This spring, 32 colleges and universities battled it out online in our Top Outdoor Adventure College bracket. We wanted to know what schools in the Rockies and Southwest were the best places to train yourself not only in the art of enjoying nature—but more so how to go on and forge a career as an athlete, adventurer, conservationist or some combination of them all. And the winner is…
Western State Colorado University
Western State slowly and steadily rose to the top of this poll, and it’s no surprise why. The university has been evolving the paradigm when it comes to outdoor adventure and academia.
“Western State faculty and administration have known for a century that students came to Western because of ‘where it is,’ But in the 1990s, a new breed of Western faculty began to operate on the assumption that ‘where the university is’ could come to be a distinguishing quality of what the university is,” says George Sibley, author and longtime teacher at Western. “Students now are given an introduction to the ‘headwaters of the Southwest’ as part of their orientation, to help them articulate what it is that they perhaps come here seeking.”
Situated just a free bus ride down the road from Crested Butte (and 45 minutes from Monarch Mountain) and boasting some of the best singletrack, whitewater and fly fishing in the state practically on campus, Western encourages its students to play (it’s no surprise that legends like skier Seth Morrison and mountain bike champ Dave Weins went here). The university’s on-campus Wilderness Pursuits program offers everything from avalanche gear to kayaks to rent. Plus, pros and students alike can take advantage of the High Altitude Performance Laboratory. And instead of just ski-bumming, business students can take classes on the mountain to learn the ins and outs of ski area management.
The real thing that sets Western apart, however, is the staff. Faculty like Dr. Duane Vandenbusche, a famed ski historian, and John Hausdoerffer, a Western grad himself who runs the environmental studies program ranked number four in the U.S., teach how students can transform their love of outdoor adventure into meaningful careers.
“If you’re seeking a small town and open space Western is untouchable,” says Adam Howard, who has gone on to become the owner and publisher of Alpinist and Backcountry magazines since his days as a student at Western State. “If this kind of place isn’t where adventure begins, I don’t know what is.”
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
We thought the Utes were going to take this title. After all the school had no problem bumping off Elevation Outdoors big, backyard universities, Colorado State and the University of Colorado. Embracing its wild side, the U of U embraces its proximity to the Wasatch Range while developing programs like Outdoor Education, which rents gear and hosts trips into Utah’s wilderness.
“Going to the U allowed me to begin actually working in the outdoor and snow-sports industries while I was a student,” says pro skier, Protect Our Winters conservationist, social media master and Powder cover model Caroline Gleich. “It’s a choose-your-own-adventure kind of school with opportunities for flexible learning to balance anyone’s goals.”
While many better known Front Range schools were in our bracket, it was Regis that survived to the final four. The Jesuit school’s Outdoor Program seeks to bring its spiritual foundation into its location with the mountains and adventure just out the back door—a powerful combo.
Colorado Mountain College
With campuses across Western Colorado, CMC is a school built to foster outdoor adventure alongside academic exploration. It also came up with the best response to our bracket. When CMC lost out to Western State in the semi-finals, it spurred a spontaneous hashtag campaign of #TooAdventerousToVote, claiming that they may have lost, but that’s because they were, you know, too busy out adventuring to vote in online polls.