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From learning to pack raft in the Alaskan wilderness to perfecting the basics of backcountry skiing in Chamonix, we present the ultimate course catalog for a continuing education in the outdoors. Plus, four electives for crafting your own gear.
Instructor: Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School
There may be no better place to learn how to whitewater kayak than this 37-year-old institution, hemmed in by 8,000-foot peaks on the shores of California’s remote Salmon River. Newbies taking the weeklong Beginner Kayaking class will learn to roll on the property’s ponds before progressing to the Class II–IV Salmon or the mellower Klamath River. With one instructor for every three paddlers, you’ll be on the water several hours a day (interrupted only by sushi lunches), learning strokes, river safety, and how to move downriver with the control of a water spider, as founder Peter Sturges says. By week’s end, attentive students should be able to handle themselves in Class III rapids.
Wilderness Survival 101
Instructor: Boulder Outdoor Survival School
Carrying little more than a knife, clothes, and a water bottle, you’ll move fast and light from the 11,000-foot alpine forest on Utah’s south-central Boulder Mountain down to the slickrock and slot canyons of Escalante country during BOSS’s seven-day Field Course. Along the way, seasoned guides will teach you how to make fire from friction, build shelter, and find water. BOSS offers classes ranging from three to 28 days, so you can go as deep as you want. Perhaps the most lasting lesson you’ll learn isn’t a skill at all, but a deeper connection to the earth. “Many people come out of it feeling a shift in themselves,” says Eli Loomis, the school’s executive director.
Mountain Biking 102
Instructor: Ladies AllRide
This two-day, women’s-only mountain-biking skills camp combines top-notch instruction, a supportive atmosphere, and marquee locations such as Bend, Oregon, and Grand Targhee, Wyoming, without the macho competitive atmosphere. At its Lyndonville, Vermont, course, for instance, each morning begins with a few hours of small-group skills and drills. Novices might practice dropping off low boxes or learn how to drive the bike forward with their arms as well as their feet. One afternoon concludes with sessions on topics like flat repair, chain breaks, nutrition, and stretching, and the next day participants ride with instructors on the Kingdom Trails, which stretch 100 flowing miles through the state’s northeast corner.
Elective: Build Your Own Bike
After five days of instruction from famed frame builder Steve Garn, who’s been teaching the art for more than a decade, cyclists will leave BREW Bikes in Boone, North Carolina, with a frame shaped completely by their own hands. Class size maxes out at two, and students can craft any style, no welding experience required. $1,675, materials included —Abbie Barronian
Wilderness Photography 200
Instructor: Cody Downard Photography
Jackson, Wyoming, in late spring is the outdoor photographer’s Disneyland. Think wildflowers, majestic bison, and clouds exploding behind the snowcapped Tetons. You’ll want a big lens and a tripod to capture it all at the workshops led by Cody Downard, a former photo editor and photographer for National Geographic Adventure, Ski, and Bicycling. Exhaustive and demanding, the course will see you log about 20 hours of field time in two days, starting with predawn wake-up calls to shoot the sunrise at iconic spots such as Schwabacher’s Landing. A onetime Yellowstone park ranger, Downard knows some secret spots, too: “In the spring, there’s a good chance we’ll see grizzly bears.”
Instructor: Foodways Texas and Texas A&M
If you want to learn the secret to Texas ’cue, you can’t do better than the Barbecue Summer Camp in College Station. It’s the most comprehensive hands-on hog-to-table study of the style. Over three days, university meat-science professors team up with stars from the Lone Star State’s barbecue scene to discuss everything from designing pits and learning “the art of the smoke” to brining basics, meat selection, marinades, and wood choice. Expect field trips to such locales as the smokehouse at Martin’s Place in nearby Bryan for a chat and a meal with the pit master. Camp finishes with a poultry session that becomes your farewell lunch. You’ll head home full.
Instructor: Steve and Doris Colgate’s Offshore Sailing School
In just a week, Fast Track to Cruising gives landlubbers the knowledge to handle sailboats up to 50 feet in length in most weather conditions. The British Virgin Islands are an ideal classroom, with consistent winds pushing across clear, uncomplicated, and gorgeous waters. You’ll learn the ropes, quite literally, at the tiller of a Colgate 26, a virtually unsinkable boat designed by school founder Steve Colgate that’s used to train midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Next, you and your instructor cast off in a much larger vessel for several days at sea. The week concludes with an overnight unsupervised sail. Pass muster and you get your bareboat certification, which allows you to skipper the big ones yourself.
Elective: Build Your Own Boat
The 12-foot Passagemaker dinghy offers a spirited sail and a straightforward build. First-timers can put it together in only five and a half days under the expert guidance of the instructors at Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats, a floating museum and community space on Lake Union. Plus, there’s plenty of room to take it out for a spin. $2,175, materials included —A.B.
Bicycle Maintenance 200
Instructor: United Bicycle Institute
Sure, you know how to change a flat, but what about repairing anything greasier? UBI’s weeklong Introduction to Bicycle Maintenance course gives you the chance to unleash your inner wrench without permanently screwing up your $3,000 Specialized in the process. The institute offers classes throughout the year in Portland and Ashland, Oregon. Each day students tackle the anatomy and repair of a different bike system. One day is devoted to wheels (tires, tubes, and hubs); the next focuses on the drivetrain (cranks, chain, bottom bracket, and pedals). Bring your battered Surly, and by Friday you’ll have given it a complete overhaul. Pick Portland for the food and amazing craft brews, or take your full squish to Ashland’s clinic, where, when the final bell rings, flow tracks and chunky natural descents await just five minutes away.
Tiny-House Construction 201
Instructor: Tiny Home Builders
Intrigued by the idea of retreating to your own hand-built tiny home, but don’t know where to start? At Tiny Home Builders’ two-day workshop, you’ll learn all the essentials from Dan Louche, author of Tiny House Design and Construction Guide, while nailing together a portable Thoreauvian cabin in the woods. Topics include roofing, how to frame soundly enough to haul your house down the highway, and smart roofing. (“Water is the number-one destroyer of homes,” says Louche.) Classes take place across the Southeast, but book the Asheville, North Carolina, session next summer and you can cast to rising brook trout on nearby Mills River, then talk about where you might fit a kegerator in your new home over a pint at one of the city’s 32 breweries.
Instructor: Puro Surf Hotel and Academy
Each day at this school in the small town of El Zonte, El Salvador, includes yoga and stretching, a breathing seminar, exercise routines, and a two-hour taped surf session with International Surfing Association–certified coaches. Video analysis helps instructors tailor on-land training for students of all levels before honing their techniques in the skate park and lap pool. In three days, you’ll master the sport’s seven essential maneuvers: bottom turns, carves, cutbacks, reentries, floaters, barrels, and airs. When school’s out, relax in the clifftop infinity pool at Puro’s 13-room boutique hotel, grab some world-class ceviche at Beto’s Restaurante, or enjoy the backpacker bar scene and live music at La Guitarra in neighboring El Tunco. —Alexandra Talty
Elective: Build Your Own Surfboard
Coastal Maine breeds hardcore, weather-be-damned surfers, which is exactly why you should trust the folks at Grain Surfboards in York to help you shape a ride that’s up for anything. The company’s hollow boards are made from locally sourced wood and sport classic lines. At Grain’s four-day workshop, students can shape anything from a four-and-a-half-foot shortboard to a ten-foot longboard. $1,750, materials included —A.B.
Mountaineering and Pack Rafting 300
Instructor: Alaska Mountaineering School
The only Alaskan adventure skills you won’t learn in this 12-day course are catching halibut and flying a bush plane. After meeting in tiny Talkeetna, you’ll take a ski plane to the spectacular southern section of Denali National Park and set up camp on a glacier in an area climbers named Little Switzerland for its 8,000-foot peaks. You’ll spend the first few days brushing up on your climbing skills and learning glacier travel, ropework, and crevasse rescue. Midweek you’ll ascend 7,510-foot Italy’s Boot and burro your 50-pound pack to the Class II Tokositna River. Once there you’ll tug on a paddling suit, inflate your pack raft, and bob 55 miles downstream until Talkeetna comes into view again.
Ski Touring 301
Instructor: High Mountain Guides
Ski touring can be daunting—snow pits, probe poles, emergency beacons—but during High Mountain Guides’ five-day intro course in the Alps, you’ll learn the basics of safe and efficient backcountry travel. The week begins in Chamonix, France, with lift-accessed outings during which you’ll work on fundamentals like managing transitions and laying an efficient skin track beneath the Mont Blanc massif. As your confidence grows, you’ll ski Val Ferret, on the Italian side of the mountain, and spend a night at Rifugio Bonatti. There your guide will drip-feed information as you traverse a glacier before finishing with a classic Chamonix ski tour, such as the Col du Tour Noir on the Swiss border. If your time is limited, the company offers shorter clinics as well.
Saltwater Fly-Fishing 310
Instructor: Orvis and Florida Keys Outfitters
Sight-casting for tailing tarpon is fly-fishing’s ne plus ultra. It’s also fiendishly challenging. Head down to Islamorada, where Orvis and Florida Keys Outfitters demystify the art of stalking the saltwater shallows. After checking in to the stunning and historic Cheeca Lodge, you’ll polish your technique with Truel Myers, one of the top casting instructors in the nation. The next two days, your guide will pole you into the bay surrounding the Everglades in a 20-foot flats skiff, teaching you the art of fly selection and how to sight and quickfire to the redfish and snook tucked among the mangroves and the ferocious tarpon in water no deeper than a backyard pool.
Elective: Build Your Own Fly Rod
Some of the most pristine water in Virginia flows through Rose River Farm in the town of Syria. During the farm’s five-day course, students stay in cabins on the property, share meals, and spend their days learning from a master bamboo-rod builder. There’s also ample time to angle for the wild rainbow, brown, and brook trout that call the river home. $2,500, all-inclusive —A.B.