Outdoors

SnowSchool

Bringing students into the mountains

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

My life is focused in the mountains, so it is surprising how many local young people have never had the opportunity to visit our neighborhood peaks.

“So many kids in Whatcom County see Mt. Baker from the lowlands, but some never get the chance to experience the mountain environment,” says Gwyn Howat, Mt. Baker Ski Area’s executive vice president. “We wanted to facilitate the opportunity to do so.”

This is exactly why, four years ago, Mt. Baker Ski Area and Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) began offering Mt. Baker SnowSchool to local middle and high school students.

In 2015, Mt. Baker Ski Area partnered with the North Cascades Institute (NCI) to expand the audience and broaden the relevancy of the curriculum. Today, Mt. Baker SnowSchool asks students and teachers to consider the greater influence of the snowpack on our everyday lives—from recreation to drinking water, agriculture to fisheries, mountains to bay.

A national program established by Winter Wildlands Alliance, SnowSchool takes place in more than 60 locations in the Western United States. Curriculum is adapted to the needs and interests of participating schools while introducing young people to snowshoeing and field science.

A quarter of the way through the season, we have served 150 local students, the majority have of whom had never visited the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, or taken part in winter recreation at Mt. Baker Ski Area. This season has not only brought an increase in participants, but also in community collaboration. The impact of SnowSchool reaches further than the classroom for both instructors and students.

When Jeff Hambelton, NWAC ambassador and professional observer, invites students into a freshly dug snow profile pit and guides them through a hand hardness test, he is not only demonstrating skills needed to produce avalanche forecasts, but he is also introducing how we might predict summertime Nooksack River flows.

When undergrads from Robin Kodner’s biology lab at Western Washington University model how to properly collect samples for snow algae and bacteria research, they are not only illustrating how microbial communities impact our watersheds, but also that science takes place outside institutional walls.

When volunteer instructors ask students to describe the cloud cover or observe shapes of snow crystals, they are not only teaching about weather and snow morphology, but also about how to pay attention to the natural world.

When teachers help load students onto a bus as far away as Bow or as close as Deming, they are not only displaying a willingness to provide new opportunities, but they are also exemplifying the idea that learning takes place everywhere, at every age, in every community. 

We hope that by bringing students into the mountains their lives will be uplifted, perhaps slowly, perhaps all at once, by an eruption of inner curiosity.

Abby Sussman is the SnowSchool coordinator and is employed by NCI. For more details about SnowSchool, go to http://www.mtbaker.us

ICU
More Outdoors...
Ski to Sea
Back to the basics

Shortly before Christmas, Whatcom Events sent out a press release letting the media—and the public—know that registration for the perennially popular 44th annual Ski to Sea Race would commence on the second day of the new year.

Although that was welcome news to the racers and athletic…

more »
Ride On
Bike to Work Day

If you’ve never experienced the thrill of rolling into a “celebration station” on Bike to Work & School Day, another chance is coming to be part of the excitement on Fri., May 19 at a variety of locales in Bellingham and throughout Whatcom County.

The rules of engagement are simple. As…

more »
Sea Change
Women on the water

Early in her maritime career, Captain Deborah Dempsey met plenty of people who had a hard time believing she could crew or command a 600-foot ship.

But during her 40-year stint at sea, Dempsey proved her worth time and again, becoming not only the first woman to command a cargo ship on an…

more »
Events
Today
BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Back to the basics

7:00am

Ski to Sea Race

7:00am|Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Images of Resilience Farewell

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Fairhaven Festival

12:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Audubon at the Museum

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|Majestic

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

Village Books Lester and Hyldahl
Tuesday
Fermented Vegetables

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Gather Round

7:00pm|Honey Moon Mead & Cider

Chamber Concerts

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

see our complete calendar »

Trove Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Lester and Hyldahl Bellingham Farmer’s Market