Field Update: Central Idaho Gets SnowSchooled!

Winter in central Idaho was a bit slow to arrive this year.  A strong La Nina pattern sent its polar jet stream with cold temperatures and precipitation in abundance to Montana and Idaho’s Panhandle.  Meanwhile, the mountains to the south waited in earnest…

, ,

SnowBall for SnowSchool Galvanizes Education, Recreation and Science Communities

SnowBall Ladies and Gentlemen in ski flare costume danced the night away to the music of Woodbelly (in Boulder CO) and Curtis/Sutton and the Scavengers (Boise ID).

As part of our annual SnowSchool Support Week WWA threw two SnowBall benefit concerts in Boulder CO and Boise ID in Feburary.  These winter themed galas included bluegrass music, dancing, libations, ski-flare costumes, Arctic Theater Royale, and many awesome raffle/auction items!  Not only did these fundraisers support our work of getting thousands of underserved kids across the country outside on public lands in the winter, but they also served as a gathering place for hundreds of supporters to hear testimonials from SnowSchool participants and volunteers.  At time when the future of public lands, science, education and winter itself are threatened, it was both energizing and affirming to witness broad community support for the SnowSchool program. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to all of the attendees, sponsors, volunteers and SnowSchool supporters (including SnowBall inventor Hal Hallstein) who made these events possible, we are already looking forward to next year!

Funds raised through the 2018 SnowBall events will be used to:

  • Reach thousands of underserved students through SnowSchool.

    Snow scientists HP Marshall and Charlie Luce talk shop at the Boise SnowBall

    We believe that all kids should have the opportunity to experience our nation’s public wildlands. Working with local schools and SnowSchool sites across the country we work hard to bring this experience to the kids who need it the most.

  • Establish new SnowSchool sites: We work with non-profits, the US Forest Service and other local organizations to bring our proven program to new communities across the country. Since establishing the program in 2005 we’ve added 3-6 new SnowSchool sites every winter!
  • Enhance kids’ SnowSchool experience: We improve SnowSchool every winter by designing new learning experiences for diverse students. WWA’s new web-based Snowpack Prediction Contest connects students and teachers with local mountain weather/snowpack stations once they are back in their classroom. The result of this activity expands learning at SnowSchool from a 1-day outing into a 4-month snow and climate science exploration!

-Kerry McClay, National SnowSchool Director

To learn more about SnowSchool visit



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

, ,

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  or visit


SnowSchool Field Report! December 14th 2017

By Kerry McClay

While its still technically the “pre-season”, many SnowSchool sites are working hard to train leaders for the coming winter.  This is especially true at sites that rely heavily on volunteer educators, such as Discover Your Forest in Bend OR.  This past week I headed over to Mt Bachelor (the site of DYF’s SnowSchool program) to provide a professional development workshop for 25 staff and volunteer educators.  And while many of the training sessions I provide each year tend to focus on experiential education for elementary students, this training focused on WWA’s unique middle/high school science curriculum.

Of course, we all remember our high school snow science class, right? Yep, didn’t think so.  Even though mountain snow supplies up to 80% of the water in many communities in the western United States, it remains an understudied and overlooked topic. To fill this void we partnered with NASA snow scientists in 2014 to develop a unique curriculum especially for older students based on modern field techniques.  For example, participants in this program calculate snow/water equivalent (the water content of the snow) with density cutters and spring scales (left) and also examine snow crystal morphology with high powered macro-scopes (below). The result has created repeat SnowSchool experiences for middle and high school that builds on their same initial science adventure they completed as elementary school kids.  

This programmatic addition is great fit at a SnowSchool site like Discover Your Forest, which annually engages over 2,000 elementary students from the Bend Oregon area.  Karen Gentry (DYF Education Director) and Bess Ballantine (DYF Education and Stewardship Coordinator) reached out to WWA to request support in developing this program to serve students in their community.  In addition to supplying the SnowSchool curriculum and activity guide, I was able to travel to Bend to provide a free training for the DYF volunteers and educators.  This included a classroom presentation on core concepts and a field day filled with hands-on science based on NASA field techniques!

At this point you may be asking, “Why is NASA involved in snow science?”   And the answer is pretty interesting… Snow science as a field has emerged relatively recently as questions about the Cryosphere (the snow and ice covered areas of the world) have become increasingly important over the past half-century.  Technology innovations have accelerated interest in improving the scientific community’s ability to estimate the water content of certain snow and ice covered areas (such as local watersheds and polar ice caps).  This is becoming increasingly relevant as climate change reduces polar ice and appears to be altering traditional local snowfall patterns.   To reduce our dependence on outdated historical snowpack data trends NASA is developing the capacity to estimate the water content of a snowpack using radar from aircraft (like a helicopter), and eventually from an orbiting satellite.  But accomplishing this goal requires scientists to first improve their knowledge of the snowpack itself.  In January 2014 at the Fraser Experimental Forest the NASA Snow Working Group held its’ first ever field workshop to improve scientists’ knowledge of snow.  Atmospheric scientists, physicists, geologists, engineers, statisticians (and one curriculum specialist!) all spent five days neck deep in the Colorado snow making careful hand tool measurements and gaining a greater appreciation of the complexities of a mountain snowpack.  This field course formed the foundation of the SnowSchool snow science curriculum for middle and high school students.

The purpose of the SnowSchool program has always been to give kids a rich hands-on learning experience that connects them with their local ecosystem.  Exploring their local winter wildlands on snowshoes is fun and helps kids build an emotional connection to the natural world.  By studying the same snow that will eventually supply their homes and communities with water in the spring and summer months, SnowSchool is helping kids create a personal connection with, and interest in, real science.

Kerry McClay, Ed.D. is WWA’s National SnowSchool Director

Contact him at for more information