally focused, soulful ski film.” That first showing was a true grassroots beginning for the Backcountry Film Festival. One ski movie evolved into a “film night,” and then in 2007, a full-on festival tour with screenings in Salt Lake City, Sun Valley, Steamboat Springs, and Tahoe.

“It grew from a scrappy idea into a national and international tour, bringing together skiers, families, dirtbags, and lovers of winter to celebrate and build community,” says Lana Weber, Community Engagement Coordinator at Idaho Conservation League. Weber used to work for Winter Wildlands, and says the festival was a big part of her world. “I watched my kids grow up alongside the action. They became pros at selling raffle tickets and consumed more Clif Bars than anyone I’ve ever known.”

The Backcountry Film Festival was built on bringing our backcountry community together. We’ve connected audiences to tales of snowy adventures, while also raising money for grassroots causes. Thanks to you, the film festival has raised more than $1.3 million for other grassroots backcountry groups around the country. Last year alone, we raised $190,000 with more than 100 partners around the country. 

“When I found myself hibernating metaphorically from the wild outside, this festival got me excited to get back out there again, the cold be damned.” —Megan G, from Syracuse, New York

If there’s one place of common ground for skiers—well, it’s probably the chairlift or the skin track. But the second best place for skiers to gather is definitely around a screen to watch a ski movie. Whether it’s putting the POW in human powered, or diving into stories about public lands andaccess to human-powered recreation, we’re still just as happy to press the play button.

“I’m honored to continue carrying the Backcountry Film Festival legacy into its fifteenth season and beyond,” says Melinda Quick, Backcountry Film Festival manager.  “The festival continues to grow, bringing together backcountry communities to celebrate and support their local adventures. Thank you for continuing to believe in the impact of wild winter landscapes and human-powered stories!”

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: We’re still accepting film submissions for the 15th Annual Backcountry Film Festival!

More about our recent poster artist, Tony Deboom at Endurance Conspiracy, can be found here: https://enduranceconspiracy.com/.

What do you have to say about the Backcountry Film Festival?

  • “Hosting the Backcountry Film Festival has been a fun and effective way to celebrate winter and build community in Mount Shasta. It helps us raise essential funds for our Ski School Program and we look forward to it every year.”  – Jenna K, Mt. Shasta, California
  • “The Backcountry Film Festival is one of our largest fundraisers of the year. It provides an opportunity to increase the visibility of our organization with a target audience that we sometimes have trouble reaching (young adults, athletes, and adults without small children). It has become a most anticipated annual event in our small town.”  – Beth C, Los Alamos, New Mexico
  • “The Festival really fostered that sense of community, a community that shares the love for wild places.” – Jara J, Alma, Colorado
  • “Backcountry Film Festival allows us to bring our community together, not just to watch amazing films, but since we live in a place where we have to go find winter, BCFF creates the enthusiasm to go seek those places out! When we host, we get to support our community non-profit organizations geared towards getting people outside and connected with the beauty of the natural world and provide a fun forum to appreciate what the winter season provides and to inspire attendees to go explore!” – Lindsey B, San Luis Obispo, California
  • “The Backcountry Film Fest is a turn-key method to enhance a sense of community; GBA uses the Film Fest platform as a tool to enter into new markets and introduce itself and WWA to those folks. It is highly effective for that purpose.” – Tyler R, North Conway, New Hampshire

Photo: Mineral King Valley/Creative Commons

From the beginning, the National Environmental Policy Act has been an important tool for skiers seeking to protect wild backcountry areas. 

Right now, the Forest Service is considering some broad, potentially devastating changes to how it implements NEPA that could scale back your ability to have a voice over your public lands. Their proposed changes would roll back the public process from about 93% of all Forest Service projects, and in some cases, eliminate public notice altogether.

Industry groups and extractive companies who know their actions have a big effect on the environment would like to see NEPA rolled back to make it easier and faster for them to develop public lands. The Forest Service also has not been very efficient in how they’ve done environmental analysis in the past, and there are legitimate reasons for them to pursue some modest reforms. It’s essential that they proceed cautiously, though, because changes to NEPA could come at a big cost for the environment and for your ability to participate in decisions around public lands and waters.

The Forest Service is accepting public comments on these proposed revisions until August 26. We’ve made it easy to share your thoughts directly with the Forest Service through the link below.

Click Here To Comment Now

 

Photo Credit: USC Libraries/Mineral King Development Records

Mineral King is a sub-alpine glacial valley in the southern Sierra Nevada that was annexed into Sequoia National Park in 1978. It once was a place used by Native American tribes, including the Wikchúmni Yokut and the Tübatulabal. Today, it’s a scene that rivals Tuolumne Meadows or other High Sierra valleys, with a few remote campsites and a handful of summer cabins that were built in the 1940s. The area is remote; trails connect it to the rest of the national park. From the west, a narrow, winding road grants access from late spring to early fall. As soon as snow falls, the road shuts down and allows Mineral King to rest in solitude, save for the few backcountry skiers who are up for a long approach.

But it almost wasn’t that way. 

Had President Nixon not signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on January 1, 1970, Mineral King may very well have become a huge, bustling ski resort with 22 lifts, a gondola, a five-story hotel with more than a thousand rooms, a movie theater, general store, pools, ice rinks, tennis courts, and a golf course. 

In February 1965, the Forest Service invited proposals for a ski resort in Mineral King and they accepted the bid from the Walt Disney Company, which envisioned a ski resort sprawling across the valley with 3,700 vertical feet and four-mile-long ski runs. To build the ski resort, they would have had to build a highway through the National Park. Clearly, it would have been a huge construction project on the edge of Sequoia National Park with a massive impact on the forest area and local wildlife, despite Mineral King receiving a designation by Congress in 1926 as a national game refuge. The New York Times summed up the “Battle of Mineral King” in a story published in 1969, pitting nature-lovers fearing a ‘winter Disneyland’ against the federal government and major commercial interests. 

In 1969, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against Sequoia National Park, Sequoia National Forest, and the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture. A trial judge issued a preliminary injunction, which halted the project until the case reached the Supreme Court. The Sierra Club argued that the ski resort development would “adversely change the area’s aesthetics and ecology.” But the lawsuit was struck down in 4-3 vote by the Supreme Court on April 19, 1972.

Enter NEPA.

It’s hard to imagine now, but before NEPA, one of the only tools to fight for the environment was litigation. NEPA passed Congress by a large, bipartisan majority in 1969, including a unanimous vote in the Senate. When Nixon signed it into law, NEPA triggered “a revolutionary change in governmental decision-making that is important to this day,” according to the Environmental Law Institute. In a statement given just before NEPA’s passage to law, Senator Henry M. Jackson said, “The basic principle of this policy is that we must strive in all that we do to achieve a standard of excellence in man’s relationships to his physical surroundings.”

In the case of Mineral King, NEPA required the Forest Service and Walt Disney Company to engage in a public process that would study and analyze the impacts of their proposal on the environment and public health before construction began. As the Sierra Club amended its lawsuit, Disney was required to complete an Environmental Impact Statement, which included a period of review for public comment. The final 600-page statement was released in February 1976. By then, Disney realized the scope of their project’s environmental impact and they walked away. In 1978, President Carter authorized Mineral King’s annexation to Sequoia National Park. 

Photo Credit: USC Libraries/Mineral King Development Records

 

For more stories about how NEPA has saved our environment and the places we love to recreate, head over to ProtectNEPA.org.