Published: April 16, 2019 By

Mountain scene with gold sunlight on snow covered mountains

The Undergrad Snow Internship Program has been hosting undergraduates at the CU Mountain Research Station for over 20 years and includes alumni like Jen Morse and Noah Molotch, who help run the program today. The long-term data collected through this program has helped drive published papers due to the continuous collection of snowpack data. The collection points in the Subalpine (C1) and the Alpine Tundra (Niwot Saddle) provide a snow profile across an elevation gradient that is supported by metrological data and the Niwot SNOTEL Station. 

The students work hard to hike uphill in varying weather conditions: high winds, blowing snow, and the occasional sunny day. The varying harsh weather conditions on Niwot Ridge give the students experience in backcountry decision-making and understanding the threshold of collecting good data when conditions are not ideal. Their decision making is supported by training in Wilderness First Aid and understanding of the research site’s protected areas and emergency procedures if events were to turn bad. 

The measurements made within the snowpack include density measurements of snow water equivalent (SWE), snow depth, grain type and hardness.  The hard work they put into mentally and physically overcoming the conditions is rewarded by the ski down back to the Mountain Research Station (although it may not be filled with powder turns). 

The outreach of the Snow Internship Program is an important piece to furthering education about the ever-changing Colorado snowpack. From outdoor recreationalists, to local stakeholders such as the Colorado Water Congress, and grade school students, the undergraduates demonstrate the process of digging a snowpit and describing what each measurement is used for. The students are using their field experience to help others understand the importance of snow measurements and how fun they can actually be. And with a view as great as the continental divide along Niwot Ridge the beautiful sights can make any day worth it.

Snow covered mountain scene

Niwot Saddle with snow pit site located in the upper right.

People in snow covered wooded area measuring Depth and Snow Water Equivalent

Photo: Jen Morse, Mountain Research Station PRA instruction new Snow Interns on protocol for the Snow Federal Sample to measure Depth and Snow Water Equivalent.