GES4460 - Field Studies: Silverton, Colorado


GES' Brandon Vogt is the instructor of the course. The course fills with 12 UCCS juniors / seniors / graduate students. A few Silvertonians that are integral to the field experience include...

Fritz Klinke
Chris Landry
Chris Schultz
Kevid deKay
Mark Gober
Fritz Klinke
Chris Landry, CSAS
Chris Schultz, USFS
Kevin deKay
Mark Gober, CAIC


A four credit hour, upper-level physical geography field course. The course is offered for undergraduate or graduate credit.


In and around Silverton, Colorado (population ~550, elevation 9,318 ft.). Silverton is near the center of the vast San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.


The 8-day course runs the week before the spring 2015 semester, Jan. 11 - 18. Early on Sunday morning, the group departs Colorado Springs for Silverton. The group returns the following Sunday before breakfast for an early afternoon return to Colorado Springs.

Learning Objectives

  • To instill a fundamental understanding of the science of snowpack dynamics and assessment as measured through snow density, structure (stratigraphy), stability, and microclimate;
  • to develop an appreciation of San Juan Mountain geomorphology, geology, ecology, climate, weather; and
  • to develop skills in field observation, data collection, data interpretation, writing, and public speaking.

Experiential Learning

For a week, students are immersed in Silverton's physical and cultural landscape. The course is full of opportunities to learn through different formats: observation, self-reflection, interactions with instructors and locals, readings, lectures, and hands-on field work. From these activities, students build background knowledge from which they answer a central research question.


At breakfast, students are briefed of the day's events. These range from visits with local avalanche forecasters to a full day of data collection and field work with a snow scientist. Each evening, students gather for dinner, which often includes or is followed by a guest speaker. Students will spend some time each day reading articles and writing daily observations in a field journal. Saturday morning and afternoon are reserved for students to finish writing their essays and to prepare their oral presentations. Saturday evening following dinner, presentations are given to the instructor, fellow students, and usually to a few invited locals.

Evaluation and Point Distribution

  • Pre-trip: All students must earn a passing quiz grade on the online UCAR COMET Program module 'Snowpack and its Assessment.' Due: Before departure (this is a required portion of the course - all students MUST pass the module's quiz to pass the course; the module's quiz can be attempted multiple times).
  • Central Question Essay and Presentation (50%): Each student will answer their central question in 1) a 7-8 page handwritten essay and 2) a 5-7 minute oral presentation. Presentations will occur Saturday evening. Due: No later than 6:00 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015.
  • Field Journal (40%): Each daily entry will include field observations, definitions and interpretations from readings, notes from speakers, questions for speakers, and drawings/diagrams. Due: No later than 5:00 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.
  • Journal Article, Report, or Book Excerpt Synopsis (5%): Each student will spend ten minutes summarizing one-on-one with the instructor any paper from Section 1 of the course readings list. Due: Friday evening, Jan. 18, 2015.
  • Class participation (5%): Students who actively participate, regularly ask questions, and who are well-involved in the group dynamic earn these points.

Meals and Lodging

Breakfasts and dinners are catered by Elevated Catering. Lunches can be prepared in the hotel or purchased from one of a handful of local restaurants. Lodging is provided by the Teller House Hotel.


In addition to regular UCCS tuition fees, the trip costs each student approximately $620.00. This estimate includes breakfasts and dinners (except for the first and last Sunday's breakfast), lodging, rental vehicles and fuel, speaker fees, lodging and catering tips, and course materials.

You'll need snowshoes

These can be rented from REI or from UCCS. To reserve yours from UCCS, contact the Rec. Center at 719 255-7515.

Other Logistics

There are a lot... Brandon hosts a mandatory pre-trip meeting mid December.


Safety - especially when driving and when in vehicles - plays a large role in the course. Safety will be discussed pre-trip as well as throughout the week.

Physical Requirements

The field studies course involves walking in/around town on icy roads and sidewalks, snowshoeing in steep terrain across deep, soft snow, and shoveling snow for extended periods. Participants must be able to exert themselves at high altitudes (10,000 to 11,500 ft.) in windy, snowy, sunny, dry, cold to very cold conditions.


One morning in Jan. of 2011, the temperature in Silverton dropped to -34F. Jan. 2013 included a -30F morning reading. During the week, expect several days of sunny skies and a few days of snow.

Red Mountain Pass

Silverton field studies students on Red Mountain Pass