The outdoor program at Colorado Rocky Mountain School is an integral part of the overall academic experience in which every student participates daily. The program includes outdoor trips, mountain sports and service. The outdoor program places a strong emphasis on character development, where students learn important skills such as resilience, perseverance, collaboration, self-confidence, and empathy. As a result, students at CRMS have a deep appreciation for the outdoors and an understanding of the importance of giving back to their community.
Taking trips into the outdoors is a strong tradition at CRMS. CRMS trips provide a unique opportunity for students to build on the skills they are learning in the sports program, as well as time to deepen their relationships with faculty members and their friendships with peers. There are three outdoor trips that take place annually, including Outdoor Orientation (a ten-day adventure in the surrounding high country for all new students), Fall Trip (five days in early October in the nearby mountains, deserts, and rivers), and Spring Trip (seven days in late April, once again journeying to surrounding areas). These trips provide not only an outdoor classroom but also an opportunity for the transference of leadership, exploration, and camaraderie back into the academic setting.
There are several important goals of the CRMS trip program, including:
- Emphasizing skills and ethics designed to minimize the impact on and maximize student appreciation for the natural world
- Teaching competency with outdoor skills, mastery of camp craft, ability to care for oneself and others in wilderness settings, and technical skills associated with varying trip disciplines
- Reinforcing the enduring value of teamwork and service to others
- Offering unique opportunities for participants to learn about the natural and/or human history of the locations visited
- Inspiring students to develop the skills and passion for lifelong engagement with the natural world
New Student Outdoor Orientation, or “Wilderness,” as it has traditionally been called by current students and alumni, is a fun adventure filled with exploration. "Wilderness" has been the introductory program of the school since the 1970's - well before it became widely embraced by colleges, universities, and other K-12 schools who have recently created their own versions to orientate students to their communities and provide an important community-oriented transitionary experience for their students. Our program is designed to introduce all new students to the school’s values of respect, responsibility, and excellence through a ten-day backpacking trip. Outdoor Orientation also serves the vital role of creating a shared collective experience through service, teamwork, challenge, and adventure all before the start of the academic school year. The skills taught on Outdoor Orientation not only benefit students on subsequent outdoor adventures but also provide valuable lessons and strategies that will help them better approach everyday life at CRMS and beyond.
The individual Outdoor Orientation groups travel through the nearby high-country in the Hunter-Fryingpan, Snowmass, and Maroon Bells regions. The first three days of the trip are devoted to a service project with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain and improve backcountry trails. The remainder of the adventure entails a week-long backpacking expedition traveling on- and off-trail through the spectacular mountainous terrain. All the expedition leaders are CRMS faculty members who are qualified, experienced, and certified outdoor educators.
Although the program is physically and mentally demanding, no previous backpacking or mountaineering experience is necessary. Students learn to take care of themselves and other group members while living and working together in a new environment. These self-sufficiency and teamwork skills transfer back to their lives at school, in the classroom, and in the dorms. Students come back bonded with new friends and ready to embark on the new school year with enthusiasm and confidence.
Fall Trip, in particular, is an opportunity for the entire school to celebrate the Rocky Mountain region in all of its autumn splendor. Trips are designed to provide challenging and rewarding experiences that urge students and faculty to work together, enjoy each other’s company, and learn new skills while exploring some of the myriad public lands that surround CRMS. Fall Trip also allows students to integrate skills acquired in the afternoon active program on an outdoor trip.
Sample Fall Trip offerings include:
- Hiking and Service trips throughout the Alfred Braun Hut System
- Rock climbing San Rafael Swell, Unaweep, Shelf Road
- Kayaking Ruby and Horsethief canyons, Gates of Lodore
Mountain biking Crested Butte, White Rim Trail, Fruita
Spring Trip allows the entire school to undertake expeditions that explore the mesas, rivers, and canyons of the American Southwest. Students and faculty embark on exciting and challenging experiences that build upon and utilize skills learned during Wilderness and Fall Trip. Students discover more about their strengths as they realize their individual roles within group settings.
Sample Spring Trip offerings include:
- Canoeing and hiking Green River
- Rock climbing Shelf Road, Indian Creek, San Rafael Swell
- Backpacking Death Hollow, Slickhorn Canyon
- Canyoneering Gravel and Long canyons, Robbers' Roost
- Mountain biking Kokopelli Trail
CRMS operates under special use permits from USDA Forest Service and DOI Bureau of Land Management.
When students are encouraged to take developmentally appropriate physical, social, and emotional risks, tremendous growth can happen. As participants in our dynamic program, students live and learn in the outdoors throughout the year. These encounters are wonderfully challenging and rewarding. Here at CRMS, there is an underlying conviction that the benefits of venturing into uncertain territory with appropriate guidance yields precisely the holistic developmental gains that are enormously beneficial to students in college and well beyond.
Understanding our conception of risk is essential in appreciating a CRMS education. Risk can be understood as the potential to lose something of value. Mountain Safety Expert Jed Williamson informs us that “Wwhat we need to remember is that our motivation for risk is to gain something of value—good health, self-confidence, recognition, spiritual growth, money, friends, relationships, career move, whatever it might be. But in short, it comes out to a life worth living.”
At CRMS, these motivations, or benefits, of taking risks in the outdoors, for example, are varied. They include an emerging ability to manage oneself and make decisions, to learn to manage one’s thoughts and feelings (i.e., impulsivity, fear, bravado, etc.), to learn to manage one’s physical body during a time of maturation and physical exercise, and to learn about personal judgment, being part of a team, etc.
A vital dimension of risk is inherent risk. Inherent risk is the type of risk that is a natural part of conducting an activity. With knowledge and planning, the inherent risks of activities can be managed and practices can be put into place to respond appropriately. If asked, "Why not eliminate risk from your programs altogether?" We would contend that eliminating the risk associated with an activity would transform the experience into something different entirely. That is, we endeavor in the outdoors in large part because of the risk—because of the developmental benefits that await us in those rich moments.
CRMS takes immense pride in the heritage and the excellence that inform its active curriculum. Our faculty leaders are trained and certified in wilderness medicine. We work diligently to ensure that our practices in the Outdoor Program and within our sports reflect contemporary and accepted practices in the field. The school has been fully accredited by the Association for Experiential Education since 2006 and remains a member of this leading organization.