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Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

August 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Annah Young, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

I wedged myself between two boulders on the summit of Silver Star Mountain in Okanagan County, Washington and peered out over the North Cascades range. It was May 1, 2016. Mount Baker was crystal clear some 100 miles to the west across the snow cover peaks. The mountains were shimmering, almost blindingly so, in all directions with miles and miles of snowfields. The day was hot, almost 60 degrees in the sun at an elevation of 8,875 feet. Our ski boots were standing on a snowpack of over 8 feet deep I was trying to fathom the amount of frozen water surrounding me. Looking to the east I saw the Methow Valley and Okanagan County expanding into the horizon and tried to imagine the journey that the water molecules beneath my feet will make, providing habitat for migrating steelhead trout, nourishing Cottonwoods, and irrigating crops that become food to nourish the people. I chugged the last bit of water that was in my Nalgene, filled it to the brim with snow, stuffed the bottle in my pack and skied down 5,000 feet of glorious spring corn snow.

Snowpack in the North Cascades has declined between 20% and 40% since 1950 (Stoelinda, Albright, Mass, 2009, p. 1). Snowpack in the mountains is stored water that provides life to all organisms including humans by irrigating and growing the food we eat. Snowpack is declining due to natural climate fluctuations and anthropogenic global warming.

» Continue reading Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

Joshua Winter 2016

Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

March 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

As the snow is melting and Spring is is coming in full force, winter’s grasp is quickly fleeting from our minds. It’s hard to imagine that just a month ago the 15th Graduate Cohort of the North Cascades Institute was on their Winter Natural History retreat in the Methow Valley, then a winter wilderness! The retreat was the second retreat we had taken this year, in which we delve deep into the natural landscape to get first hand experience with our local wilderness. In this particular trip we learned about astronomy, wolverines, avalanche science and even tracking. Our whole trip had us centered at the Skalitude Retreat Center located in the Methow Valley.

Skalitude Retreat Center


Skalitude Retreat Center located in the heart of the mountains.

After traveling for seven hours into the Methow Valley, for Washington Pass is closed in the winter, the road into Skalitude was the definition of a remote mountain road: covered with animal tracks, steep, and windy. The whole road was encased in a thick forest. As soon as we reached the retreat the trees opened up to showcase the excellent valley and the pristine snow! Living in Western Washington this winter made me forget how much I had missed feet of clean, beautiful snow.

Good meals

Good friends and good food! Photo courtesy of Aly Gourd.

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Petra working with ss

Snow School 2016: Experiential Education on Mt. Baker

March 11th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

On a rainy Friday morning in Bellingham, eight environmental educators cram tightly into a van fully equipped in winter gear. The van’s destination—Mt. Baker Ski Area. Rain continues to fall heavily in the lowland forests of the Nooksack Valley as the van makes its way toward the mountain. Soon we’re steeply ascending toward the Ski Area and as we pull into the parking lot we hit a magic line where the rain turns to thick, wet and heavy snowflakes. We have an hour to prepare for the day until a school bus arrives with a hoard of 8th grade students from Mt. Baker Middle School in Deming, WA.

Upon arrival, the students seem excited but also unsure for what’s in store for the day. The environmental educators, with lesson plans prepared, await to go explore the nearby snowy mountain terrain with these eager students who will be heading into the field to collect data and observations on weather, snow pack and snow stability.

Based out of the Mt. Baker Ski Area, Mt. Baker SnowSchool is a collaboration between the Mt. Baker Ski Area, North Cascades Institute, Northwest Avalanche Center, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and The Winter Wildlands Alliance.

KB Making Snow Pit

Northwest Avalanche Center instructor Jeff Hambleton teaches students to identify layers in the snowpack.

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Following Tracks

May 6th, 2013 | Posted by in Adventures

My touring partner, Ian, and I found ourselves looking out across Ptarmagin Ridge toward our distant objective, Coleman Pinnacle.  The only noise was that of the wind coursing through the wings of a passing raven.  The sun shone down on our faces, lighting up the snow and landscape beyond.  I turned to Ian and asked where we were going.  He simply replied “Narnia,” and we continued along the skin track toward the jagged peak in the distance.

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Marmot Ridge and skier

Fall skiing on Marmot Ridge

November 6th, 2009 | Posted by in Adventures

Fresh snow on Mt. Baker, night time lows near 20 degrees in the mountains, and forecasts calling for snow below 3,000 feet; we had to go skiing. Let’s be honest, we didn’t have high expectations, it was the first day of November. But, as Ian, Arielle, Adam and I loaded the car in the dim morning light we were hopeful. Why couldn’t the snow be great this early in the season? We live in the Pacific Northwest after all; snow comes early to our mountains.

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Skiing into Spring

May 3rd, 2009 | Posted by in Adventures

Here in Western Washington many of us wait in anticipation for the coming of spring. Indications of this seasonal change are different for different people. For some it’s sighting the first of the migratory birds, blossoms of the indian plum, deer in their spring velvet, tulips bursting from the warm ground, or the eerie drumming of the ruffed grouse. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and look forward to all of these milestones, but I am a backcountry skier.  Spring to me means smooth, fast, Cascade corn snow so I wait in anxious anticipation for the opening of Hwy. 20 over Washington Pass to access the deep snowpack and rugged mountains of the North Cascades.

» Continue reading Skiing into Spring