By Claire Barber

On a recent Friday evening, I sat down with Rachael Abler, Assistant Director of Outdoor Education, along with two other Colorado College students. In front of us was a hand drawn schedule for the next two blocks. 

The four of us were meeting for the first time as part of the new Outdoor Recreation Committee (ORC) mentorship program, which started at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. Another student and I were interested in improving skills related to backcountry skiing and another was there to gain confidence, practice, and learn how to lead ice climb. 

The three of us were put together for our common thematic interests: a desire to create a stronger community around snow sports at CC, leadership aspirations, and a shared experience of being a woman in the outdoors, to name a few. 

On that hand-drawn schedule, Abler instructed us to write in our goals and aspirations for the upcoming blocks. Then, we were to try to break down those goals into tangible tasks for every week. 

Eventually, we broke down our aspirations into geared topics including navigation and trip planning, mountaineering techniques, ski and gear maintenance, and actual days out in the backcountry. The mentorship, which began at the beginning of Block 5 and lasts through Block 6, will be spent meeting and covering these skillsets. 

The ORC Mentorship Program, as part of the Ahlberg Leadership Institute, is now another outlet for students looking to hone their outdoor skills in a wide variety of mediums. The program lasts for two to three blocks with meetings at least once a week. Students are matched with professional staff at the ORC and can be mentored in everything from climbing to mountaineering to careers in the outdoors. There is no requirement to be an ORC leader or a need to be involved with the ORC beyond the mentorship. All skill levels are welcome. 

When I applied for the mentorship and attended my first meeting I had no intention of writing about it. I was simply there to learn and grow in a sport that I absolutely adore. Yet I’m writing about the program now because of the potential I see in it to break barriers between CC students and outdoor skill development. 

The small, intimate environment gave me the space to map out my own skill deficiencies in a very deliberate way. In an outdoor world full of confusing gear talk, jargon, and may I pose sometimes an overly bro-ish culture, admitting where one needs to practice can be daunting — especially when your weak skillset is one that everyone seems proficient in. The program allows you to step back and work with professional staff in reaching your aspirations, which is — at least for me — comforting. 

While I recognize that my feelings cannot be generalized to the CC population as a whole, the program at the very least gives advanced and novice students alike a tailored experience to help them reach their technical, career, and leadership goals. 

Olivia Fortner ’22 completed a multi-pitch and trad climbing mentorship with Ryan Hammes, Director of Outdoor Education, this past fall. They spent time completing clinic-like lessons in the gym and went outside on several occasions. 

Fortner sees the program as especially helpful in the face of what she says can be an “elitist” culture at the Ritt Climbing Gym itself, and sees the program as offering an opportunity for growth outside the immediate climbing gym environment. 

All in all, whatever your motivation to seek growth and development in the outdoors, the ORC has yet again created another outlet to get you to the next level. 

The application for the program is rolling and online through Summit. 

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