Adventure Sports gets students outdoors

Experience hiking, skiing, kayaking, and more

Tess Curran | Co-Executive Editor|

Rebecca Stouges x’19 participates in a winter ice climbing trip. Photo Courtesy of Eben Widlund.

Whether it’s hiking through Vermont’s beautiful landscape on a nice fall day or baring the cold while ice climbing or even learning to kayak for the first time on Lake Champlain, students can do all of that and more at the Adventure Sports Center. The center has multiple levels of participation from first-timers to instructors for students on campus to get involved in. As the fall program comes to an end, the center prepares for its bustling winter season. 

The Adventure Sports Center has been around since roughly 1996 when it was called the “Wilderness Program”. Before the “Wilderness Program,” there was an outing club, where a group of students go out on their own to do things such as hiking, there was little oversight or structure to the model. Todd Johnstone-Wright took the outing club and turned it into the Adventure Sports center that St. Michael’s students know today. The center takes on a guide service model that lets students get outdoors and experience new adventures. 

The center has two programs, in the fall and winter, that provide a multitude of different opportunities for students.  The fall season which runs from September 3rd to the end of October has day hikes, mountain biking, rock climbing, river kayaking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and sea kayaking. The winter program is from January 21 to March 5, and includes ice climbing, day hikes, mountaineering, backcountry skiing/riding, as well as Sugarbush season passes, the van to Sugarbush, and Learn to Ski program. There are many levels that students can get involved in, participating in trips and student instructors. “Our greatest level of participation is participants on trips,” said Eben Widlund, director of Adventure Sports. 

The leaders are certified through the non-credit mountain leader course, an eight to nine-week combined classroom and field program training. This makes sure that they have the basic knowledge and skills for leading single and two to three-day hiking trips in New England,” Widlund said. Instructors are picked out from those in the class, but not everyone taking said class wants to be an instructor; some are just interested in the outdoors or environmental studies. Students are trained in different adventure sports skills such as rock climbing, then at the end of the semester, they will participate in an eight-day emergency medicine class. “With MLC, I learned how to use a backcountry stove and how to plan and pack for a trip. Being involved with MLC was a great way to meet peers in COVID time and be engaged with a program on campus,” said Lauren Best ’24, a student instructor.  Students can take these skills and go further, applying it jobs in or out of adventure sports as well as getting internationally recognized certifications in canoeing, mountain guiding, or biking. “that is one of the things here that makes the model here at St. Mikes unique in college programs,” Widlund said. 

One of the leaders,  Lauren Best joined Adventure Sports during her first semester at Saint Michael’s. She said that becoming an instructor has helped her grow both professional and personal skills. Students in the program learn how to engage outside of the classroom and build on the skills they have learned so far. “In the field, my kayaking skills have improved significantly. I started refining my skills more and more, and now, I’m taking large steps towards accomplishing my kayak roll. I also feel confident in my abilities to teach participants kayaking skills in engaging ways,” Best said. 

Professor of Political Science and Director of Public Health Patricia Siplon started participating in the center in 2010 and later joined as an instructor in 2015. Her reasoning for joining was personal, “I had made the decision to spend a year challenging myself by trying lots of new things.. and because Todd Wright and Eben Widlund, as well as some of my fellow students ITP-ers (instructor in training program), inspired me to push out of my comfort zone,” Siplon said. Siplon spoke about how the program has like many other participants helped her grow in both teaching and learning, “Having personally been in the position of not wanting to ask a question when everyone around me seemed to be “getting it” taught me a lot about how to check in with students in more subtle ways,” Siplon said. 

Many instructors such as Best have a specific adventure sport that they have been certified to lead. The instructors can use the skills they take from teaching participants and bring it into their major. Best is an education major and that teaching kayaking has helped her prepare for lesson planning. Adventure Sports integrate into every part of their lives and become a memorable part of their experience at Saint Michael’s College. “I have also become an avid nature lover in ways I simply wasn’t before I started hiking and climbing crags,” said Siplon who also go to go on the Adventure Sports spring break rock climbing trip in Utah which she now goes back to with her boyfriend and other alumni. Other participants such as Lauren best have memories from training, “My favorite memory was from instructor kayak training. We spent the long October break in Bar Harbor, Maine tenting and sea kayaking. A seal swam under my boat, I saw porpoises jump out of the water, and held sea stars,” Best said. 

Getting involved in the Adventure Sports center can be a way for people to experience the outdoors in a new way. They can go on trips lead by their peers, make friends, and even learn some valuable life skills in the outdoors. These programs are a safe and fun way to get off of campus. “Going out on an Adventure Sports Center trip is something I believe everyone should do before they graduate. When else are you going to have the opportunity to go rock climbing or white water kayaking,” said Best. Professor Siplon discussed how the center has everything one would need for any kind of trip, “from hiking boots on up, that anyone would need to borrow to facilitating special outings for groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in outdoor adventure sports. The prices are also unbeatable, which lowers a major barrier for many people,” said Siplon The center’s winter season will pick up after winter break where they will have multiple different winter trips, learn to ski/snowboard programs, and the Sugarbush van which students can reserve sports for ahead of time. Before then, students can buy season passes to Sugarbush up until the deadline, December 5.  For more information about passes and programs check out the Adventure Sports Instagram page, @smcadventure.