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High School Students Learn To Work In The Wilderness

Molly Dove
Aspen Public Radio

Since kindergarten, students in Aspen School District are taught about the great outdoors, but never about how to work in the wilderness. 

Aspen High School is now offering a class that teaches and certifies students to work in the recreation and tourism industry, and their classroom goes beyond the four walls.  

From afar you can just see a classroom of 24 Aspen High School students as they sit under dense Aspen trees in a circle. They're tucked up high on the side of a mountain in Marble, sitting on cut-up tree trunks.

It’s not what their classroom usually looks like, but they are in class. The Mountain Guide School class. 

Brent Maiolo is the teacher of the Aspen Mountain Guide School, a course that prepares students to test for six different certifications. Through those certifications, students can work as instructors in skiing, rock climbing, wilderness first aid, and like today, leave no trace. 

“So by the end of this exam, they will hopefully have the authority to then train other people, and certify other people, in an awareness level certification of leave no trace,” Maiolo said. 

The class will spend two days in the high country of Marble going through a trainer course on how to teach leave no trace to others. Each student will give a presentation on how to leave no trace with different outdoor activities. 

Sarah Johnson, one of the educators leading the training and giving out the certifications, said she has never taught this trainer course to a high school class, let alone in the middle of high country.

“Typically trainer courses are taught at colleges or outdoor wilderness programs,” Johnson said. “So this is a very unique experience to get to teach a trainer course to students who are 16, 17, 18 year olds. It’s not typical.”

Both Johnson and Maiolo said there is no other school in the Valley that offers a class like the Mountain Guide School. 

Credit Molly Dove / Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Public Radio
Students sit at the Marble Base Camp, listening to their classmates give a presentation.

Students in Aspen School District have been learning about outdoor skills since kindergarten, but Maiolo said he wanted to offer a class where students could learn how to make a living out of those skills.

“We live in this heavily touristed area. Recreation and tourism are huge in the Valley. I didn’t really see our school preparing our students for that type of industry,” he said. 

Maiolo said not every student is on the college path, so this class is the first step in starting their career. But it’s also for students who want to work in the industry between semesters as a side job.

“These are job skills that after this year, they will have a number of certifications to put on their resume to then get their foot in the door with Skico, a guiding company, you name it,” Maiolo said. 

Ozborne Benson, a senior at Aspen High School, said once he heard of Mountain Guide School, he immediately signed up.

“I’ve grown up in this valley, and both my parents are ski patrollers on Aspen Mountain. So I’ve always grown up skiing and being in the wilderness and doing hikes with my family,” Benson said. “When I heard about this class, I was so excited because I can get these things that will actually make it possible to have a career in the wilderness.” 

The course is only a few months old, but Benson said the class is going to take off and have a positive influence on its students.

“I think it’s really going to be a good thing for the high school, but I think this is really going to help build the environmental awareness of our community,” he said.

All 24 students received their leave no trace trainer certifications in Marble. But Maiolo said certifications or not, the Aspen Mountain Guide School will hopefully teach students to have a sense of leadership when out enjoying the beauty the Valley has to offer.