Evidence that there is a heaven on earth has been found. God sent a tour guide. Her name is Amy Beirne, and as an instructor for Nols (National Outdoor Leadership School), this Vail-based outdoor enthusiast has guided hundreds of kids through the expansive wilderness of the West.Beirne makes the last fourteener you struggled up look like an anthill and that last three-day backpack trip you took look like a car-camping pleasure ride. Althoughblessed with a hearty laugh and an easy smile, Beirne is so hard-core she makes Mr. T look like Gary Coleman.But Beirne would cringe to hear herself described as a hard-core outdoor conqueror. She’d quickly tell you that nature is not something to be vanquished but something to help us all find the peace, happiness and laughter that she exudes every day.With a ruddy, red backcountry glow that would give Sir Edmund Hillary a run for his money, Beirne has always had an obsession with the outdoors and now spends 26-day intervals in the wilderness with groups of up to 20 kids through Nols. An EMT, she also trains fellow instructors through Nols’ Wilderness Medicine Institute.Beirne, 28, studied at the University of Washington andmajored in ecology evolution and conservation biology with a minor in geology and is currently working on her masters in the field of environmental education. She plans to work with local kids, alongside the Gore Range Natural Science School in Red Cliff, this winter.Q. With all your studies, how do you still manage to telemark, climb and kayak?A. I’ve always been able to justify my paddling by saying I was studying geology, and when I was climbing I could say I was really studying for my mineralogy test.Q. What’s the most incredible experience you’ve ever had in the wilderness?A. Last summer I worked a field course in the Absaroka Range, which starts in Montana and runs down the eastern part of Yellowstone. I was leading a 28-day natural history course and the students really wanted to see wildlife. We (4 out of 15 students) got up at 4:30 a.m., and the sun rose a little after 5 a.m. We walked down to Paradise Valley with the excuse of going fishing, but we really just wanted to be out in the morning to see what we could see. The sun was just coming onto the snow-covered peaks all around us. There was still that morning alpenglow visible, and there was a stream meandering through the area and waterfalls were pouring down from head of the valley. Then a 17-year old inner-city kid from Chicago stopped in his tracks and screamed, “Look at that look, there’s a moose!” He’d never been out in the wilderness before. To see that kind of excitement from someone who’s never experienced anything like that before was amazing.Q. What are some of the challenges of being a Nols instructor?A. Dan (Beirne’s significant other) and I both do this kind of work, so I didn’t get to see him for almost three months this summer. Another challenge is being in the field, carrying a 70-pound pack 10 to 20 miles each day. There are days I don’t feel like putting on boots that were soaked the day before and are now frozen solid. Having to walk through snow, in those boots, with that pack, can really stink sometimes.Q. Why Nols?A. Growing up I spent a lot of time outside. I can remember a couple folks in my life that I look towards as mentors. They were the sort of people you’d say, “Wow, what is that?” and they not only could tell you it’s such and such, but they could also tell you a story. It was almost like they were on a personal basis with the wilderness. Since I can remember I’ve wanted to be like that.Q. What is so great about the great outdoors?A. It’s an incredibly important part of who I am and where I get my drive, energy and motivation from. That may sound “hippie, groovy” (she laughs), but it seems to me the people that I know who tend to be the fullest andhappiest are the people who have that connection to the outdoors.
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Vail’s updated plans regarding the state guidelines and isolation housing requirements is one of several pieces of information guests are waiting on heading into the 2020-21 season.