Leadership School in Lander, WY Puts Nature in Lesson Plan

Once he discovered the National Outdoor Leadership School, Matthew Copeland knew he'd found his calling.

Kevin Litwin
On Sunday, September 11, 2011 - 18:55

Once he discovered the National Outdoor Leadership School, Matthew Copeland knew he’d found his calling.

“I was introduced to NOLS Rocky Mountain by a friend at a time when I wasn’t sure what to do,” Copeland says. “After graduating two programs, I decided to make myself useful around here. I just fell in love with it.”

Now the marketing director and an instructor, Copeland is part of a team of adventurers that facilitates outdoor skills development, leadership training and an environmental ethics based on “leave no trace.” The lessons learned in such a program help more than just the individual; the leadeship training can have an important future impact on those who contribute to Wyoming's economic development.

National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wy.

NOLS takes people of all ages on remote wilderness expeditions, from mountaineering, rock climbing and kayaking, to rafting, sailing, skiing and horsepacking in spectacular outdoor locales across the world, including several in Wyoming.

Legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt founded his outdoor school in Lander in 1965. On the banks of the Pop Agie River in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, Lander is remote but easily accessible.

The nonprofit educational institution has 14 operational bases worldwide, with courses ranging from 10 days to a full academic year, with the standard model a 30-day expedition.

Hands-On Learning Environment

Wyoming is ideal for whitewater travel, mountaineering, canyoneering, backpacking, rock climbing and backcountry skiing.

“Real, impactful learning happens through doing,” Copeland says. “Students develop mastery through doing. We teach them to approach the wilderness safely, comfortably and ethically.”

NOLS Rocky Mountain also operates the Three Peaks Ranch, a working ranch that is home to horsepacking courses. The ranch in Boulder, Wyo., also has a logistical capacity, supporting other expeditions with supplies on horseback.

“The world has opened up to me because of the skills I learned here,” Copeland says.


Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.