The Great Outdoors

When thinking about fitness, our minds might naturally jump straight to the gym, running on the treadmill or lifting weights. However, there are numerous other ways to stay active, some of which might be more engaging than logging hours on the elliptical inside a fitness center.

From scaling a climbing wall to kayaking through rapids, there is no better way to get your students active and enjoying the fresh air than through an exceptional outdoor adventure program.

“The biggest joy of running an outdoor program would have to be getting to introduce people to all the amazing opportunities available to them by being active in the outdoors,” said Levi Dexel, the assistant director for outdoor programs at the University of Colorado Boulder.

To help ensure your outdoor adventure program is top notch, we have highlighted a few key components to a successful outdoor offering.

Adventure Trips

Trips are the perfect way to get students out of their dorms and into the wilderness, challenging themselves and most importantly, having fun. The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers various adventure trips throughout Alaska, the U.S. and even internationally. Trips include ice climbing, skiing, rock climbing, white-water rafting, backpacking in the Grand Canyon and much more.

“Ice climbing is a really popular trip. We never have trouble getting folks to sign up for that,” said Sam Braband, the outdoor adventures manager at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Nordic skiing is another big trip we do. Those trips seem to fill up quite quickly. Then for our warmer weather, our rafting trips tend to fill up and it is not a struggle to get students to sign up for that.”

Of course running these trips comes with its challenges. Braband explained they want to offer a wide range of programs, but ensuring trips remain affordable and accessible can be a challenge.

“Some of the bigger trips are fairly difficult for us to get participation. I think a lot of it has to do with cost,” explained Braband. “When you are doing a big program, it is significantly more expensive and people just don’t have the resources to devote to that. One of our struggles is wanting to expand and trying to figure out how to best market that and get people interested, then how to offer those things at an affordable price.”

Climbing Walls 

If students are looking for an adventure option that doesn’t involve leaving campus, rock climbing and ice climbing are the perfect solution. The climbing gym at the University of Colorado Boulder offers rope routes, bouldering and indoor courses for top-rope and lead climbing. According to Dexel, the climbing gym is very popular among students, with an average of around 1,400 members a semester.

The Climbing Tower is also a hot spot for students at the University of Central Florida, with nearly 30,000 users last year. “The Climbing Tower offers students the challenge of top-rope climbing and bouldering,” said Nathan Vink, the outdoor adventure assistant director. “With over 20 routes, nine ropes and numerous bouldering programs, students can challenge themselves as they see fit. Our focus at the Tower is to provide a safe environment where students can face challenges and feel supported in doing so. We also have climbing competitions every semester, provide belay classes and climbing technique classes for free.”

However, Vink explained one of the biggest challenges is staying diligent with risk management, especially when student staff turnover is high. “There is always a need to hire new students due to employees that are graduating, so it’s important to train those new students with the same expectation and knowledge of those before them,” said Vink. “This can be challenging, since many students applying are coming in with very little or no experience in the areas of outdoor adventure. With that being said, this is expected, and we plan accordingly with our training regimens.”

Equipment Rental 

Some students are more independent and want to explore the outdoors on their own. Offering an equipment rental program is the perfect way to allow them to do so. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Outdoor Adventure program is home to an extensive equipment rental inventory, with close to 200 pairs of skis, four white water rafts, 12 white water kayaks, seven canoes, avalanche gear and anything else needed to outfit yourself for an adventure in Alaska.

“We provide rentals to students, faculty and staff here, as well as the greater Fairbanks community,” said Braband. “If it is a nice weekend and there is snow on the ground, we are typically slammed renting skis out to the campus community so they can get out skiing and enjoy the trails. In the summer, it would be our boats. If the forecast is for a nice weekend, people want to get out, so we are pretty busy renting rafts and kayaks.”

According to Braband, an essential component of a successful equipment program, or any outdoor adventure program, is quality. “We make sure that we are doing our best to consistently offer that high-quality product,” added Braband. “From our trips, down to our equipment rentals, we want people to have a good experience. We don’t want people to rent a raft, go out to the wilderness and figure out that we didn’t provide a key piece of equipment.”

Academic Classes 

Various classes offered through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Outdoor Adventure program are available for academic credit, such as mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, white water kayaking, expedition rafting, a wilderness leadership course and much more.

“The intro to mountaineering class that one of our staff members teaches is always full,” explained Braband. “In fact, we have had students camp out the night before in minus-zero temperatures just to ensure they can get a spot in the class. So that is something that is really popular with the students. Also the ice climbing and rock climbing classes fill up and we don’t have trouble getting folks participating in that.”


Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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