Now this is a snow day
Area fourth-graders ski, learn about winter on Grand Mesa
It’s the home stretch on the County Line Nordic ski trail on Grand Mesa, as groups of fourth graders glided to the finish.
Their faces were lit up with exuberant smiles reflecting a new confidence achieved from completing the loop on cross-country skis.
“This accomplishment is no small feat for these kids, most of whom have never been on skis before,” said Anita Evans, Skis for Kids coordinator with the Grand Mesa Nordic Council. “It takes coordination, balance, focus and most importantly — the desire to get yourself up when you fall and keep trying.”
It was a beautiful, blue-sky Colorado day with sun radiating and sparkling off the snow as the young skiers inspected the intricacies of ice crystals forming the deep winter snowpack around them.
“How exactly do animals survive up here during the cold, snowy winters?” asked Cody Purcell, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist.
Purcell presented samples of wildlife pelts, examined by the students as he explained how each animal adapts to surviving our winters. The students learned that fur, fat and feathers are keys to species survival.
“The kids are out here experiencing the winter environment all around them — this kind of discovery accompanied with hands-on activities is a pretty effective take-away for them,” Priscilla Williams, Forest Service education specialist said.
“Following a classroom presentation and field trip the students complete the Junior Snow Ranger booklet. When the kids finish the booklet, they are awarded an official badge, bandana and card — a sweet seal to the Junior Snow Ranger deal.”
On scene, students lined up along the ski track after slapping on their bindings, grabbing their poles, and pulling themselves up by their (ski) boot straps.
They had plenty of time to practice balance and gain agility throughout the day, and quickly learned that ‘to fall’ is simply an inevitability of Nordic skiing. As they skied, students observed the transformation of the snow from powder to ice to slush directly under their skis — nature can be its own teacher.
The sun or wind are the agents that sculpt the uniqueness of snowflakes — each one constantly changing with time. Acquiring the knowledge to detect the changing snow conditions connects students to an understanding of the basics of snow layers and how avalanches happen.
“It is important for us to emphasize the aspects of winter safety in the outdoors — avalanche awareness is key as well as learning to fully prepare yourself by dressing in layers, bringing extra food and water,” Williams said.
“Every Kid in a Park” is a new grant program through the National Park Foundation that awarded the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest funding to cover bus transportation for these field trips for several fourth grade classes from Delta, San Miguel and Mesa Country School Districts.
This funding has allowed more than 360 fourth graders to experience the National Forest this winter. The GMUG National Forest and its many partners just received another grant to acquire more ski gear for smaller feet in an effort to expand this program to more fourth graders next year.
“We want young children to be connected to nature and to our forest because it truly is the ultimate classroom,” Williams said.
As these children grow up, the hope is these types of experiences will stay with them as they continue to cultivate a deeper affinity to the outdoors.
Now imagine yourself reaching for your own ski poles and gliding along a trail on a beautiful winter day on your National Forest. It’s all yours — go play!
Priscilla Williams is Forest Service Education Specialist for the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.