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  • Sara Thompson

Surviving Winter

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

A pair of snow shoes on snow next to the trunk of a tree
A pair of snowshoes in a Finnish forest

Humans occupy much of the world’s landmasses. Many of those places have very cold winters for part of the year. For survival we have invented and adapted numerous ways to live in the cold. This includes how to stay warm and ways to easily move around in the snow. Some of these techniques we learned from nature by observing animals, others were invented out of necessity and convenience.

One of the most important things about winter is staying warm. Many animals that live in the cold have several layers of hair and fur that help trap warm air close to the body. By layering our clothes, we are doing the same thing, tapping the warm air closer to our bodies. Observing animals burrow and den under the snow helped people to discover that snow is an insulator. By using snow and ice as building materials, a person could make a small enclosure to keep warm from the elements.

Once keeping out the cold was solved, transportation was the next obstacle. Walking through snow is no easy feat. Our weight causes us to sink and snow just a few feet deep is nearly impossible to walk through and would get the person’s feet and clothing soaking wet. Again, looking to nature, we invented snowshoes. The snowshoe hare has large hindfeet that help prevent it from sinking into the snow. Nearly 6000 years ago began strapping wide, flat materials to their feet for walking on top of the snow. The construction and material of snowshoes have changed and evolved, but the concept has not. Snowshoes work the same way with the hare as they do with us. A large base distributes our weight more evenly on the top of the snow, preventing sinking. This gave our ancestors the ability to travel, hunt, or gather plants in places with deep snow.

Sledding and skiing are other forms of fast, winter fun. These were invented more by convenience rather than necessity. Carrying supplies or people long distances would tire a person down quickly. By placing them on a sled to glide over the snow made the process much easier. Both sleds and skis work by gliding on a thin layer of water at the very top of the snow. The water is generated in part by the heat generated by the object sliding on the snow and that the water molecules at the topmost layer act more water-like than ice-like.

Come visit our Winter Wonderland and get pictures with Father Christmas. Included with regular admission on Saturday, December 11th from 10am-2pm and Sunday, December 12th from 10am-2pm.


Explorit's coming events:

· Want to keep your students engaged during the winter break? Sign up for “The Science of Winter” camp. Explore the fun frosty phenomena of the winter season! Explorit campers will learn about the winter sky, frozen chemicals reactions, and amazing animal adaptations to the cold. Join us for science activities, games, and take-home crafts. December 20-22, 9am-12pm for grades K-2, December 27-29 9am-12pm for grades 3-5. $100 Members/$120 Non-Members. Camps will take place indoors with air purifiers. Masks required and daily temperature screening and healthy survey at drop-off. For more information and registration visit

· Give the gift of science to a family this holiday season! A gift Membership to Explorit not only supports us but grants the recipient free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. Any level of Membership is eligible as a gift for someone. To purchase or for more information visit or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.

· Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability. Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow:


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