Snowshoes for Snow Science

On January 30, 2019, forty students from Flagstaff Junior Academy made a visit to the Arizona Nordic Village to experience the joy of learning outdoors in the winter.


If you think getting 40 5th graders dressed in snow clothes, boots, and snowshoes is easy, you’ve definitely never done it. Figuring out the straps, getting them tightened down, and then realizing you put your backpack down somewhere else and tripping over your now bigger feet to get to it is no easy task! But thanks to tenacious students, focused teachers, and the marvelous staff at the Arizona Nordic Village, we turned even this mundane task into a chance to learn.


We snowshoed out onto the “Cinder” trail loop and found a nice spot in the sun to set up for our lessons. First we discussed the different ways that animals can prepare for winter and how we humans can learn from them. Not only did we learn the idea of snowshoes from animals like the Snowshoe Hare, and learn from Wood Grouse that snow is a great insulator, but people sometimes even migrate for different seasons just like Canadian Geese! The students then set out to create insulated snow caves for their “frogs” made of hot jello mix. If they could insulate it well enough to avoid turning the jello solid before the end of the day, their frog survived the winter!


While our frogs sat cozy in their nests, we broke out into groups to see what other wonders the snow had in store. One group searched for signs of the winter “tough guys”, animals that stay active and try to “tough it out” during the cold months. Students found deer tracks, some squirrel chewed pinecones, and we even found a bit of coyote scat!


The other group explored the different layers of snow and how the crystals and texture of the snow was different at different levels. Not all snow falls as perfect dendritic crystals, and even snow that does fall that way won’t stay that way for long. Much like the geologic processes that shape rocks heat, pressure, wind or other disturbances are constantly changing the crystalline structure of snow. Students were able to observe the snow with hand lenses, feel for different textures in a study pit, and guess which layer animals would most likely live in.  


After finishing our snowshoe hike loop, we returned our equipment and headed back to school. It was a marvelous day with beautiful weather and lots of smiles!