Last winter, the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) partnered with Palisades Tahoe and Protect Our Winters on an educational campaign to increase public awareness of the negative effects of climate change to Lake Tahoe’s snowpack and the winter tourism industry. Designed to inspire people to take immediate action to reduce their own carbon emissions by one ton per year and prevent the worst scenario from playing out, the campaign included a carbon reduction calculator, easy actions individuals can take to reduce their emissions, and an augmented reality Instagram filter.

The campaign was focused on leveraging social media to educate people about the impact that climate change will have on the snowpack in Tahoe. Through the use of two augmented reality Instagram filters designed by BrandXR, TERC created a fun, shareable way for people to spread the #SaveOurSnow message using their own social media accounts. 

By creating Instagram filters, TERC hoped to reach a wider audience and raise interest in the campaign. While some data was communicated through the filters, the bulk of the content behind the campaign was located on TERC’s website: Here, users can learn about the various impacts climate change will have on snow conditions in the Sierra Nevada, learn ways that they can help combat climate change, and use a Carbon Reduction Calculator to pledge to reduce their own personal carbon emissions by one ton per year. 

The campaign includes data collected by UC Davis researchers as well as other collaborating institutions. Key changes we will see in coming decades include rising air temperatures, an increasing percentage of precipitation falling as rain instead of snow, fewer winter days with temperatures below freezing, and an overall declining snowpack. The graph of the annual snowpack was included in the Instagram filter and shared across social media.

Graph of annual snowpack data at Lake Tahoe with two projections for the future depending on emissions rates.

The website also includes a list of easy actions that individuals can take to reduce their personal carbon emissions. Some of these are centered around a day on the mountain, like taking the Mountaineer Shuttle, opting for reusable water bottles, and reducing waste. Others can be done by anyone, like going meatless one day a week, working from home when possible, and making your home more energy efficient. By using the Carbon Reduction Calculator, users saw that it is really not that hard to reduce your personal emissions by one ton per year. 

The Save Our Snow Campaign ran from February 22 – April 22, 2022, concluding at the Earth Day Celebration at Palisades Tahoe. Over the course of the campaign over 30,000 people engaged with Save Our Snow content on Instagram. This includes over 13,000 impressions apiece by the two filters, and over 2,000 people opened and actually used one of the filters. Ultimately, 83 people entered into the giveaway for free passes to Palisades Tahoe.

The partnership with Palisades Tahoe was a key part of the campaign. The campaign included a giveaway where participants were entered to win free passes to Palisades Tahoe by posting #SaveOurSnow content, following @ucdavistahoe and commenting on a TERC post. Each week one winner was chosen to win two free day-passes, and one lucky winner received the Grand Prize of a free 2022-23 season pass to Palisades Tahoe. At the end of the campaign, nine people had won a pair of day-passes and one person won a free season pass. The grand prize winner was chosen at the Earth Day Celebration in the Olympic Village on the final day of the campaign.

The two Instagram filters were developed as part of an IMLS Grant to use augmented reality for environmental education. The first filter shows the user in different ski outfits throughout the decades, while the snowpack diminishes behind them as they move from 1960 to present day and then into the future. The second filter shows the different snow conditions we are currently experiencing as temperatures rise. Both filters are still live on the @ucdavistahoe Instagram and can be used or posted at any time.

The #SaveOurSnow filter puts the user in fun ski outfits throughout the decades as the snowpack declines behind them.

In addition to using social media and the website, TERC did in-person outreach as well. A Save Our Snow photo booth was created out of an old phone booth located in the Palisades Village, where people could pose for pictures with or without the filter. TERC also entered a float into the Tahoe City Snowfest parade and passed out stickers. At the Earth Day Celebration they hosted a table where they explained the campaign, helped people try the filter, and received some last minute entries before drawing the Grand Prize Winner.

TERC’s Save Our Snow booth on Earth Day at Palisades Tahoe.

UC Davis TERC plans to build on the success of last winter and run the Save Our Snow campaign again this upcoming winter. Visit the TERC Instagram page to find out how you can be entered to win, and learn more about our changing winters on the TERC website.