Snow, science and stoke

Backcountry Film Fest to hit Panida Jan. 7, benefit SOLE SnowSchool

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

When it comes to learning about winter ecology, our local watershed and the science of snow, there’s no better classroom than the great outdoors of North Idaho.

Selkirk Outdoor Leadership and Education knows this, and prioritizes making the winter woods accessible to local school children through the nonprofit’s SnowSchool curriculum and field days, made available to every fifth grader in the Lake Pend Oreille School District each winter.

Local students participate in SOLE’s SnowSchool program. Courtesy photo.

“What we wanted to do was provide a really intentional and relevant learning experience for kids to learn about their watershed, from the mountains to the lake,” said SOLE Director Dennison Webb, “and we wanted to also teach them about what else is out there in our winter wildlands: winter ecology, habitat, flora and fauna — that type of thing.”

Such an undertaking requires community support, which Webb said SOLE has been fortunate to receive since its 2012 inception. Events like the annual Backcountry Film Festival — this year screening at the Panida Theater on Friday, Jan. 7 — provide the financial backing to make SnowSchool happen. Featuring work by both veteran filmmakers and novice outdoorsmen, the popular film fest highlights the stories behind epic winter excursions — sure to heighten the stoke for anyone who loves a romp in the snow.

Money raised from ticket sales, as well as an on-site auction and raffles, provide vital funding to SOLE’s SnowSchool, which is one of two flagship sites out of 70 nationwide due to a commitment to localizing and personalizing the hands-on curriculum — part of which is taught in the classroom, and the other part students experience at SOLE’s Mountain Field Campus on Schweitzer.

“We took that SnowSchool curriculum and we essentially extended it and made it more rigorous, and tailored it to our specific geographic region,” Webb said. “We integrated basic geography — identifying the local mountain ranges, local tributaries.”

Students also learn avalanche awareness, how to dress and travel in snow and how, exactly, North Idaho’s watershed works.

“Fifth-graders are using tools that snow scientists and hydrologists and avalanche forecasters utilize in the field,” Webb said, noting that the science and math the students use at SnowSchool align with curriculum standards for their grade level. “They’re collecting their data in real time, hands-on, and then they’re synthesizing that data and comparing and contrasting it to historical trends.”

During a time of year when many kids can’t afford to partake in popular recreation opportunities like skiing or snowboarding, SnowSchool is a doorway to better understanding North Idaho’s winter woods, and how it serves to shape our landscape all year long.

“We really want to sustain this program by building awareness,” Webb said, “and funding is obviously a big part of this.”

Check out the 2022 Backcountry Film Festival at the Panida Theater (300 N. First Ave. in Sandpoint) on Friday, Jan. 7. Doors open at 6 p.m., and films begin at 7 p.m. Youth tickets cost $7 in advance, $10 day of; adult tickets cost $12 in advance, $15 day of; and a $25 donation ticket — which funds one student’s entire day on the snow — comes with free raffle tickets at the door. Tickets can be purchased at

SOLE and the Panida highly recommend purchasing advance tickets online, due to limited capacity at the theater. Vaccination status and proof of a negative COVID-19 test will not be required at this event. The Panida Theater strongly encourages all guests to wear a mask, regardless of vaccine status.

Learn more about SOLE and SnowSchool at

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