Flagship WWA SnowSchool Site SOLE Leads the Way for Winter Education in the Inland Northwest

Photo Credit: SOLE (on the land of the Shoshone-Bannock and other nations)

Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education (SOLE) was founded with a mission to provide affordable access to intentional and transformational experiential education programs for winter recreation stakeholders throughout the Inland Northwest. 

Since 2012, SOLE has partnered with Winter Wildlands Alliance to bring SnowSchool to the youth of this region.

“SOLE’s Mountain Field Campus at Schweitzer Mountain Resort allows students and educators to explore and learn in, and about, their watershed, from the mountains to the lake,” said Dennison Webb, Founder and Executive Director of Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education (SOLE)

Out of more than 80 SnowSchool sites nationally, only two sites have the Flagship designation: the site at Bogus Basin, and the site at SOLE’s Mountain Field Campus at Schweitzer Mountain. 

During the winter months, SOLE and its community outdoor learning center serves as the WWA Northern Flagship SnowSchool Site, where 600-plus underserved youth from north Idaho and beyond are able to unplug and connect to their wildlands via snowshoe. SOLE has continued to reach underserved rural public schools, private schools, and homeschool groups throughout north Idaho, eastern Washington, and northwestern Montana by offering their novel approach to experiential education programming.

SOLE has also continually strived to provide adaptive extensions for students that are mentally or physically challenged. Specifically, SOLE has partnered with Lake Pend Orielle School District’s (LPOSD) Special Education Department. This partnership offers accommodations for SOLE’s SnowSchool programs and provides a more inclusive environment so everyone is able to explore and learn with their peers on the snow.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, as students are able to explore and learn with their peers outdoors they develop a new found sense of belonging to their community and its environment. Each season, SOLE administrators work with physical therapists and paraprofessionals to develop and facilitate accommodations and adaptations that are appropriate for all students, including those with individualized needs.

“SOLE’s signature program is our SnowSchool Experience program which has served over 3,000 underserved youth since inception. During this SOLE Experience, students (5th – 12th Grade) are provided a novel three day place-based experiential education program with a rigorous E-STEM (i.e., environment, science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum,” explains Webb. “This journey begins in the classroom, where students are oriented to their watershed and their outdoor experience. From there students travel to SOLE’s Mountain Field Campus where they are able to explore and learn about their wildlands, as well as conduct snow science experiments and collect data in the field. All experiences return back to the classroom to further synthesize their findings, to draw more comprehensive conclusions.  During the fieldwork portion of the program students receive lessons on conservation literacy, snow science, winter ecology, as well as outdoor living and travel skills like how to construct a snow shelter and avalanche awareness.”

Every 5th grade student in Lake Pend Oreille School District (Sandpoint, Idaho) is afforded a three-day SnowSchool Experience program at SOLE’s Mountain Field Campus each winter through a phenomenal collaboration between  local and regional school districts, regional foundations like the Innovia Foundation, Panhandle Alliance for Education (PAFE), William Wishnick Foundation, Community Assistance League, local corporations and businesses like P1FCU, Mountain West Bank, Kochava and Schweitzer, as well as SOLE. 

To date, more than 3,000 underserved youth have experienced this program. Less than 5% of those served by SOLE’s 5th Grade SnowSchool Experience program has a proficient understanding of their watershed and water resource needs (based on pre and post survey data 2012-2020). This includes a sound understanding of their geographic landmarks (e.g., mountains, rivers, tributaries, lakes) that make-up the Greater Lake Pend Oreille Watershed. More than 90% of those served by SOLE’s 5th Grade SnowSchool Experience program have a greater understanding of their watershed and water resource needs AFTER their experience (based on pre and post survey data 2012-2020).

“SOLE also has a powerful, personal story of how such a program can influence a student’s career path,” continues Webb. “Our current  Lead Field Instructor participated in our SnowSchool Experience program in highschool. She was so moved by the experience that she decided to major in outdoor recreation at the University of Idaho. She then did an internship with us and last year served as our  Leard Field Instructor for our SnowSchool Experience program. She will be back again this year.”

More than 50 percent of those served by SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. Coupled with budgetary constraints, coming out of a global pandemic and increased socio-economic barriers, these challenges are bound to increase. “To ensure that our leaders of tomorrow can have affordable access to explore and learn about our winter wildlands, SOLE raises essential funds not only through special events fundraisers like the Backcountry Film Festival but also the generosity of individual donors large and small,” says Webb.

Watch SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program (and its highschool sibling) in this 7 minute video here: https://vimeo.com/179256073.

More about SOLE’s Mountain Field Campus and SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program receiving an Innovation Award from the Idaho Nonprofit Center in 2017 here:https://soleexperiences.org/coming-soon-a-mountain-field-campus-for-local-youth/

Give today at: https://selkirk-outdoor-leadership-education-sole-inc.networkforgood.com/projects/55928-reach-and-teach-youth-scholarship-fund

SnowSchool at SOLE  |  More at: https://soleexperiences.org/fieldwork-experiences/snowschool-experiences/