October 28, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Theo Ollier
Colorado College’s Athletics and Recreation website overview claims that the CC community has “easy access” to outdoor locations like skiing in Vail or Aspen.
In reality, not all CC students have equal access to outdoor opportunities due to cost barriers. Although the culture of various outdoors-related clubs may be inclusive to beginners, in some cases, the price of participation is simply not realistic for some students.
The vast majority of CC students are from a high income household, as the median family income for a CC student was $277,500 for the 2013 class and 78% of students fell inside the top 20% income bracket. For many students, joining new outdoors-related clubs is not an issue because these students can pay for necessary equipment to engage in activities like skiing and mountain biking.
However, 14% of CC students are considered low-income by their federal Pell Grant aid status and only 2% of students have a household income in the bottom 20% bracket. This statistic reveals how little economic diversity CC has, and this alienates students in the economic minority.
On the Freeriders Union of Colorado College Instagram page, a link to ski passes is attached in the bio where one can see that the base Ikon pass is currently $489 and the upgraded Ikon pass is $689. Additionally, renting skiing equipment can cost $200 to $400 per week and buying skiing gear can cost at least $600 without including the costs of warm winter gear. Some of this clothing can be found at the on-campus Ahlberg Gear House, where renting puffy jackets, windbreakers, goggles, poles, gloves, and other garments are free or incredibly cheap.
For a low-income student, however, the prices of a ski pass and certain equipment are not feasible, and students will likely not have the opportunity to learn how to ski, much less become advanced at it.
In an attempt to make skiing more accessible to students who would not be able to afford it otherwise, the Freerider’s Union of Colorado College created multiple scholarships in a lottery format providing an Ikon pass and rides on the FUCC bus for free, along with highly discounted ski rentals.
Sammy Ries ’23, a co-president of FUCC, notes that although the FUCC scholarships will allow roughly 13 students to be immersed in the sport of skiing for a very low cost, many students still face economic barriers when attempting to enter this activity. Ries has made it one of her goals to increase inclusivity in BIPOC and lower income students this year, and in addition to the FUCC scholarships, the Freerider’s Union will host a “Snow Day” later in the ski season.
According to Ian Catto ‘23, another co-president of the club, this is a day where about 100 students can enjoy a day of skiing with all costs covered and more experienced skiers will volunteer to teach new skiers. This event will expose a far larger portion of the CC community to the sport, but it is difficult for low-income students to take additional trips to ski resorts when the prices of passes and gear pose such a large barrier.
The average CC student may be able to afford the costs of ski passes and gear because so many are in the top 20%, but the lack of economic diversity at CC singles out middle and low-income students who cannot afford expensive outdoor sports.
Although this is a step in the right direction for making the outdoors accessible for students, one free pass is not going to change the economic barrier that many students face when hoping to explore new recreational activities.
In addition to skiing, mountain biking is another outdoor activity that poses economic barriers to participation. There are various places to begin mountain biking near campus, notably Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Cheyenne Mountain State Park, but acquiring a mountain bike is a difficult task when even used mountain bikes are expensive. According to bikeperfect.com, the cheapest used mountain bikes of decent quality are at least $600, with prices rising to the $1,000-$1,500 mark if one is interested in a bike with some high-quality parts.
The Outdoor Education program does have bikes available to rent at the Gear House, but their option is a fat-tire bike that costs $12 for the first day and $8 for each additional day. Renting an Outdoor Education bike for a week would cost $60, and this is not a bike that can endure advanced rides. Entering the sport of mountain biking at CC appears to be a daunting challenge when one does not have thousands of dollars to spend on used or new mountain bikes.
Another major set of outdoor activities at CC is hiking, camping, and backpacking. As for day hikes in the Colorado Springs area, one can PikeRide or take a bus to locations previously mentioned such as Red Rock Canyon Open Space, but also Garden of the Gods, the Manitou Incline, and various other trails.
In terms of backpacking and camping, taking advantage of trips led by Outdoor Education makes these activities accessible because trips are usually in the $10 to $25 range with minimal costs for gear, provide rides, and have the trip completely planned out beforehand. If one desires a more strenuous trip, there are Outdoor Education trips that summit fourteeners like Pike’s Peak this Friday and Saturday which can be registered for on Summit.
The cost barrier is a relevant issue for middle and lower-income CC students trying to get involved in outdoor activities. This topic is not a major focus for many CC students themselves, likely because the vast majority of them are not affected by cost considerations, but more students need to have accessible options for outdoor experiences. Currently, advancement in skiing and mountain biking at CC are essentially inaccessible for some students due to extreme costs just to participate or make a few trips.
On the other hand, going on backpacking and camping trips has been made widely accessible to most students as a result of the Outdoor Education Program providing planned trips at low costs.
As a whole, Colorado College provides mixed access to outdoor activities to its students, and conversations need to occur between students, outdoor clubs, and the Outdoor Education Program to make the outdoors more accessible to students of all economic backgrounds.