SnowSchool Volunteer Turned Artist Gives Back

“I learned a lot about myself and my leadership style. But most importantly the people I met have inspired me to go on and continue to do great things with my life.” – Artist and former SnowSchool educator Nick Kiriazis

Nick’s nearly complete wooden map of Lake Tahoe

After graduating college with a degree in biology Nick Kiriazis took some time to ponder his options and spent a few months volunteering as a SnowSchool leader at Bogus Basin SnowSchool.  In the essay excerpts below (circa 2011) Nick reflects on his experience at SnowSchool and how it shaped his ideas about his path moving forward in life.  Now, years later, Nick is a celebrated artist and former high school science department director.  His handmade wooden maps are a reflection of his passion for the outdoors.  As way of giving back to the program 20% of proceeds from the purchase of his amazing maps (see right) and select outdoor photography will benefit WWA SnowSchool (click this link to view all options).

Photo by Nick Kiriazis

“It’s really difficult to put into words how and why SnowSchool was such a great experience.  I guess it was the context of each incredible moment that made its impression on me and not the moment itself… Remembering how I felt after a day working at SnowSchool instantly brings a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart. I felt like every day I went to work I gave everything within my power to make a difference in the life of a student. I tried everything to ensure that each student had an experience that they’ve never had before, and wouldn’t forget for the rest of their lives. If you want to achieve great things, set high goals right? Working with kids almost every day made it impossible for me to not give them everything I had. In addition to helping the students, I tried to change myself for the better as well. Figuring out that I needed to improve my life would only get me half way there. The other half was comprised of the learning, trying, succeeding, failing, and experiencing necessary to improve myself. I encountered that all at SnowSchool.”

Nick and his wife Lori

“Working as a full-time SnowSchool volunteer these past few months has been everything I could ever hope a job would be. Moving out west was a leap of faith, and my experiences at SnowSchool provided me with the necessary elements to help me spread my wings. Every incredible day spent on the mountain was filled with equally incredible experiences for not only myself, but for the students I had the pleasure of working with. I truly believe that SnowSchool has molded me into a more effective leader, a more patient and creative mentor, and has allowed me to become fully aware of what I feel is important. This wonderful program has shown me that every child should have the opportunity to be outside, and even more importantly, should have the experience of exploring something completely new and exciting to them. As time goes on, one can observe our natural world fading away and out of our grasp quicker than we can understand how and why. We’re losing land, wildlife, and natural resources right before our eyes. However, I believe that inside every child lies the ability to imagine and dream for a flawless world. As long as programs like SnowSchool exist to help stimulate that excitement and curiosity, I think we have the first necessary step toward ensuring our world stays as wonderful and unspoiled as it should be, just like we dreamt it would be when we were kids.” – Nick Kiriazis

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Over 90% of winter recreation takes place on public lands.

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Help Wanted: WWA Seeks Citizen Science Volunteers in California’s Sierra Nevada

Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for backcountry skiers, splitboarders or cross-country skiers to help collect data for an important trailhead snowdepth study to inform upcoming winter recreation planning on public lands in the Sierra Nevada.

Snow depth measurements recorded by citizen science volunteers can be integrated into snowpack models to improve the accuracy of the models and to better evaluate how snow is distributed on the mountain landscape. When these measurements are collected at trailheads used for winter recreation activities over time, we can develop a relationship between long-term measurements observed at remote weather and snowpack stations (such as SNOTELs) and conditions at the trailhead. These relationships can help inform whether a trailhead can be opened for snowmobile use in order to prevent damages to the underlying soil and vegetation. Reducing the likelihood of such damage will greatly aid maintaining access to winter recreation opportunities.

In the Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada, we are particularly interested in the timing of sufficient snow depth for winter recreation and how this varies by elevation and location. A major goal is to evaluate how sufficient snow depth timing has varied historically and how this may change in the future. In the last 10 years, we have observed a rise in winter snow levels during storms.

This implies that lower elevation trailheads are seeing an increase in rain and decrease in snow, which means we have to wait longer for enough snow to accumulate to recreate in these places and that our window of time to enjoy places accessed from these trailheads is getting smaller. Developing relationships between trailhead snow depths and remote snow sensors will help us identify trailheads that are most resilient to continued changes in the mountain environment and assess how these changes may play out in the future.

By incorporating field snow depth observations from citizen scientists into snow models, all groups interested in mountain recreation and science will benefit. This information will improve our capabilities to accurately simulate snow cover and snow depth in the mountains. It will also enhance the quality of daily avalanche forecasts during big storms and runoff predictions (think flooding) during storms with high snow levels.

Ongoing work by researchers near Valdez, Alaska has shown very encouraging results. We hope to apply similar techniques throughout the Sierra Nevada during the winters of 2017/18 and 2018/19. Your contributions of snow depth measurements from along your ski tour or when you are staging your snowmobile will be instrumental in helping this project succeed.

Interested? The Community Snow Observations group has put together this tutorial on how to record your depth measurements using the MountainHub App. Also, if you sign up below we will be in touch with information about training opportunities and other project updates.

Sign up here to volunteer! 


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SnowSchool Support Week: February 3rd – 11th

The SnowSchool season is in full swing!  For over a decade we have joined together as a community of outdoor enthusiasts to create for students an experience of immersion in the wilds of winter and in the very forces that shape life on our planet.  Through this program students have learned about the nature of their own communities by braving powerful snowstorms, wandering through towering pines, analyzing oscillating drought and abundance trends, following mysterious animal tracks, and by digging in to the mountain snowpack.  They have learned in this way because of the leadership of educators across the country and because of support from people like you who believe in the importance of outdoor experiences.  Let’s get together and keep it going!  February 3rd – 11th is SnowSchool support week and there are several ways to get involved:

About Winter Wildlands Alliance National SnowSchool Program

SnowSchool introduces kids to the joy of exploring our nation’s winter wildlands. A growing national education program, SnowSchool annually engages over 33,000 participants across 65 sites. Each winter, in 16 states along the US snow-belt, K-12 students and teachers venture out on snowshoes as part of a fun and educational science-based field trip. Over 50% of participants are underserved and a majority are first time snowshoers! WWA works year-round with organizational partners nationwide to establish new SnowSchool sites each year and help bring this important experience to the communities and students that need it most.

Questions?  Contact Kerry McClay at kmcclay@winterwildlands.org  or visit www.snowschool.org

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Congressional Tax Bill Threatens Public Lands

Take Action Now to Keep Public Lands Protected and Funded!

Yesterday President Trump announced the largest-ever reduction in conservation protections for American public lands and now, with the end of 2017 in sight Congress is busy working to pass a budget and a tax bill, both of which threaten winter wildlands and public lands. Things are grim, but unfortunately becoming a snow cave dwelling hermit won’t solve anything and we’ve got to keep fighting.

The tax bill contains two provisions that are particularly worrisome for us as a non-profit that works to protect winter wildlands. First, the Senate bill would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. This provision was added to secure Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s vote.

The tax bill also directly threatens non-profits – including those like Winter Wildlands Alliance who work to protect public lands and winter wildlands – by disincentivizing charitable giving. Charitable donations fund the majority of the work that we, and other non-profits, do. 80% of nonprofit funding annually comes from individual donors, and more than 90% of those individual donors make less than $100,000/yr. But under both the House and Senate bill the charitable deduction would only be available to the wealthiest Americans, meaning that 95% of Americans will be taxed on their charitable contributions. Likewise, the tax bill limits the estate tax by doubling the current exemption.

Click here to contact your Senators and Representative and tell them not to sacrifice the Arctic Refuge and to preserve incentives for all Americans to continue to contribute to non-profit organizations.

Congress is also working to finalize a budget for 2018. This has huge implications for public lands and winter wildlands – not only in determining how much money the public lands agencies will have in order to do their jobs in the coming year, but also because the bill is littered with bad riders, including, for example, a rider to exempt national forests in Alaska from complying with the Roadless Rule. If adopted, this would undo existing protections for about 15 million acres encompassing nearly one-quarter of all Forest Service inventoried roadless areas in the U.S. Many prime backcountry ski zones, like Turnagain Pass on the Chugach, are threatened by these riders. These riders would also set a precedent that would open the doors to even broader attacks on national forest roadless areas. We’re really worried about these riders.

If you live in  Alaska, California, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, West Virginia, or Vermont, you have a Senator who sits on the Interior Appropriations Committee. Your email to your Senator asking that he or she oppose Murkowski’s riders to Sections 508 and 509 of the appropriations bill is our best bet for defending the Roadless Rule.

Even if you don’t live in one of those key states it’s still worthwhile to send an email to your representatives in Congress to tell them the 2018 budget and its massive cuts to public lands agencies, scientific research, land conservation, and environmental protection is an affront to your values as a winter recreationist and conservationist.

If you want to see what else Congress is up to, please check out the Bill Tracker page on our website. We update this page frequently to keep you posted on current legislation.


Hilary Eisen, Policy Director