Snow Ecology

Winter 2020
Class Size: 20
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Paul Przybylowicz
ecology, biology, mycology

What types of communities exist on, within, and beneath the snow pack? What does it take to not only survive, but to thrive in snow-covered environments? We will explore these questions from a variety of perspectives: macroscopic to microscopic, external to internal, research to experience. The major topics will be snow science, ecology, and outdoor leadership.

We will examine the microbial ecology of the snowpack, the ecology of snow-covered ecosystems and the amazing adaptations of various life forms to cold habitats. We’ll also study how snow changes over time and use this information to assess avalanche hazards, both through terrain analysis and field studies. Our studies of outdoor leadership will range from logistics to group process; from calculating the amount of calories and food needed for an expedition; to resolving conflicts in groups. Students will also learn winter travel and camping skills and then combine all of these skills with field investigations of snow-covered ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest.

There will be a significant field component to this class, regardless of weather. Students must provide their own winter camping gear and winter safety gear (avalanche shovel, transceiver, and probe). Winter travel means (snowshoes or skis) will also be needed. A limited amount of winter camping gear and snowshoes is available for rent on campus. There will be a multi-day field trip that will be scheduled after the snowpack develops (think snow!).

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

Environmental education, Experiential education, Ecology, and Outdoor leadership


Credits per quarter


College-level ecology and/or biology, and willingness to camp in the snow. Due to the demanding nature of this program, students should be physically fit and able to hike with a pack across snow at elevations of 4,000 ft. and above.

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.
Special expenses:

Additional costs will vary student to student depending on what winter camping, winter travel and snow safety gear students already have.


$200 for multi-day field trips.

Upper division science credit:

Up to 4 credits of upper division science credit may be earned in ecology upon completion of an independent research project. Students with a solid foundation in lower-division science seeking to earn upper-division credit must contact the faculty to discuss options prior to the start of the quarter.


Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 20

Scheduled for: Day

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 - 9:00 am
SEM 2 D2107 - Seminar

Advertised schedule:

First winter class meeting

Located in: Olympia