March/April SnowSchool Field Update

Heavy snowfall made for a great winter, and the fun at SnowSchool continued into the spring.  Below are some video snippets and notes taken from successful outings in March and April.  Big thanks to WWA’s own Melinda Quick for producing this great footage!

Snowshoes (4/19) – One of the most important goals of SnowSchool is to introduce kids to the snow-covered outdoors.  So for many students participating in the program, snowshoeing is a new experience.  This was certainly true for this group of 4th and 5th graders who attended in April 2019.  With this new adventure comes both the joy of romping off-trail and the inherent frustration of struggling with new-to-you equipment!  And while there are always plenty of leaders and chaperones on-hand to help the kids, nothing is as satisfying as figuring it out for yourself.

Snowpits (4/19) – The huge snowfall in February and March made for excellent April SnowSchool conditions.  Here students are working in pairs to dig snowpits to determine the snowpack depth and temperature gradient.  Hands-on exploration is paramount at SnowSchool.  And though its certainly a significant challenge for a 4th grader to dig to the bottom of a 50 inch snowpack, discovering things for oneself is the most powerful way to learn!

SWE Experiment (3/19) – With so much snow in the mountains this spring, its important to understand the impact of snow abundance on our water supply and waterways.  With this simple Snow Water Equivalency (SWE) Experiment students get to make predictions and test their assumptions about the connection between snow and water.  What they discover through the experiment often surprises them…

Igloo Alert! (3/19) – Each winter in early January we build an igloo at the National Flagship SnowSchool Site at Bogus Basin ID.  The hope is that if we build one large enough and in the right spot (in the shade not the sun) and we get a decent winter, it will allow for thousands of kids over 4 months to climb inside an igloo for the very first time.  This year the plan worked!  In this clip WWA’s Backcountry Film Festival Manager Melinda Quick helps a group of kids in March pile inside the igloo.  Though there is usually an initial mixture of excitement and trepidation, students consistently describe this as their favorite SnowSchool experience.

Watershed Mapping (3/19) – Perched high on a mountain on this sunny March day produced some amazing views and a great opportunity to talk about the unique mountain landscape.  Out of all the scientific concepts at SnowSchool, the idea of a watershed (an area of land that all drains to the same place) is probably the one students most often find confusing.  To help make things more concrete, WWA’s Ilyse Sakamoto guided the students through the creation of miniature model of their local watershed and further illustrated the snow-to-water connection.

Snow Metrics (3/19) – In March the Basin School District (Idaho) 9th graders headed out the front door of the high school and into the surrounding snow covered forest.  As part of a focused effort to engage every student in rural districts like this we’ve designed unique activities for each grade level. Here National SnowSchool Director Kerry McClay guides the students through implementing NASA snow science techniques for weighing the snow and determining the water content.

Cutting Blocks (3/19) – This year Winter Wildlands Alliance trained over 100 educators in the science of snow and fun experiential SnowSchool activities (such as cutting igloo blocks).  The ripple effect of this effort can be seen here, as Basin School District Superintendent Brian Hunicke shows 8th graders how to cut igloo blocks using a snow saw.   On this March SnowSchool day each student got to cut a few igloo blocks and contribute to the finished product!

#MyOtherRideIsABellySlide (3/19) – No day of SnowSchool is complete without a “belly slide” finale!  After the science activities are done, its time to cut loose SnowSchool style.  The beauty of spring belly sliding is that the wet snow compacts quickly and makes for a fast ride.  After a little coaching from their SnowSchool leader and a few rounds of practice, the students were pushing their own limits and having a blast!

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. To find out how to get involved visit or contact Kerry McClay-

-Kerry McClay, Ed.D.

National SnowSchool Director