“Studying mountain snowpack is vital to our quality of life” read a recent headline in the Idaho Statesman. The article explored research conducted by geoscientists at Boise State University and how snow provides 80% of the water across the western US.   But if its that important shouldn’t all of us, young and old, be educated on the issue? The answer is yes, and to help make it happen Winter Wildlands Alliance, the US Forest Service and Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area have further expanded on an already decade long SnowSchool collaboration.   This fall a team of experts installed an innovative new snowpack monitoring weather station on-site at the Bogus Basin SnowSchool program. The station boasts snowpack depth, water equivalent and other sensors with the data available online. And accompanying curriculum designed by WWA aims to greatly enhance the learning experience of some 2,000 K-12 students who will participate in the program this winter.  In the long run WWA aims to use this project as a national model and bring similar weather stations online across the national network of 55 SnowSchool sites.

US Forest Service Collaborates with SnowSchool

Working off of a grant made possible by the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, hydrologists Charlie Luce and Tom Black provided expertise and equipment to get the station installed during the summer and fall of 2015. Along with an array of instruments (click here to see the data online) the station utilizes a new gamma radiation SWE sensor. This technology is as fresh as the fallen snow and has emerged as the snow science field pushes to better understand and measure the water content of snow. Citing his 2014 research documenting the decline of mountain snow and water in the western US, Luce hopes this SnowSchool project will help educated more people about the issues surrounding snow and climate change.

Enhancing Kids’ Learning

SnowSchool has always been about harnessing the power of snow to connect kids with nature. In making this dream a reality the program has engaged over 170,000 participants nationally since 2005.   However, one potential problem with a school field trip program like SnowSchool is that while the outdoor experience inherently generates enthusiasm, all too often there is little or no connection back to the classroom. The result can be a weak “one-and-done” experiential program that misses an enormous opportunity to spark further exploration and learning. The new weather station and WWA’s accompanying science curriculum helps solve this problem by providing teachers with a powerful and easy to use classroom resource. And extending students’ learning experience and connecting it back to the classroom ensures that SnowSchool makes good on its aspiration to foster ecological literacy among our youngest generation. The hoped-for result is a 4-month learning experience and science project that kids will love!