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A partnership between SnowSchool and NASA will empower students with citizen science and help them learn about their water resources.

Fifty to 80 percent of the water that we use in the West comes from the seasonal snowpack. One out of six people in the world rely on the snowpack and glaciers for their water resources. Snow is fundamental to winter recreation, which generates $20.3 billion in the U.S. economy. The snowpack also reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s energy, which is a vital process to regulate global temperatures.

So you can begin to understand the reasons why scientists and hydrologists need to measure the snowpack and how much water it holds.

SnowSchool has long been a bridge for students to connect snow science and winter recreation. This year, thanks to a partnership between Winter Wildlands Alliance, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) SnowEx program, and a platform called Community Snow Observations, SnowSchool is excited to add a citizen science element that will allow our students to play a role in helping scientists do the important work of measuring and monitoring the snowpack. 

SnowEx was established to develop remote sensing technologies that will measure and analyze the snowpack. 

“We have two things about snow that are typically big unknowns that we’re really trying to improve information on,” says Hans Peter Marshall, a snow scientist at Boise State University and the Program Lead at NASA SnowEx. Marshall is also a Winter Wildlands Ambassador and has long been an influential leader to help SnowSchool develop its curriculums. 

The first unknown that SnowEx is trying to answer is called the snow-water equivalent, or how much water is frozen in the snow. “Right now, knowing how much SWE is in the mountains is the biggest source of uncertainty in the hydrologic models that predict how much water we have,” says Marshall. The other big focus of SnowEx is to improve scientist’s understanding about surface-energy balance, which is about the timing of snowmelt and how fast water will flow downstream. 

“Snow cover is so dynamic,” says Marshall. “A big chunk of our country is covered in snow and then it’s not. And when it’s covered in snow, most of the energy is going back out to space. And when it’s not, most of that energy is absorbed by the earth’s surface. That’s where the climate piece is really, really important.”

How much water does the snowpack hold? Photo Credit: Julie Brown

The goal, ultimately, is to launch a satellite that will measure the amount of snow on our planet at any given time. To get there, SnowEx has a few different puzzle pieces to work with. This winter, NASA will be flying aircrafts in Colorado, California, and Idaho to test out different types of technical instruments. One can take three-dimensional photographs of the topography, which can be applied with a before-and-after method to see measure snow depth. Another instrument uses LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, which uses a laser to scan the surface of the earth. As scientists conduct tests with instruments like those, NASA needs people on the ground—citizen scientists—to collect real data from the snowpack that can be used to verify the SnowEx results. Those citizen scientists are SnowSchool students. 

“That’s one of the places where SnowSchool has a really neat way that fits in,” said HP Marshall. “SnowSchool is a nationwide program with sites in different places, and there are actually quite a few sites that overlap with the places that we’re flying. It’s about finding the places where SnowSchool sites will be valuable to basically test how well these different aircraft instruments are doing.”

There are several SnowSchool sites located in the flight paths for SnowEx this winter. As the planes fly overhead, our students will be on snowshoes, taking samples of snow to measure SWE and uploading their information to a database hosted by Community Snow Observations. 

SnowSchool began in 2001 as a way to encourage outdoor winter recreation in young people. We quickly realized the power of winter as an outdoor classroom and learning environment, and SnowSchool quickly grew into a curriculum that bridges snow science with recreation. And now, thanks to our partnership with NASA, SnowSchool gives students the opportunity to play a role in science. 

We need your help to empower more kids with citizen science. A membership to Winter Wildlands Alliance costs $35. Your money goes directly to supporting programs like SnowSchool, which introduces winter to 35,000 kids every single year. If we want to keep winter wild, we have to empower the next generation.

Kids in Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool run in the mountains and throw snowballs on snowshoes

We’re getting ready for another winter to get kids outside and in the snow!

As teachers and students across the country prepare to head back to the classroom this month, we’re also getting ready for the next season of SnowSchool. We’re especially excited to bring a new and expanded version of SnowSchool to school districts like the Basin School District in rural Idaho.

“At Idaho City High School and Basin Elementary School, we are implementing SnowSchool from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade.” said Superintendent Brian Hunicke.  “It’s a great way to get kids outside in the winter time, into nature, get them snowshoeing and involved in snow science and all kinds of STEM activities.”

To bring SnowSchool to students in the Basin School District, Hunicke and district teachers are making use of snow-covered forests, school district land, and U.S. Forest Service lands that surround the schools.

Hunicke worked collaboratively with WWA SnowSchool over the past year to develop a winter science curriculum suitable for engaging all students across the district, and this coming winter provides a pivotal opportunity to implement the increasingly refined plan.

“The kindergartners are coming out and learning some basics of snow and snowshoeing and then we’ve scaffolded the learning all the way up to 12th grade, where they are doing some snow surveys, integrating math, calculating slope, things like that.  And we have everything in between, a huge range of activities,” said Hunicke. “If we are lucky, we have about two months out of the year where we have a pretty fair amount of snow, so we are able to come out here and do math and snow science.”

We’re especially excited about Basin School District for another big initiative we’ve got planned this year: integrating our program with the NASA SnowEx citizen science project.

This NASA Earth Science mission aims to further advance new technology and remotely detect snow-water content from aircraft and, ultimately, an orbiting satellite. The Basin School District happens to sit in NASA’s 2019-20 flight path. NASA needs students to collect snow density samples and send their measurements to researchers so they can compare  on-the-ground data with information collected from the aircraft.

WWA ambassador and Boise State University snow scientist Hans-Peter Marshall is leading the mission. Several of the aircraft flight paths in California, Idaho, and Colorado will fly directly over SnowSchool sites, just like the Basin School District.  This project presents an exciting and authentic citizen science opportunity for SnowSchool students.

High-level science is certainly part of the SnowSchool curriculum, however, the ultimate goal of the program remains. We simply want to connect kids with nature in the winter.

“The nice thing about winter is it’s the perfect time to get kids outside. They are all stuck inside and they get a little antsy. This is the perfect time of year to get kids outside and get some exercise,” said Hunicke.

Every year, Winter Wildlands Alliance teaches dozens of educators across the country about fun and hands-on activities to do with kids in the winter.  After going through our SnowSchool training, Superintendent Hunicke showed the 8th graders in Idaho City how to cut igloo blocks using a snow saw. Every student got to cut a few igloo blocks and contribute to the finished product!

Big SnowSchool shout-out to our friends at KEEN Effect and Mountain Safety Research for helping make this project possible!

One last thing: The SnowBall semi-formal shindig is on the calendar for October 25, during our Wild Weekend. Mark your calendars and get your tickets. It’s going to be a super fun night of dancing, live music, and drinks!

Never in the long history of our public lands system has there been such a broad array of serious, systemic threats—political, philosophical, economic and environmental. These are lands we all own together. Lands we all care about and depend on. How can we work together, starting at the grassroots level, to confront these threats, improve our approaches to public land management, improve access for all people, and at the same time ensure the long-term sustainability of natural landscapes and ecosystems?

We believe the first step is to host an inclusive gathering of colleagues, stakeholders and fellow activists to ask hard questions and talk solutions that will inspire and empower people to get involved in their public lands. 

Join us in Boise the last weekend of October for the Wild Weekend, a gathering that will equip you with knowledge and tools, connect you to a network of fellow outdoor enthusiasts and advocates for public lands, and fuel your excitement for the upcoming winter. Wild Weekend encompasses three keystone events: the Grassroots Advocacy Conference featuring keynote speaker James Edward Mills, Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere, and SnowSchool SnowBall. There will be speakers, ski movies, dancing, adventures, panels, and so much more. 

Here’s a rundown of everything we’ve got planned during the Wild Weekend. Choose from the Grassroots Conference, Backcountry Film Festival, SnowBall, or join us for all of it. Register now. 

The flyer for the Grassroots Conference, Wild Weekend, Backcountry Film Festival, and SnowSchool SnowBall

8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference 

October 24-27

Conference: $250

The theme of the conference is Growing Equity in Public Lands, and the goal is to empower as many people as possible to get involved in issues affecting public lands. 

Join policy makers, athletes, grassroots activists, scientists, educators, mountain guides, local elected officials and other recreation and conservation stakeholders and activists from across the country for a weekend full of engaging workshops and discussions on issues important to public lands, winter and sustainable recreation. Get the latest developments in policy and planning issues, share grassroots successes and strategies, meet with public land managers, gain new advocacy tools and spend quality time with colleagues, partners, new friends and allies. Help us find a way forward.

Thursday night’s keynote speaker is James Edward Mills, author of The Adventure Gap. Mills is an award-winning journalist and media producer whose work revolves around outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living. 

On Friday and Saturday, panels will cover a spectrum of topics that dive right into the heart of the biggest issues facing public lands right now. Sessions include: Planning the Future of Public Lands; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on Public Lands; The Pros and Cons of the Outdoor Economy; Messaging the Sacred; Collaboration Case Studies; Climate Action; E-Recreation; Recreation and Wildlife; Experiential Education; and Finding Sustainable Funding for Public Lands.

REGISTER NOW.

The Backcountry Film Festival header is displayed during a snow storm

Photo: Dev Seefeldt

15th Annual Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere

October 25, shows at 6:30pm and 9:30pm

Tickets: $20

For 15 years, Winter Wildlands Alliance has pressed play on the Backcountry Film Festival, an event that has raised more than $1.3 million for grassroots groups around the country. Join us for the world premiere, with films showcasing blissful powder turns, alpenglow across the mountains, stories about human-powered pursuits, and people who are passionate about protecting public lands. 

Stoke the vibe before the show or keep it going after a party from 7 to 9pm at The North Face store in downtown Boise, with live music, beer, and more fun. 

Film submissions are currently being accepted. If you have a short film that you’d like to submit to the Backcountry Film Festival, here are our submission guidelines. Stay tuned for the full lineup. 

BUY TICKETS

Two people in white skirts dance in ski boots during the snowball fundraiser for the snowschool

SnowSchool SnowBall 

October 26, 7-11pm

Tickets: $30

Join the Idaho backcountry community for a semi-formal evening to celebrate the upcoming season. There will be live music by the Lonesome Jetboat Ramblers, plus dancing, craft beer, drinks, raffle items, and a food truck. Proceeds go to Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool, an educational program that introduces kids to human-powered winter recreation and teaches them about the snowpack. Each year, SnowSchool works with 35,000 children at 70 sites across the country. 

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This month SnowSchool concluded the 2019 season with classroom science presentations during which students and educators discussed the results of our annual Snowpack Prediction Contest…

Flikr photo by Michiel van Nimwegen

Skiers, snowmobilers, conservationists and other winter recreation stakeholders come together to help protect and find ways to co-exist with the iconic mountain carnivore

Known for its ability to cover distance quicker than a Nordie with perfectly waxed skis, and to cruise up and over mountains faster than the gnarliest ski-mo racer, the wolverine is among the most iconic of winter wildlife species. Skiers, snowmobilers, and others who love spending time in snowy places feel a special affinity with and appreciation for wolverines. Like wolverines, we’re snow-dependent critters who are facing a serious threat because of climate change. Unlike wolverines, we can handle a crowd — even if we’d prefer not to.

Winter recreation stakeholders and conservationists working together to find common ground and develop recommendations for the Forest Service.

Winter Wildlands Alliance has been working with the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and Round River Conservation Studies to reach out to the backcountry Snowsports community with information about wolverines, how our activities impact the species, and how we might mitigate that impact.

Unfortunately for all concerned, new research shows that backcountry winter recreation — snowmobiling and backcountry skiing alike — impacts wolverines. With help from skiers and snowmobilers using GPS units to track their own movement in the backcountry, scientists discovered that wolverines strongly avoid areas with lots of human activity, whether we’re snowmobiling, skiing, or just tromping through the woods on snowshoes.

Wolverines may use areas adjacent to popular winter recreation areas, and they may pass through areas with heavy recreation pressure, but they’re not sticking around in places where there are lots of people. In short, wolverines don’t den, rest, or eat in places that get a lot of backcountry ski or snowmobile use — even if those places are part of a larger wolverine home range. This is called “functional habitat loss,” and it poses a real concern for wolverine survival.

Wolverine and ski tracks, Moose Basin, Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Forrest McCarthy

The conservation concern here is two-fold. First, wildlife biology 101 tells us that an animal’s home range is the minimum amount of space that an individual requires to live and reproduce. If backcountry skiing and snowmobiling are effectively eliminating portions of a wolverine’s home range, it’s likely we’re having a negative effect on that wolverine’s ability to make a living and reproduce. And since wolverines are pretty rare, impacts to even a few individuals could have population-level impacts.

Second, because of climate change, there are (and will continue to be) fewer and fewer places for all of us — skiers, snowmobilers, and wolverines — to find snow. Pair this loss of snow with a growing interest in backcountry snowsports and new tools and toys that help us travel deeper into the backcountry than ever before, and wolverines may have a tough time finding snowy places that aren’t overly impacted by humans.

The good news is that with some self-imposed restraint we — the backcountry snowsports community — can help reduce our impact on these tough but vulnerable animals, without greatly impacting our own opportunities for fun and exploration in winter.

We’re all familiar with the concept of suburban sprawl. Now think about your favorite backcountry area and how recreation use can sprawl across the landscape as people seek out the next untracked peak or meadow. By limiting that sprawl, we can limit the functional habitat loss that wolverines are experiencing.

As tempting as it is to explore deeper and further into the backcountry, by sticking within established and agreed-upon recreation areas when skiing and snowmobiling in wolverine habitat, you can help reduce your personal impact on the species. And, if we all limit our personal impact, together we can make a big difference in wolverine survival.

For more information, check out the following brochure that we recently produced in partnership with the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and Round River Conservation Studies.

Wolverine Final Brochure

Events

Join the Idaho backcountry community for a semi-formal evening to celebrate the season.

  • Enjoy music, dancing and craft beer.
  • Support SnowSchool  and share your love of snow with kids across the country.
  • Meet artists and athletes from the Backcountry Film Festival.
  • See if your ski and snowboard partners “clean up nice” in a semi-formal setting.
  • For more info and to purchase tickets CLICK HERE
  • Wondering what to wear?- Think “ski bum meets prom date”. At the SnowBall we’ve seen everything from tuxedos to neon 80s ski onesies to a herd of folks in reindeer costumes… And all of that is definitely within the “dress code” So its really up to you. You can go more formal or more costume-y depending on what sounds more fun to you!

Featuring:

THE LONESOME JETBOAT RAMBLERS