CMC supplies outdoor leadership program |

CMC supplies outdoor leadership program

First Ascent counselor Austin Rickstrew watches as members of a student team balance on a cable wire during a CMC leadership training in Leadville in mid July. The eighth- and ninth-grade students spent a week at the camp learning skills in team-building, communication, conflict resolution, problem solving and trust, while also being exposed to challenging outdoor activities.
Matthew Lit / Special to the Daily |

Colorado Mountain College is helping teens experience some of the state’s finest outdoor activities this summer all while providing valuable leadership training.

Ropes course problem solving was one of many collaborative team-building activities 39 eight- and ninth-graders took part in July 10-15 at First Ascent, a weeklong residential camp the college system offered at its Leadville campus. Now in its 22nd year, the program is held each summer for students living in most of CMC’s service area, including Summit, Chaffee, Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Lake, Pitkin and Routt counties.

Campers also rock climbed at Camp Hale north of Leadville, summited Colorado’s highest peak at nearby Mount Elbert, and rafted the Arkansas River, immersing themselves in the intensive leadership curriculum throughout.

“It’s more than just coming here and climbing,” Mariana Velasquez-Schmahl, First Ascent’s program manager, said in a news release. “These students leave with lifelong leadership skills to initiate positive civic change.”

Silverthorne’s Ali Clarke, 15, said she’d already checked Mount Elbert off her bucket list, but was still excited to climb the peak again.

“I didn’t really know what to expect [at First Ascent],” she said in the release. “It’s interesting, and it’s fun. We’re trying to figure out things together.”

Counselors and facilitators, such as Junior Ortega, are former First Ascent students, as well as dedicated First Ascent alumni. First a camper in 2007, this summer Ortega was a facilitator in this, his ninth, year. Kristen Sidor, like many of her fellow camp staff, is a longtime counselor. This summer’s program marked her seventh year at First Ascent.

Because of CMC and program sponsorship through the J. Robert Young Foundation/Alpine Bank, summer students from a diverse range of backgrounds attended from 10 schools in the Roaring Fork and Vail valleys, western Garfield County, Summit County and Oak Creek, and at no charge.

Kids from the same school who had never talked to each other finally did, and strangers became friends.

“This is a one-of-a-kind program,” added Velasquez-Schmahl. “These eighth- and ninth-graders are at such an opportune age to learn leadership concepts. They are the seeds that are being planted now to flourish into leaders.”

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