Girls in STEM: Snow Science and Safety

By Carrie Scheick, Program Coordinator

Girls in STEM has a goal of inspiring young women to engage with STEM subjects throughout their education career. Our next Girls in STEM program is March 8-10th and has a focus on first aid and careers within the healthcare industry. Check out our website to register.

Snow pits, avalanche dog demonstrations, and cross-country skiing, oh my! This month we kicked off our 2019 Girls in STEM programs learning about Snow Science and Safety.

On Friday evening, we had two professional STEM Mentors present about their careers. Lindsay Wiebold, Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol, shared about her work on the slopes keeping guests safe and completing anything having to do with ski area avalanche mitigation. She shared her medical and rescue training, as well as her previous ski patrol experience. She taught the girls about snowpack stability and created an avalanche model with sugar, flour, and a shoe box.

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Lindsay also showed us how her airbag deploys; this airbag allows greater percent of survival during an avalanche and all ski patrollers at A-Basin are required to have one in their backpack.

Roz Reynolds, Wyssen Avalanche Control, shared how her company uses remote avalanche control systems for avalanche detection and preventative release. Wyssen recently branched out to the United States, and she is the sole representative for the Swiss company in this country. Roz manages the construction of avalanche towers that are placed strategically in mountain areas. These avalanche towers are remotely triggered and used on ski slopes, above highway intersections, or any other location requiring avalanche mitigation.

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We spent Saturday morning at one of our local ski areas, Arapahoe Basin, with Lindsay and fellow female patrollers Alicia, Michelle, and Kaitlin. The girls learned how to dig a snow pit, measured depth, aspect, temperature, and studied snow grains in the layers of the snowpack, and did hardness and shovel shear tests. The shovel shear test isolates a section of the snow pit; the girls hit the shovel with varying amounts of force to measure snowpack stability. recorded their snow pit data at A-Basin to create a snow pit profile and calculate snow water equivalency later in the afternoon.

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The girls also learned how to use beacons and practiced finding one that Alicia and Kaitlin hid in the snow.

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One of the highlights of the morning was meeting ski patrol avalanche dogs Rio and Tika and their handlers, Matt and Erich. Rio is a pro and often deployed in the helicopter when A-Basin’s Ski Patrol is called for a backcountry rescue. Tika is a puppy currently an avalanche dog in training. We learned how the dogs are trained to use their senses to find someone who has been buried in an avalanche. My favorite demonstration was when the wind shifted towards Rio after a few minutes of her sniffing and looking around, she bolted to the spot where Kaitlin was buried in the snow pit.

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Photo credit: Ian Zinner, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area Content Coordinator

After our morning at A-Basin, we headed back to the KSS campus to go cross country skiing. It was a blast!

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After skiing, the girls used the Design Thinking Process to create their own avalanche board. The girls used a variety of materials to create their own terrain that represented real mountain conditions. They then tested the angle that the terrain fails, or causes an avalanche, depending on the layers of their snowpack.

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It was a great weekend of learning about and playing in the snow. Thanks to our featured STEM Mentors and partner organizations Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Wyssen Avalanche Control. You help make this program awesome and we couldn’t do it without you!

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