SnowSchool: Reducing Barriers to Experiencing Wild Winter

Winter Wildlands Alliance wants snow to be accessible to all!

Photo courtesy of Bogus Basin SnowSchool

From Kerry McClay, WWA SnowSchool Director (4/10/2024)

If you are reading this, chances are you are one of those people who feels strongly that winter is a magical time to be outside exploring wild snowscapes. Falling snow is immersive! Intricate little crystals bounce off your jacket sleeves and drop to the ground steadily, covering the forest like a white winter blanket. Snow changes the light and the sound, quieting the landscape and evoking a new depth of curiosity from the human imagination. Snowshoe hare tracks leading through the woods pique your interest. A child wonders aloud- what are those creatures doing out here all winter? Wild snowscapes are a wonderful combination of mystery and beauty, and simply a joy to experience! 

At Winter Wildlands Alliance we believe these are experiences that every person should get to have! But the truth is, snow and cold weather also magnify the barriers to experiencing the outdoors. Just stand around the base area of your nearest ski lodge for a few minutes and you will see folks walking around wearing hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars worth of gear. This equipment and clothing helps them stay warm, protects them from cold and allows them to get out and joyfully explore a deep-snow covered landscape. And this doesn’t even count the vehicle that was needed to transport them up a snowy mountain road in winter.  The resources required can be staggering!

Photo courtesy of Kate Yeater, Salmon Valley Stewardship

Our SnowSchool program was established with the goal of introducing kids, students, educators and entire communities to the outdoors and making a positive emotional connection to winter. In recent years, rising inflation and logistical challenges following in the wake of the pandemic have added new barriers and hurdles to achieving this goal. To address this, WWA is focusing on increasing material support for our SnowSchool program locations that need help reaching underserved communities.

Photo courtesy of Kate Yeater, Salmon Valley Stewardship

Every winter community donations and grant funds are leveraged to send out hundreds of pairs of MSR snowshoes, shovels and other snowtools to our SnowSchool sites. For example, this year our friends at the Idaho Youth Sports Commission donated funds specifically to purchase snowshoes (provided at a discount by partners and the amazing team at Mountain Safety Research) for our SnowSchool site at Salmon Valley Stewardship in Idaho (pictured above) that very much needed an upgrade to continue to engage local youth.  Because of these partners, local SnowSchool students in Eastern Idaho were able to experience the joy of snowshoeing through their local winter wildlands for the first time.

Photo courtesy of Alastair Keith, Field Institute of Taos

This year multiple partners have helped us get warm winter clothing out to our SnowSchool program locations. For example, our friends at Stormtech recently donated winter jackets to WWA, which we were able to send to SnowSchool sites across the West to help students stay warm. These donated jackets were  particularly helpful with several new SnowSchool sites that we launched this year in New Mexico (pictured above and below) and in Southwest Colorado.

Photo courtesy of Alastair Keith, Field Institute of Taos

Additionally, help with transportation and other material support has come via our friends at Osprey Packs, the National Park Trust, Snowmetrics, Boise State University CRYOGARS, NASA SnowEx and many of our WWA Members! It takes a village to make SnowSchool possible and we appreciate everyone working so hard to sustain the program and the engagement of underserved communities and youth.