SnowSchool is officially winding down for the year and we’ve put together this season-end report to update you on all the recent SnowSchool developments made possible by Atlas’ support this past year.
Program Scope and Impact
As we do at the end of every SnowSchool season, we’ve nearly completed our survey of SnowSchool sites to measure how many participants came through the program this winter. With surveys from most of our major sites in, we estimate that SnowSchool engaged over 33,000 participants across 65 active sites, with 54% of the students qualifying as underserved and 50% of the of kids never having been on snowshoes before! This winter SnowSchool engaged an additional 4,000 adult chaperones, parents, K-12 teachers and volunteer educators. A SnowSchool student had this to say about her experience:
“Dear SnowSchool- Thank you so much for taking us snowshoeing and telling us about wildlife, plus telling us about the water cycle. I told my brother about how fun it was and he can’t wat to go!” –Abbey, 4th Grade Student
Program Expansion: Every winter WWA brings SnowSchool to new communities across the country by working to establish new SnowSchool sites. By partnering with existing organizations WWA can provide the science curriculum, discount snowshoes, educational equipment, on-snow training, over-the-phone/email mentoring and fundraising events necessary to quickly launch a winter program to serve new populations of students. Our national expansion efforts were boosted this year by the first-ever SnowSchool film to appear in WWA’s Backcountry Film Festival. The film, SnowSchool Experiences, featured our Northern Idaho Flagship Site and provided audiences at 107 showings nationwide with a compelling illustration of the program. As a result of this additional exposure and our ongoing efforts, WWA added 8 new SnowSchool sites in the following locations: Idaho City ID, Fairplay CO, Mammoth Lakes CA, Livingston MT, Wenatchee WA, Leavenworth WA, Dillion CO and Plumas County CA. This was the most sites we’ve ever added in a year!
Helping Rural Kids Explore Public Lands: Many successful SnowSchool sites are located in nature centers, Nordic centers, national parks and ski resorts that engage thousands of kids from urban areas every winter. But in many rural and mountainous communities students don’t need to get on a bus and drive hours to a nature center to explore the wilds of winter– they have public land right out the front door of their school. Thus, to bring the SnowSchool experience to students in these rural communities WWA is actively working to develop a new “traveling SnowSchool” program model. The concept was piloted this winter with the US Forest Service at our new SnowSchool site in rural Idaho City. Snowshoes and volunteer leaders arrived at the school and classes of fourth graders headed out the door and onto National Forest land across the street! Look for updates on this project in the coming season as we work to connect all kids with nature and help them understand the importance of our nation’s public lands.
Connecting Students with Snow Science: The SnowSchool program is uniquely situated to help K-12 students explore connections between mountain snow, climate research and water science, topics that are particularly relevant in western states and communities where mountain snow provides approximately 80 percent of the water supply. To capitalize on this opportunity WWA forged a new collaboration in 2017 with the National Resource Conservation Service’s Snow Survey Program. Utilizing NRCS’s network of remote SnoTEL stations (which monitor mountain snow across the west) WWA created a new web-based science activity to follow-up the SnowSchool field trip. This “Snowpack Prediction Contest” enables kids all across the Western US to study decades of snowpack data in their local watershed, and transforms the SnowSchool experience from a one-day event into winter-long science project. Quantitative outcome data collected by WWA shows that underserved students make significant gains is science learning through participation. Fifty-five classrooms of students nationally participated in this project in its first year and WWA aims to expand in future seasons. By combining this innovative snow science curriculum with fun outdoor exploration, SnowSchool is creating for kids both an emotional connection to winter wildlands and greater understanding of the important ecological role of mountain snow.
The Trail Ahead
With your support we aspire to continue our efforts to increase the number of SnowSchool sites nationally and enhance the overall experience for every student. We envision a thriving national program that will foster rich ecological literacy in our communities and introduce generations of kids to the wonders of snowshoe exploration.
Our Atlas fans are an incredible community; you’re up for trying new things and are always sharing your stories and photos, telling us where you’ve been. We thought we’d provide some inspiration as you plan your next trip (particularly in the northern hemisphere where the weather is warming up).
Have you ever taken on the challenging hikes in Marmot’s list? Have something you’d add? Tag @atlassnowshoes or #atlassnowshoes on social media and share your adventures with us!
And if you want to blaze your own trail, add it to Snowshoes.com and get the conversation going!
1. Longs Peaks, Keyhole Route – Colorado
Despite being one of the most difficult 14,000’ peaks in Colorado, summer days see the pre-dawn parking lot aglow with hundreds of headlamps of aspiring summiters embarking on the Keyhole Route, the most popular way to the top of Longs Peak . Slightly less than 50% of the hikers who attempt Longs actually reach the 14,255’ summit. The 15-mile round trip has over 5,000 vertical feet of elevation gain and the lion’s share of the work is done in the last two miles, where a series of tremendously exposed ledges traverse into a steep, loose, gully, that tops out around 14,000’. From there, the last 250’ are on steep rock, leading to the strangely benign, flat summit block. More challenging may be the descent, where views of the sheer drops and dizzying heights will be unavoidable. Add to that the fearsome winds and regular afternoon thunderstorms that have trapped many hikers on open terrain. All this equates to a hike that requires great endurance, guts, route-finding skills, and a little bit of luck.
2. Mount Whitney, Whitney Portal – California
Mount Whitney, 14,505’, is the highest point in the lower 48 states and, by default, the highest mountain in California. The trail to the summit begins at Whitney Portal, 8,360’ and then climbs over 6,100’ and 11 miles (one-way) to the top. The good news is that the trail itself is immaculately maintained, non-technical, and easy to follow, but don’t make the mistake that this is going to be a leisurely stroll in the hills. Ninety-seven switchbacks in a row? Yup, there are 2.5 miles of them. Thin air, sizzling sun, and the looming threat of storms mean that hikers have to keep a good pace in order to finish the 22-mile round trip in style. Have a good heart-to-heart with your quads before attempting this classic test of endurance.
3. Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park – Utah
With a 5,790’ summit that rises nearly 1,500’ from the ground below, it was remarked upon by Frederick Fisher in 1916 that it was so narrow, only an angel could land upon it. However, clever trail construction has allowed mere mortals to stand atop its harrowing, highest point. It’s only 5 miles round trip but along the way hikers will challenge the notorious set of tight switchbacks known as The Wiggles, followed by hiking along narrow fins of rock, some only 5 feet wide with drops of over 800’ on either side. The exposure is known to tighten the most fortified of sphincters. Bolted-in chains serve as merciful guidelines along the way to the final summit push, where dazzling views of Zion Canyon await for those bold enough top out. Stay focused on the way down since gravity will be doing its best to unseat your footing along the steep sections of rock.
4. Mount Olonoma – Hawaii
A 1,643’ summit that juts out of the land like a tropical, tree-encrusted, shark fin, Mount Olonoma in O’ahu is chronically underestimated. At 4.1 miles round trip and an “official” rating of class 3, it seems like the kind of place where hikers can zip up and down and be off to surf in the mid-afternoon sun. It’s this mentality that has given dozens of unprepared hikers the opportunity to say aloha to search and rescue. The spine of rock that connect the three summits is wet, class 4 (or by some accounts, class 5) terrain, notably en route to the third and final summit. Many people choose to hike the first two peaks and leave the third peak for those with ropes, which is a very good idea, but confident, experienced scramblers regularly ascend the peak without the aid of ropes. At least three climbers have fallen to their deaths in recent years and there have been dozens of rescues.
5. Devil’s Path, Catskills – New York
Like many other hikes in this list, the 23.6 mile Devil’s Path in the Catskills can be broken up into a multi-day adventure but hikers who are up for the challenge can knock out seven mountain summits (six of which are over 3,500’) and traverse some of the most beautiful terrain in New York. Oh, there’s also the matter of the 18,000’ (!) of elevation gain made as hikers roll along the ridgelines. And it’s not just a matter of covering the miles; in classic northeast style, trailbuilders eschew switchbacks for most of the route, instead choosing the most direct line, which requires hikers to endure bouts of exposure and mash themselves into rock chimneys. Even the most ardent anti-dabber will reach out for roots to stabilize themselves on the more unbalanced terrain.
6. The Mahoosuc Mile, Appalachian Trail – Maine
Most hikers agree that this 1 mile section of the 2,179 mile Appalachian Trail is the most challenging of them all. Located in western Maine, this section of the trail passes through Mahoosuc Notch. The challenges here may be subtle compared to other hikes: mossy boulders, narrow caves, and several sections with drops just far enough (around 10’) to seriously damage the bones of any hiker who doesn’t take them seriously. Some of the squeezes turn your backpack into your worst enemy, pushing you into unbalanced stances, while lingering ice can sweep the feet out from under hikers like lightning. This trail is famous for breaking the trance of thru-hikers with a dose of crawling, clawing, and scrambling (which, for some, is also a whole lot of fun).
7. Lone Eagle Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness – Colorado
There are dozens of worthy candidates for Colorado mountains that toe the line between technical and non-technical—Capitol Peak, North Maroon Peak, and Little Bear Peak all come to mind—but none live on the edge quite as much as 11,920’ Lone Eagle Peak. It’s 16 miles round trip, though the bulk of those miles are on peaceful trail from the Monarch Lake Trailhead. The class 4 scramble along the “Solo Flight” has vexed experienced climbers, mostly because the route finding is often unclear and involves wickedly exposed scrambles around unseen corners and through steep notches. The last portion of the scramble is actually climbing down to the summit from the nearby shoulder of rock. While it’s possible to place spotty protection and use ropes, many who have scaled the peak claim the notion of protection is merely illusory (and slow). To safely claim this summit, scramblers must be adept at a skill that is seldom practiced: downclimbing. Mix in the sustained exposure and loose rock and you have a summit that is only for the bold.
8. Upper Slickrock Creek Trail, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness – North Carolina
This 3 mile section of the Slickrock Trail connects the lower Slickrock trail to the Naked Ground, the place where you will likely take count of the myriad of slashes, bumps, and bruises you endured on the way up. Locals affectionately call it the “Nutbuster” though to be fair, the trail here is certain to batter many parts of your body equally. Faintly maintained, the barely legible path that ascends 2,000’ to a high point over 4,800’ has been forcibly overtaken by a collection of briars, thorns, fallen trees, slick-as-oil moss covered rocks, defiant stumps, all woven together by a matrix of ankle-snarling roots. Chances are the water crossing on the lower trail will have made your skin supple and soggy, perfect for the aggressive flora that aims to chew you to shreds. It’s easy to get lost in the messy brambles, and the air can be quite a bit colder as you reach the higher sections. Gaiters are advised and possibly a jock-strap, even for the ladies.
9. Borah Peak, Lost River Range – Idaho
Along with Mount Whitney, 12,662’ Borah Peak is a state highpoint. To get a clue about how tough this hike, the standard route is known as “Chickenout Ridge”. Borah’s location is somewhat remote, even by Idaho standards. On paper, it’s a 6.8 mile round trip outing, with a little over 5,200’ of elevation gain—tough stuff, but not unusual for a sturdy mountain hike. What makes Borah a beast is the namesake Chickenout Ridge (known less comically as the Southwest Ridge Route). From a distance, the shoulder of rock looks friendly and inviting, but when you get close up, it reveals its true intentions. Steep, unstable, class 3 rock culminates in a few daring class 4 moves, many of which have caused hikers to conclude that they’d rather go home and watch TV than summit Borah Peak. For those brave enough to summit, the downclimbing may very well be the crux of the entire trek.
10. The Maze, Canyonlands – Utah
While they don’t expressly say it, the National Park Service’s message to aspiring hikers to the Maze is, “Sure, you can hike it. You’ll probably die, but hey, that’s none of our business.” They certainly don’t make it easy to reach. It takes at least 3 hours on a 4×4 road just to get to the start of the Maze proper. Once there, your mileage may vary depending on your goals, but the terrain here is baffling to navigate—but wow, is it ever gorgeous. Rounded white rock cliffs, slickrock, polished slot canyons, hidden pools, and airy crags explore the most remote part of Canyonlands. The fabled Chocolate Drops formations may very well be worth the visit, if you can find your way out. Ancient petroglyphs adorn some of the most isolated walls in the region, a testament to the natives who mastered desert living. For those willing to boldly immerse themselves in the Maze, the only issue is they may want to extend their visit beyond a day.
James Moody of the Sudbury Star reported in February 2016 that the new park near Long Lake is inviting Sudbury schools to sign up for its Get Healthy, Get Active program, which covers transportation costs and outfits kids with snowshoes for a day of fresh air and exercise in the woods.
“It’s to get the schools back out, to get the kids active and encourage healthy living,” said Melissa Sheridan, a member of the Kivi Park development team. “Nowadays the majority of schools don’t have snowshoes because of budget cuts, so the kids don’t partake in that because of the lack of equipment.”
Sheridan said any school board wishing to participate is welcome to register for a snowshoe day at the park.
Staff from the park greet the school groups when they arrive, she said, and ensure each kid gets a pair of suitable snowshoes. The park also boasts outdoor rinks, and larger groups may wish to break the day into a half-day of skating and half-day of snowshoeing, she noted.
Ramakko’s provided 40 pairs of premium Atlas snowshoes, in a couple of different lengths suitable for youth. “They’re lightweight and easy to use,” said Juliana Weaver, a manager at Ramakko’s.
A parent herself, with kids in Grades 5 and 7, Weaver said she appreciates how important outdoor experiences are for kids, as well as how tricky they can be to finance through the school system.
“I know there’s only so much money that can be spread out for field trips, even if parents are pitching in for whatever the amount is,” she said. “So it’s great when something is as easy as this.”
She said a snowshoeing program at her children’s school was cancelled a couple of years ago and it’s a loss a number of families have felt.
“It does make me excited that kids in our geographical area will be able to get out snowshoeing again,” she said.