Words and animation by Kona Ambassador Gretchen Leggitt.

Last spring, my faithful adventure buddy, Doctor Robin Kodner, and I set out on a two-wheel adventure in the Sierras seeking out elusive “pink snow.” When snow transforms from white to watermelon, it means there is a pink algae growing on the snow’s surface that is tied to warming temperatures. Kodner’s lab at Western Washington University formed the Living Snow Project, which encourages outdoor enthusiasts to collect pink snow samples across the western mountain ranges of the United States and then send them to the lab. Once received the lab charts the finding and conducts DNA testing in order to learn more about how and why the algae are growing more rapidly during our recently warmer winters. Bottom line: the warmer our winters get, the faster the algae will grow. As the algae grow, the darker hues of the pink surface speed up the snowmelt because it absorbs more energy from the sun compared to traditional white snow. The weight of global warming becomes even more real and relatable to outdoor enthusiasts when the increase in pink snow results in dwindling spring turns, year after year… 

In order to seek out spring patches of pink snow in southern regions, Kodner and I had to go deep. We strapped our skis and splitboards to our trusted steel rigs and pedaled up closed winter roads and melting trails to seek out early season patches of pink. For two weeks, our adventure-science driven caravan ventured from the Shasta Wilderness down south to the Eastern Sierras, with our eyes set on closed roads, corn turns and watermelon hues. 

Learn more or sign up to volunteer at LivingSnowProject.com