South Lake Tahoe students learn about the outdoors during Epic Winter Adventure Program |

South Lake Tahoe students learn about the outdoors during Epic Winter Adventure Program

J.P. Kelsey
TRPA Environmental Education Specialist Adam Jensen helps fit a program participant with snowshoes.
J.P. Kelsey/ Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Do you know what causes an avalanche or how people are found if caught in one? Do you know what goes on behind the scenes to keep fresh powder on the slopes and resorts ready for action? How about what happens to mountain wildlife when winter comes?

These are just a few of the things South Shore fifth graders recently learned during the Epic Winter Adventure Program. Going on its second year, the program is a group effort that was made possible by a Vail Resorts Epic Promise Foundation educational grant. Due to the success of first program, the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition, the Lake Tahoe Unified School District and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency applied for and were awarded an additional grant for this year.

Held atop Heavenly’s California Lodge, there will be a total of five program days this year that will serve about 350 students.

“Epic Promise provides about $900 for the bus fees and 400 tickets for access,” said Heavenly’s Environmental and Compliance Manager Frank Papandrea. “We [Heavenly] partner with Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences and the Sierra Avalanche Information Center. … It’s the experience of being up there, looking out on the lake and providing an excellent educational opportunity. Learning outdoors, that’s what we all love. It’s a great classroom for this.”

All together, there are three learning stations placed at the top of the tram.

To get things started, participating students are outfitted with snowshoes to help them cross from station to station. Topics at each station range from wildlife education and identification to the dynamics of snow creation and information on avalanches. At the snow station, instructors explained the process and factors involved with making snow. It was explained to students how factors such as temperature, precipitation and humidity can effect snow production.

“On the nights we try to make snow, it has to be under 28 degrees, and we like low humidity,” said Bill Clark, Heavenly snow supervisor. “That’s what’s cool about this, we get to teach the kids about how we actually work and function, being able to make snow.”

After the lecture, students were given the task of measuring the weather conditions then determining if it was a good day for snow production.

At the avalanche station, students learned about snow layering and how, depending on the consistency of the layers, avalanche conditions can be created. Team members from the Sierra Avalanche Center and Heavenly also explained the various methods and tools used when trying to locate people buried under large amounts of snow.

In the event the person under the snow isn’t equipped with a transceiver, search dogs can be an invaluable resource. Two of Heavenly’s search dogs, Truckee and Rowdy, were brought out to show how quickly a person under several feet of snow can be recovered quickly. The third stop for the students largely dealt with how wildlife adapts to winters and how to identify animals from their coats or their droppings. Students were given an area to search to see what animals they could identify by the clues provided.

Program coordinators hope to provide a comprehensive program to keep students engaged and broaden the educational experience.

“I learned a lot more about the wildlife,” said Jaiven Childers, a fifth grade student at Tahoe Valley Elementary. “I didn’t know that much about it before. “

It wasn’t just the learning that had the students excited, though. “I was looking forward to the view,” said Childers.

Coordinators experienced several delays due to the weather, but hope to hold the remaining program days throughout the remainder of March.

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