Environmental Coalition Elevates Science Learning at Heavenly Mountain Resort


Heavenly Ski Patrol demonstrates how they train the avalanche dogs, and what they do to protect people on the mountain. Credit: Lily Summerville, South Tahoe Refuse

South Lake Tahoe, CA – Two hundred and seventy middle school students are delving into the realms of science, snowmaking, winter wildlife, and snow safety this week at Heavenly Mountain Resort with a coalition of environmental educators. This Thursday will mark the culmination of the tenth year of this immersive, snowshoeing educational experience for local students, the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition (STEEC) said today.

“Don’t tell my teachers, but yeah, this is way better than school,” said one eighth grade student at South Tahoe Middle School, who wishes to remain anonymous. “Until today, I had no idea I could take classes in high school first aide and go to college here for free to get my Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certificate to be a ski patroller at Heavenly.”

Generously supported by a grant from Vail Resorts EpicPromise, this collaborative winter adventure program by STEEC brings together professionals from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Lake Tahoe Unified School District Career Technical Education team, Heavenly Mountain Resort, Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, Sierra Avalanche Center, Sugar Pine Foundation, USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, South Tahoe Refuse, the City of South Lake Tahoe, and South Tahoe Public Utility District.

Students practice measuring trees from afar using best practices taught by the Sugar Pine Foundation. Credit: Victoria Ortiz, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

“Taking the classroom outside, these field trips educate and connect students with their alpine backyard, making scientific concepts easily accessible through hands-on sensory learning,” said Victoria Ortiz, event organizer and community engagement manager with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

This marked the tenth year STEEC has offered the field trip, although in previous years the program was geared toward fifth grade students. Over the course of two days, every South Tahoe Middle School eighth grader will ride the Heavenly aerial tram to the top of the mountain, where they split into groups and rotate between interactive stations.

Tasha Thomas (center) with Sierra Avalanche Center teaches students how to discern the shapes of the snow crystals and the protocol used in the backcountry to test the snowpack. Credit: Victoria Ortiz, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Students learn about winter animal adaptations, how to measure trees, and how to discern the shapes of snow crystals. They also meet Heavenly’s avalanche rescue dogs. Ski patrollers explain how they train the dogs, and then treat students to a demonstration of how they dig out someone buried by an avalanche.

“This program is one of many that STEEC organizes throughout the year,” said Alissa Zertuche, career technical education specialist for Lake Tahoe Unified School District. “We’re grateful to all of our partner organizations for creating curriculum that aligns with science standards and brings science to life!”


The South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition is a collaborative network of more than 20 local agencies and organizations with an aligned mission to bring environmental education resources to Lake Tahoe youth by providing high quality environmental and outdoor education programs. For additional information, contact Jeff Cowen, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Public Information Officer, at (775) 589-5278 or jcowen@trpa.gov.