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Haub School Student, Alyssa Wesner, Spends the J-Term in Grand Teton National Park

March 4, 2020


Haub School student spends the winter in Grand Teton National Park


When I found out that I could take three one-credit winter ecology classes in an immersive 10-day program hosted just outside of Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, WY, I was immediately intrigued. My very first class with the Haub School was attending a field week at the same place, the Kelly campus of Teton Science Schools, and I knew I had to return to round out my final semester as an undergrad. I am graduating with degrees in both Environmental Systems Science as well as Environment and Natural Resources, so this set of courses was extremely important to my skill set. Unfortunately, as a lover of summer, I am not all that acquainted with winter activities and had my reservations about being in the cold and snow for 10 straight days. Lucky for me, I wasn’t the only rookie and the patient instructors were great at both introducing each of the course concepts and our modes of transportation through the wonderland that is the Tetons in January. And yes, it snowed every day.


Haub School students spends the winter in Grand Teton National Park


The first course, “Skills of the Winter Naturalist,” opened right away with quick lessons in cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Once we had all practiced falling and awkwardly contorting ourselves to get back up, we spent the next three days traipsing around the serene woods and riparian areas surrounding the Kelly campus. We learned how to track animals in the snow, how plants and animals were adapted to survive the cold, and how to successfully note our observations in a naturalist journal that we shared with the class in a final project. One of the perks of this course was the use of a volunteer dog that had a great time running around in the snow so we could directly see the tracks and the story they told.



Haub School students spends the winter in Grand Teton National Park

The second course, “Snowpack Dynamics and Snow Science,” allowed us to continue utilizing the skills we had just learned and then build on them in order to begin conducting our own research using the scientific process. We practiced digging snow pits to observe and measure the different layers in a snowpack to determine stability, identified how various snow crystals form and change within a snowpack, discussed the causes and effects of climate change, and expanded on plant and animal adaptations. A day trip to the Bradley-Taggart trailhead within Grand Teton National Park allowed us to become more comfortable with digging snow pits in untouched havens and we were lucky enough to explore a little slice of “Narnia” as a peaceful treat before heading back to campus. We concluded the course with group research projects focused on what affects the many properties of snow from formation to metamorphism to thermal index.

Haub School students spends the winter in Grand Teton National Park

The third and final course, “Wildlife and Plant Adaptations,” focused more explicitly on how flora and fauna adapts to and copes with winter stresses. We looked at three main strategies for survival: migration, hibernation, and resistance, as well as how energy (and thus, heat) is transferred, and gained a basic understanding of just how important the subnivean environment is for all aspects of an ecosystem. The area around the campus is full of wildlife and we observed many signs of beavers, ungulates, coyotes, bears, insects, rodents, rabbits, and birds, and were able to watch actual moose, mule deer, antelope, coyotes, and eagles at multiple locations. We were able to go on a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge and learn how the formation of the city of Jackson still affects the migration and survival of elk and other animals through the valley, and we scoped some bighorn sheep on Miller Butte. The grand finale was a more in-depth group project that concentrated on one of the concepts we covered over the entire course. My group presented on the effects of winter recreation on subnivean wildlife, others looked at human adaptations to cold through exercise, which plants were preferred by ungulates, and the observable winter growth in aspen in relation to snowpack and water availability.


Haub School student spends winter in Grand Teton National Park


Ultimately, I couldn’t have asked for a more unique experience to complete my senior year with the Haub School, and there were many ways to make this trip affordable and accessible. While the drive to and from Jackson was a little strenuous being a typical wild Wyoming winter, every effort was made to keep all of us warm, dry, and well-fed at the Kelly campus. Every one of my peers on this trip came from a different background, yet we all found something to connect us in this intensive series of courses, whether it be our lack of cross country skiing skills or our love for the environment. I would recommend this awesome experience to anyone looking to step outside of their comfort zone to gain more appreciation for what winter really is.

Story and photos from Haub School student, Alyssa Wesner. 

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Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources

Bim Kendall House

804 E Fremont St

Laramie, WY 82072

Phone: (307) 766-5080

Fax: (307) 766-5099


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