Vail school bell rings in the woods |

Vail school bell rings in the woods

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado “-Kate Blakslee leads up outdoor education programs at Vail Mountain School in Vail, Colorado, where middle school-age students go on hut trips every year to expand on what they learn in the classroom.

Blakslee said the trips remind students to take care of their environment and teach them teamwork and other qualities that should last a lifetime. Here’s a look at what Blakslee said the students gain from hut trips:

VD: What kind of enrichment do these hut trips provide?

KB: Outdoor trips have always been an important part of a Vail Mountain School education. The school has been taking students hiking, skiing, climbing, kayaking, rafting, fly fishing, mountain biking and road biking all over Colorado and the West for over 40 years. We believe that these adventures support our mission and challenge students to strive to reach their true potential, learn about our beautiful surroundings and become stewards of our environment.

VD: What do students learn about the natural environment? Are there specific lessons taught to coincide with the trips?

KB: Our hut-trip program is based on building a progression of knowledge and skills. In fifth grade, students begin with the basics, like what to wear, how to pack a backpack, trail etiquette, leave no trace ethics and so on.

The distance they travel and the skills they learn are age and stage appropriate. Students build on this foundation both in the classroom and in the field through their years in middle school. In 8th grade, students complete a snow science study at Vail Mountain School, and then participate in a more challenging three-day hut trip where hands-on snow science activities are led by local experts.

VD: As for the social and emotional aspects of the trips, what do the students learn?

KB: Hut trips provide a unique opportunity for students to work together toward a common goal. Compassion, patience, fortitude and teamwork are qualities that shine through in these experiences.

VD: What do they learn?

KB: Ralph Waldo Emerson sums this up well: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”

VD: How else is outdoor education woven into the curriculum?

KB: Aside from orientation trips and winter hut trips, the senior environmental class just went to Dominguez Canyon and learned about the natural history of the area, worked on community building and leadership and outdoor living skills. The ultimate goal of the trip was for students to become more comfortable in the wilderness so that they may better connect with it, and thus have the desire to preserve and protect it.

Keystone Science School was the site of the seventh-grade’s temporary classroom, where they focused on team-building initiatives, problem solving and leadership skills. They also learned about one of the biggest issues facing both Eagle and Summit counties: pine beetle management.

As outdoor education was included in the two-day curriculum, students spent time in small-group explorations of the cross-country trails near the science school campus.

VD: How many students in each grade went?

KB: Winter trips this year: 26 fifth-graders will go to three huts (Shrine Mountain huts), 28 sixth graders went to three 10th Mountain Huts (Shrine, Francie’s, and Sangree Frohlicher), 34 students went to Keystone Science School, and 32 eighth-graders went to Polar Star, Jackal and 10th Mountain Division Hut. We operate under permits through the White River National Forest.

VD: Do they have to be advanced skiers/riders to go?

KB: Students need to have some prior skiing skills. Again, it is a progression beginning in fifth grade.

VD: Who chaperones?

KB: Vail Mountain School teachers chaperone. We have standards for our teachers that lead the trips. We also incorporate upper school students as “student leaders” for the cross-age experience.

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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