School’s Out for Winter: SnowSchool’s Outdoor Science Classroom

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This January, 70 elementary kids filed out of Boise’s Bogus Basin Nordic Center in groups led by SnowSchool volunteer guides. They were bound for the surrounding wilderness and the educational wonders it held. As they ventured through the forest on snowshoes, they caught glimpses of Treasure Valley and the Seven Devils Range in the distance. Along the way, they stopped to learn about the area’s plants and animals, discuss its ecosystem, and conduct a snow pit analysis. For many students, this was their first time snowshoeing—and their first visit to a national forest.

For 10 years, the SnowSchool has aimed to introduce students, often those underserved, to winter’s landscape and ecology, and foster an appreciation for nature, as well as a healthy, active lifestyle through snowshoe recreation.

Every year, the national program hosted by Winter Wildlands engages approximately 28,000 students at 45 independent sites across America’s snowbelt. The science-based program seems enough to make adults jealous.

“The kids conduct snow/water equivalency tests, climb inside the SnowSchool igloo and of course go belly sliding,” says Kerry McClay, national SnowSchool director. “And snowshoes provide a critical means of exploring the natural world through an experience that is both exciting and educational.”

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The hands-on outdoor science lessons connect to classroom curricula. “Back in their classrooms the students will work through the winter with local hydrologists to continue to monitor their local snowpack depth and water content via SNOTEL data,” says McClay. The program has been a huge success with teachers, kids, teens, parents and public land managers.

In the woods, instructors say it’s hard to deny the excitement and smiles on the students’ faces as they watch them experience for the first time the inspiration that nature provides.

For more information on the SnowSchool, as well as a list of SnowSchool sites by state, visit: www.snowschool.org.

MSR annually provides approximately 150 new pairs of discounted snowshoes to Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool sites nationally.

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