Lessons in snow science | SummitDaily.com

Lessons in snow science

LORY POUNDERsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

BRECKENRIDGE Through a magnifying glass the snow glistened like crystals.”I can see these are bonded together,” said Juli White, who determined that what she was looking at was Depth Hoar snow.Sitting nearby in the snow pit dug by the Peaks Trail in Breckenridge, Steven Hoke marked the 70-centimeter wall of snow to show different layers. And as Julie and Steven, fifth-graders at Summit Cove Elementary School, collected this data during their experience with the Keystone Science School, they learned how to determine avalanche danger and about the scientific method.

The students looked at the kind of information those with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center would use to determine avalanche danger in the backcountry, explained Scott Ellis, Keystone Science School field instructor who captivated the students with snow science last week. It can also be used to see how much water is in the pack and how the snow changes, he added.And now, through the recent addition of a snow monitoring database online, students can access the information they gathered after leaving Keystone Science School and look at what other groups found if they want to do further research.The database, which was created in December, is on an educational website called Hands on the Land.

“You get a really good sense for what’s happening around the country and not just one bubble. Hands on the Land connects all the projects,” explained Ellen Reid, senior associate with the Center for Education at The Keystone Center.Currently, Keystone Science School is the only school inputting data into the snow monitoring site, but they are hoping other schools who do snow science will become part of the network, she added.Annemarie Fussell, school groups program manager and former field instructor, said being able to put the data online “gives us a better tool for visual aid. Kids can look at trends, work on research projects back at school … and teachers can use it.”The information the Summit Cove students gathered was put into a graph and can be viewed on the site.

Fifth-grade teacher Ryan Mihm went with the group while they collected data off the Peaks Trail to try and determine if vegetation cover affects the stability of the snow pack. “They spend so much time in the snow, skiing, playing. They’re just blown away by the science behind it. It’s neat to see the kids look at snow in a different way, in a scientific way,” he said.While working out in the field, Steven said, “I learned all about what really causes an avalanche… the different snowflakes and about digging a snow pit. … This is great fun.”For three weeks before they left for the science school, the 34 fifth-grade students participated in a unit about avalanche awareness, Mihm said. Brad Sawtell, forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, gave a presentation and talked about the avalanche that happened this season at Berthoud Pass. Also, an avalanche specialist who came with a rescue dog did a demonstration with fifth-grader Riley Hillis.

Riley was buried outside the school and within minutes the dog was able to dig him out.”It was exciting, and dark,” Riley said with a smile.Lory Pounder can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at lpounder@summitdaily.com.

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