Winter Discovery Center & SWEP

Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships (SWEP) is a nonprofit based out of the Tahoe Truckee Region that promotes environmental stewardship by connecting students to their community and local environment through comprehensive watershed education and service-learning.

“Science is not science unless you’re experimenting.” – Missy Mohler, SWEP Executive Director

What's Happening at the Yurt?

The Tahoe XC yurt, aka the Winter Discovery Center, is home to Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships (SWEP) winter programs. SWEP curriculum abides by national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by focusing on active learning, monitoring, hypothesis and data collection, from which our local students and teachers benefit greatly.

At Tahoe XC, SWEP is getting local kids outside, learning snow science, winter safety and cross-country skiing, all while following NGSS.

Next Generation Science Standards

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a new science standard that identifies scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts and core ideas in science for K-12 students. It requires classrooms to implement hands-on, collaborative and integrated environment-rooted inquiries and discoveries so that students may learn to think on their own, problem solve, communicate and collaborate while learning important scientific concepts.

A Typical SWEP Day at the Winter Discovery Center

Students arrive at the Winter Discovery Center yurt, get their ski equipment from the Tahoe XC rental shop and are introduced to skiing. At 9:30am, they begin a 1.5-hour science lesson inside the snow science lab (aka the Winter Discovery Center yurt). They complete hands-on snow investigation aligned with federal NGSS, then participate in place-based snow data collection set right in their very own Tahoe woods. Afterwards, teachers lead self-guided cross-country ski tours on Tahoe XC groomed trails.

Each grade level has a theme:

  • 3rd grade – snow & ice science
  • 4th grade – plant and animal adaptation
  • 5th grade – winter weather monitoring

Animal Monitoring Program – Motion-triggered cameras are set up within the Tahoe XC trail system to monitor wildlife. SWEP staff checks them weekly and captures images of wildlife, which they send to any classroom that has participated in or is going to participate in a SWEP program at the Winter Discovery Center.

Snow School Snowpack Prediction Contest – The Winter Discovery Center is an official SnowSchool site, from which SWEP students compete in a nation-wide contest that engages them in real time about real data regarding snow depth at their SnowSchool location. Each SWEP class comes up with their prediction for the year’s snowpack in the Sierra and sends it in. Whichever class is the closest receives a pizza party with a real snow scientist!

SWEP Program Details

  • 10 weeks, January-March on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
  • Designed for 3rd, 4th, 5th students following NGSS
  • Teachers and students receive free cross-country ski equipment rentals and a trail day pass
  • Tahoe and Truckee Schools are invited to register (TTUSD district & non-district schools are welcome)
  • Registration opens early December and typically books up within the first hour. Stay tuned for registration link and details.
  • With more funding, we could offer more SWEP programs at the Winter Discovery Center
  • To register your class please contact Ashley Phillips at

Your Donations at Work

Each year, Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Education Association (TCCSEA) pays $6,000 to SWEP to be a sub-contracted education provider at the Winter Discovery Center. TCCSEA fundraising comes from donations, grant writing and in some years, being the beneficiary of fundraising events like the Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival.

Get Involved

We need consistent funding to maintain SWEP programming as a part of the Winter Discovery Center. The $6,000 TCCSEA donates is just enough to cover base costs. For the Winter Discovery Center to grow, we need to reach higher fundraising goals. We are also seeking consistent, annual fundraising opportunities and are open to ideas!

Donate to TCCSEA for Winter Discovery Center specifically. We need to raise at least $6,000 every year to cover base costs. Donors such as Clyde and Gail Batavia have had a huge impact on the success of the Winter Discovery Center programming.

Donate to TCCSEA for kids’ scholarships at the Winter Discovery Center to help students who cannot pay the small donation fee required to participate in SWEP.

Donate directly to SWEP to promote environmental stewardship, comprehensive learning and to connect students to their community and local environment through a variety of year-round SWEP programs.

Additional Support

Additional support comes in other ways from our community: Clyde and Gayle Batavia have been incredible Winter Discovery Center + SWEP supporters over the years by donating equipment including WiFi TVs, animal monitoring equipment and other science equipment. Thank you, Clyde and Gayle, for your continual and generous donations!

Green Achiever Award

In 2018, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD) was awarded the Green Achiever Award thanks to great efforts made by the district, many of which were prompted by SWEP. For example, in 2008, TTUSD voted to make budget-saving measures and began upgrading lights, water systems, waste management and more. SWEP saw the opportunity to teach kids about the changes happening with hands-on learning. The Green Team took pre- and post-audits, learned data gathering, hypothesis, measuring and had scientific discussions about real-time results.

The same principle applies to the Winter Discovery Center. At the 2018 national Green Achievers Awards ceremony in Washington D.C., the Winter Discovery Center was mentioned on stage as unique for its focus on winter ecology and snow safety.

“A lot of communities live near ski areas, but the kids aren’t exposed to snow science and survival skills. The Winter Discovery Center is a unique opportunity to have kids experience winter in a cool, winter-lessons, hands-on way.” – Missy Mohler, SWEP Executive Director

Brief History of SWEP

When SWEP Executive Director Missy Mohler was a student at North Tahoe Middle School, a close friend was lost in a blizzard off the backside of Northstar-At-Tahoe ski area. His death not only prompted the creation of Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue (TNSAR) in 1976, but inspired Missy to create change in her community.

In 1994, a small group of local parents and teachers began Sierra Watershed Education Project (SWEP), a 501©3 nonprofit that promotes stewardship while connecting students to their community and environment by providing comprehensive watershed and science education in classrooms and outdoors. Today, Missy serves as SWEP Executive Director and is grateful to be a part of an outdoor educational program that teaches local students about winter survival, safety and science education.

Since its inception, SWEP has played a critical role in connecting students to the local environment (in and outside) the Winter Discovery Center yurt at Tahoe XC, which has a compounding effect on our region. Creating present and future stewards of this beautiful place is a very good investment. Please invest in us and keep the Winter Discovery Center +SWEP at Tahoe XC.

This is a partnership that works.

Your small $5 donation today ensures SWEP remains a critical snow science program and partner of Tahoe XC.