After Colombia, our next trip was to a backcountry hut, The Lost Wonder Hut, for a class on avalanches.
It was a perfect example of what we strive for — connection from the classroom to the field and back again. Students started preparing for the trip in Science class, where they studied the physics of snow and avalanches. Topics included avalanche climates and terrain (i.e. how the terrain features determine the motion of avalanches), slope, tensional, compressional, and shear strength of snow, and digging a snow pit to examine layers and perform tests on its stability.
The day before the trip, we dug a snow pit and examined the layers to determine slide potential at school.
While at the hut, we had a mixture of indoor, “classroom” time and outdoor time making observations and practicing companion rescues. The content felt so relevant, as we were surrounded by steep, loaded slopes and could hear avalanche charges being set off just over the mountain at Monarch Mountain. We learned about alpha angles for avalanches, snow morphology and crystallization, the anatomy of an avalanche, types of avalanches, causes of avalanches, classification, identifying avalanche terrain, and much more. The goal was not to scare students or encourage them to stay inside all winter, but rather to help them enjoy the snowy mountains intelligently and equip them to know what to look for to make informed decisions.
Upon return to school, students are continuing the study by exploring destructive force, distance traveled and displacement, and speed, velocity, and acceleration.