The big dogs: Outward Bound and NOLS hit their thirties

  • NOLS ice climbers

    Brian Sheedy
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, in a special issue about outdoor education: Spreading the gospel

Instructors from the National Outdoor Leadership Schools (NOLS) and Outward Bound have a running joke: "NOLS is the place where you learn to stuff everything - even your feelings - in a backpack and hike hundreds of miles. Outward Bound is a better place to go for a group cry."

The difference between outdoor education's two biggest schools is philosophical. While Outward Bound leans more toward emotional development of its students, NOLS emphasizes technical prowess. The specialties are apparent in the schools' course catalogs: In addition to the standard wilderness classes, Outward Bound offers courses for youth with motivational or behavioral problems and team-building courses for professionals. NOLS sticks to teaching wilderness skills.

But the differences are minimal compared to the similarities. The core of both programs is wilderness training. Courses teach students minimum-impact camping, food preparation, navigation and first aid, plus specific skills such as kayaking, mountaineering, sailing, dog sledding or caving. For some people, a NOLS or Outward Bound course pushes them to expect more of themselves in all endeavors. Others go home with a lifelong passion for the West's wild lands and the knowledge they need to recreate there responsibly.

Outward Bound, founded in 1961 near Marble, Colo., was the first American school of its kind. The idea originated in England. Knowing that many young sailors died at sea because they didn't have enough stamina or training, German-born educator Kurt Hahn started Outward Bound, using as its name a sailors' term which means headed out to sea. Through adventure training, he believed, young men gained the strength and maturity needed for war (HCN, 4/24/89).

Four years after Outward Bound got started in the States, Paul Petzoldt, an early instructor at Colorado's Outward Bound School, founded NOLS in Lander, Wyo. Although the school's initial purpose was to train instructors for Outward Bound, it soon gained its own reputation as a premier wilderness training school.

Today, both nonprofits have training centers all over the world. Each year, Outward Bound teaches 30,000 students in the United States, ranging in age from teenagers to septuagenarians. Worldwide, courses are based at more than 50 schools in 26 countries. Two Western schools - Colorado Outward Bound in Denver and Pacific Crest Outward Bound School in Portland, Ore. - educate about 5,000 students each year.

NOLS is more Western-based. Some 2,700 students annually attend four schools in the United States - in Wyoming, Washington, Arizona and Alaska - or international schools in Baja California, Kenya, Chile and Canada. Most NOLS courses cater to high school and college students.

Though enrollment has leveled out over the past few years, with both schools experiencing less than 5 percent growth over the past few years, neither school is in danger of going out of business. NOLS, one of the largest employers in Lander, pop. 7,000, has $12 million in assets and an annual operating budget of roughly $15 million. Outward Bound's two Western schools cost the same amount as NOLS to run, although the total operation has assets of $20 million and an annual operating budget of $39 million.

Bruce Palmer, admissions manager for NOLS, adds that the two schools may also be coming closer together in philosophy: "We're realizing that when people go home, they talk about community, not skills. So we're starting to place less emphasis on skills and more on experience."

For more information contact Outward Bound, Route 9D, R2 Box 280, Garrison, NY 10524 (914/424-4000) or NOLS, 288 Main St., Lander, WY 82520-3140 (307/332-8800).

High Country News Classifieds
  • GRANT WRITER (PART-TIME, FREELANCE CONTRACT)
    High Country News seeks an energetic, eloquent and highly organized grant writer to support a growing foundations program. This position works closely with our Executive...
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM MANAGER
    Associate Program Manager ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our State Parks thrive. From redwood groves and desert springs...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...