Most of us that first year came with a passion for the outdoors and a variety of outdoor activities. That being said, many of the outdoor program components were new to most of us and we still learned a ton about group management, teamwork, leadership, risk management, wilderness ethics, etc. in the ones we were familiar with.
It was a very challenging year and hugely rewarding. For me, personally, I can’t say enough about the combination of academic study with outdoor pursuits. There was always an out-trip coming up that would break up the academics a bit to keep us from burning out. Just when sitting in a desk would be getting to be a bit much, we would take off on some sort of new adventure. Load up the vans, crank up the tunes and head off for a place we probably had never really been, to do some sort of activity we probably had never really done.
Eighteen people came to the class that year, most as complete strangers from different places, and by the end of the year it felt like being around people you had known most of your life. It is a very special and unique opportunity to journey with the same group of people through a year of academic study combined with outdoor adventures and tons of non-school related good times.
As there was not a diploma offered at the time, between year one and two I enrolled in the International Expedition Leadership program and took advantage of the student assistant position available to first year ATBO grads. It was after my first year of a Renewable Resource Management program in the Yukon when I received word that the second year of ATBO was a go and it was back to Golden for me. Due to the large time expanse in between programs I was the only one from my year to enroll. Once again, I was with an entirely new group of people heading on a year of adventures.
This past year has once again been phenomenal and has left me with no regrets about returning to the College of the Rockies campus in Golden. The town, the guides, the staff, the curriculum, and my fellow students have all combined to provide me with a year of education that has taught me so much on so many different levels and left me with a ton of good memories.
As I sit here tapping away on this keyboard it is pretty hard to narrow down what stands out from this year. The academic curriculum was interesting (and made more so by the efforts of our teachers), the certification courses were challenging and high level, and the trips were amazing, especially as this year was the first time the diploma program has run. There were certainly a few glitches as we guinea-pigged our way through. It was a true testament to the positive attitudes of the students, the hard work of the staff, and the caliber of the guides that we had such a fun, positive learning experience. The program also saw a new program co-ordinator, Dave Wan, step in, who brings a wealth of international guiding experience, as well as, adventure tourism related teaching experience. The pieces are certainly in place for the diploma program to really take off.
ATBO students Kate Thomas & Whitney Dahl on a sea kayak guide certification course in Clayquot Sound, on the West Coast of BC.
Photo courtesy of College of the Rockies
I often think of my friends who have gone through university and told me how many of their classes were in huge amphitheatre classrooms and their teachers had no idea who they were. They would be lucky to get a question in during a lecture. At the College of the Rockies, even the classroom atmosphere is different, largely due to the familiarity that grows when each class has the same students and only a couple of teachers. Discussion about ethics in business and sustainability in tourism can be taken to another level when amongst close peers and teachers.
The closeness of students and faculty and the comfortable atmosphere are one of the main things that really set the college apart from others. Going to school is like going for a beer at Cheers, everybody knows your name. Graduation this year was a perfect example. Our graduation was a dinner at a restaurant near Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. On hand were the five faculty members involved with ATBO, their significant others, and the students.
Just for kicks we were done up in our finest $10 thrift store suits and dresses, with sweet hats to top it off. It was a small, intimate affair, fitting for the overall nature of the program. Karen, who is the Campus Manager, stood and read out personal anecdotes and tributes about each student and wished us luck, one by one, trying all the while to hold back her tears. She has put heart and soul into the program and truly cares about the success of each individual.
The moment impacted me, as it was then I fully realized how lucky I have been to have had this experience of meeting such great people and achieving a diploma in such a genuine and meaningful environment.
I’m taking away a lot more than just a passing grade in the academic curriculum and a paper diploma. I never could have guessed when I first made the move to Golden what I was in for. I have learned academics from teachers that put the effort in to relate the material to us and our lifestyles. Teachers who have gotten to know us and wish to see us succeed. I have gained a huge amount of knowledge about backcountry adventure and how to play safe in a variety of different activities. I have had the opportunity to challenge myself in environments and activities that I may never have had the chance to otherwise.
The combination of all the different elements of the course, from theoretical class components and practical field experience, to presentations by local tourism operators, has given me a lot of insight into an industry I previously knew little about. I now see the outdoor tourism industry with more clarity and where I would like to see myself within it.
I have met some of the most fun, inspiring and talented people, and it’s been one hell of a ride. The experience of ATBO has truly been real.
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