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The NOLS Yukon 2012 In-Town Line Up

281537_10150333734595971_2377351_nThe NOLS Yukon Branch is buzzing with excitement for the 2012 season, and with the arrival of the first set of instructors our anticipation for the Instructor Course students to arrive has doubled, maybe even tripled! This year’s in-town staff is full of returning members eager to gear up and set up all incoming students for success. After a phenomenal staff training and team-building weekend, each Muck Boot-wearing staff member is thrilled to fulfill their positions on board of what will be a legendary line up!

This years intern position is filled by Aaron Ratko, Brock University graduate from Windsor, Ontario. Equipment Expert/Manager Meredith Young is back for another season in the gear lab after her “beautiful” experience with the “beautiful” people of “beautiful” NOLS Mexico. Steve Coughlin, hailing from Montreal, Quebec, has made the shift from last years Operations Manager position to the role of Rations Coordinator. Steve has been working hard to organize and prepare the land of rations, as it has been said, “rations is what makes the world go ‘round”. Program Coordinator and Program Supervisor, Dave Pigott and Bri Mackay have been focused developing and delivering the new bear-briefing program. They have also been proficient with keeping staff updated on other program developments and updated vehicle training. The Director, Jaret Slipp has expressed his excitement for this season’s staff, incoming instructors, and possibly most of all, for the arriving NOLS Yukon students of the prosperous and promising 2012 season.

The NOLS Yukon Branch staff prides themselves with their positivity and hospitality and this year have set goals to keep this reputational enthusiasm at a high standard! Along with remaining supportive and encouraging, the staff have an additional focus at the NOLS Yukon Branch to drop kilowatt-hours to lower our Carbon Footprint and become a greener Branch! The next two weeks at NOLS Yukon will be rich and full as the Yukon Instructor Course, Yukon Hiking and Canoeing combo Course, and the Yukon Summer Semester will head into the beautiful and exhilarating Yukon Terrain.


The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too - Hervey Voge

Permalink | Posted by Leader 101 on Jun 18, 2012 in the following categories: Mexico, Yukon

Peel Region At Risk as Yukon Government Disregards Planning Commission’s Recommendations

To the dismay of many Yukoners, the Peel Watershed, one of the world's largest and most pristine ecosystems, may soon be opened to increased development. On February 14th the Yukon Party Government announced that it would not follow the final recommended plan of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission. The Plan, which took 7 years to complete and cost around $1.6 million, was an effort to effectively balance the interests of native groups, industry and conservationists, and recommended that 80% of the Peel River watershed, located in the Peel region in Northern Yukon, be designated as conservation areas.

Instead, the Government released eight principles that will guide the planning process. The principles will likely guide the plan towards a multiple use philosophy and open much of the area to road development and mining activity. Native groups, conservationists, and the tourism industry see this as an unfair betrayal of the democratic process. NOLS sometimes operates in the Peel Watershed, and the school is concerned that this decision will set a precedent for the management and planning processes in other areas of the Yukon.

Citizens of the area are speaking out against the government’s decision. Many have pointed out that the Yukon Party is acting against the interests of the majority of Yukoners. An independent 2010 report by the Datapath group corroborates this stance; stating that three-quarters of Yukoners supported protection of 80% of the planning region.

For more information on the process visit


Permalink | Posted by Dave Clark-Barol on Mar 2, 2012 in the following categories: Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Yukon

Congratulations to Jamie, Andrew, Jesse, Deborah, Kurt, Chris

Saturday night, a few truly outstanding members of the NOLS team were recognized for their work. Each recipient of the 2011 staff awards was given a standing ovation by the crowd in attendance at the reception and a plaque.

 Jamie Musnicki—Combo

Our first award recipient is an instructor and program supervisor. She took her Instructor Course in 2002, and since then she has accumulated just over 200 weeks in the field.

Jamie has taught four instructor courses and countless instructor seminars. She is a “go-to” instructor for the staffing office, as she is a backpacking, mountaineering, winter, and climbing course leader. She is known for her excellent work ethic, superb attention to detail, and commitment to training staff.

NOLS Pro has noted her “high-quality work, extensive expertise, and ‘can-do’ attitude.” These qualities were exemplified on the India Air Force Mountaineering Course on Denali. Jamie worked tirelessly to provide a safe and successful expedition that greatly improved NOLS’ relationship with the India Air Force. Once again, she proved invaluable when she agreed to fly to India at a moment’s notice to help support the instructors and students who were involved in the recent and tragic fatality.

Jamie has also worked as a mountaineering program supervisor in Alaska and is presently a winter program supervisor at the Teton Valley. As a program supervisor, she shines under pressure, has great vision and action, works exceptionally well as a member of a team, and is an advocate for staff.

Andrew Knutsen—In town

Andrew started his NOLS career in 2006. He cheerfully helps employees no matter how busy he is or how hard the question might be. He has a high level of expertise and can fix most problems or answer most questions on the spot. If he can't, then he'll do some research and keep digging until he finds the answer. While he primarily works with in-town staff as information systems desktop administrator, he willingly helps any NOLS employee work-related or not.


One question on our annual evaluations is, “what have you done to improve yourself and your position?”  Andrew’s response exemplifies a great work life balance. He got certified as an OS X Apple Technical Coordinator and expanded his house sitting from cats and dogs to include horses.

Andrew is a great ambassador for NOLS. He is an avid hiker and proud member of the long-distance hiking community. He often shuttles folks who are on the Continental Divide Trail between road heads and town, which puts NOLS and Lander in a good light and also supports the use and preservation of our classroom.

He is an actor and has participated in a number of theatrical productions in Fremont County such as Man of La Mancha and Guys and Dolls. In November, he will play the role of Robert Starveling in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Jesse Quillian—Instructor

Jesse started her career in 2000 as a student on a Himalaya Backpacking course.  She has been a staple at the Rocky Mountain Branch since her Instructor Course in 2005.  Thirty-five of her 41 courses have been based out of Rocky Mountain.

From the beginning of her career, she has continually worked to improve and expand her skills. In 2007, she took the initiative to expand her winter skills by taking a NOLS snowboarding course in the Teton Valley.

She brought her extensive horse background to NOLS and quickly became an integral part of Three Peaks Ranch. She played an important role in finalizing the Horse-packing Instructor Notebook.

In 2008, she became a program supervisor at Rocky Mountain and split her time between Lander and the Ranch.

In October of last year, she left her job in-town to focus on full-time course work. She joined the annual faculty program, and, in the past year she worked an unbelievable 35 weeks in the field.  Students of her last course noted her passion for teaching, knowledge of the NOLS curriculum, great sense of humor, and her extreme fitness—perhaps the result of 35 weeks in the field in one year. 

Not surprisingly, she was not present to accept her award because she was in the field proctoring an Outdoor Educator Semester.

Deborah Nunnink—In town

Deborah is known for working and living the values we all hold dear at NOLS.  She has been a key member of the NOLS community and the Lander community since 2002.  She has exemplary expedition behavior and always does more than her part.  She is committed to education, wilderness, and leadership.

As operations director, Deborah has transformed many ways that we do business, and her commitment to efficiency has made it possible for NOLS to prosper in challenging times while other organizations have been challenged. She helps our individual schools better themselves and has helped develop many key employees at NOLS.  She strives to build programs and operating areas that are sustainable, effective, profitable, and fun.

When she was interviewed her for her job, a former boss stated she enjoys having contests and playing games with fellow employees. He also made it clear she almost always wins those games (he actually seemed a bit perturbed about this).  What he didn’t say was that when she is on your team everyone wins and so does our mission.


Executive Director John Gans wasn’t able to attend the reception and admitted, “One of the hard parts of being away for this annual meeting is that I am not personally able to award this recipient.  She has given so much to our organization and has been a real key to our success.”

Kurt Hotchkiss—Instructor

Kurt came to the school in 2007 on a river instructor course in Utah. He has been working consistently since then in our programs in Utah, Idaho, India, and Brazil and will work in Patagonia this spring.

Since 2007, he has accumulated over 100 field weeks working river, sea kayaking and hiking courses. In 2011 he spent 28 weeks teaching classes on the water.

He is well known for his laid- back style and his excellent student outcomes. He is a fantastic coach on the river, and students comment that he is fun yet informative, respectful, and has an incredible passion for the outdoors and paddle rafting. His self-awareness, commitment, communication, and creativity are reflected over and over in his performance evaluations and are what make branches so happy to have him back.

A recent evaluation noted he did a great job of not only coaching students, but also his junior staff. He held students to high standards while respecting the knowledge they had gained from their previous semester sections. He sat down with his patrol leader and charted out the next steps in his development to course lead.

He is not able to be here as he is presently canoeing on the Amazon with semester students.

Chris Brauneis—In town

Chris first came to NOLS in 1992 on a Fall Semester in the Rockies. He worked in the Rocky Mountain issue room on and off for several years before taking his instructor course in 1997. Since then, he has worked 146 weeks in the field.

In 2004, he began work in the Rocky Mountain Program office in both the evacuation coordinator and program supervisor roles. He has shown extraordinary patience and professionalism in answering hundreds of parent phone calls.

The staff who nominated Chris for this award said the following:

“I personally am more successful in my job for having him as a friend and co-worker, as are dozens, if not hundreds, of others at NOLS.”

“His presence at the branch makes me want to continue to prioritize field courses in Lander, and I can’t imagine working in town at the RMB under a different supervisor.”


Chris is also known for his random-acts of kindness such as personal emails thanking employees for doing some aspect of their job or offering to help an employee out either personally or professionally.

In 2007, Chris became the Rocky Mountain program director where he currently oversees the supervision of 350 field staff annually. His dedication to the student experience is always forefront in his actions.

Please join us in congratulating each of these remarkable members of our team—this year's employees of the year.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 18, 2011 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, India, Instructor News, Leadership, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Yukon

Oh NOLS Canada!

IMG_1441July 1st is Canada Day, and across some of the northernmost parts of this country, NOLS students are celebrating in true northern white-water and alpine style.

Two weeks ago today, the Yukon Instructor Course drove to within a handful of kilometres of the Northwest Territory border, and, in the shadows of Keele Mountain, they put their canoes in Jeff Creek. Since then, they've been paddling down the Hess River, which cuts back west through the Territory, and which an excited David Pigott, NOLS Yukon Program Coordinator, describes as "nothing less than powerfully, powerfully awesome and superbly Canadian." On Monday, they'll pull out in the silver-lead village of Mayo, latitude 63-37N, and head back to Whitehorse. As they pull out, however, our Naval Academy Canoe Expedition puts in to the Hess, which will result in a NOLS Yukon presence on that remote river for almost five straight weeks!

After a few weeks of hiking in the Pelly Mountains, Yukon Backpack and Canoe students are marking the day on the Nisutlin River, where, suggests Montreal-native and NOLS Yukon Program Supervisor Briana Mackay, "they'll get a good idea of what northern rivers are all about." "On Canada Day," MacKay, continued in a recent interview, "I only hold one of two things: my flag and my paddle."

On a similarly patriotic note, it's worth noting that, alongside wilderness and leadership skills, an enthusiasm for the Yukon and for Canada has been strengthening among our Semester students in recent weeks, particularly since their new mascot, a skiing Moose (Alces alces) named Skookum Gus (above), joined them for the hiking and mountaineering sections of their course. A Moose! Who would have thought?

Anyhow, we'll end here with a note on our remaining course in the field. The Yukon Backpacking Course is celebrating the day with a fresh load of food flown into their beach-side campsite on Kusawa Lake earlier this week. In recent days they've seen a Caribou and, so that they can take full advantage of their surroundings today, they've also received a surprise Canadian flag beach-ball. There are whispers among the territory's bush pilots that this group too has taken on a local animal as its mascot. More to follow.


Permalink | Posted by Rickilee77 on Jul 1, 2011 in the following categories: Yukon

YU-KON DO IT! Branch kicks off the season!

NOLS Yukon has started their short but busy season, and everything is running smoothly. Two courses have already begun. This years IC course left to the coast mountains for a 10 day hiking segment. The YHC-a (combo course) set out for 30 days on a self supported expedition this past Wednesday. Issue days were fun with students prepped and ready timely and efficiently. We look forward to more students this week!     

After weeks of preparation and training staff at the branch this year are filling their roles nicely.There are some new faces; Meredith Young recently from Vancouver, BC in 'equipment world' as the new equipment coordinator, Steve Couglin coming from Montreal, as operations coordinator, and our student intern Rickilee Walls coming from Squamish, BC.

Our Rations coordinator whom we have named ration superhero is last years student intern, Allison Bray.  She is joining us from Prince George, BC. Coming out of the field for the season is Dave Pigott and Briana Mackay as program supervisor and program co-ordinator, or maybe its the other way around! The two are in the office making things happen at least, and although some of us are confused with what our actual titles are we've chosen to work as one 'family' unit. And its been working so far. Then of course, the man upstairs, our mighty director Jaret Slipp leads us into another successful season in the north.

NOLS Yukon staff board - Symbolizes the staff doing their part to

'add to the flow of the river of the river' -to build a growing and

continuously succesful NOLS Yukon Branch.

Permalink | Posted by Rickilee77 on Jun 10, 2011 in the following categories: Yukon

Update on NOLS at the Olympics

NOLS Yukon Branch Manager Noel Cockney Demonstrating Inuit Games

Last week we blogged about NOLS at the Winter Olympics.  Here's an update on how the athletes are faring. 

NOLS Yukon Rations Manager Noel Cockney's Alaskan high-kick, arm-pull, musk-ox wrestling, two-foot high-kick, and one-foot high-kick (video above) have earned him at least one mention in the press

NOLS WMI grad Holly Brooks swished her way into 42nd place in the Women's 10 km Free cross-country ski race and, just about half way through the pack.  Not bad for a first time Olympian!  She placed 38th out of 54 in the Individual Sprint Classic qualification race, which unfortunately did not qualify her for the quarter finals.  This afternoon, she will be competing in the 15 km Pursuit (1/2 classic - 1/2 free).  She is probably preparing for the race as I blog, so send good vibes out to Holly right now!

NOLS WMI grad Casey Puckett has yet to compete - he will be racing his way down the hill on Sunday at the Ski Cross event.

Simi Hamilton, relative of a NOLS instructor or two, has done fabulously.  Out of 62 competitors in the Men's Individual Sprint Classic, he placed 29th and made it to the quarter finals.  Unfortunately, he did not qualify for the semi-finals.  We hope to see more of Simi in 2014!

Permalink | Posted by Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin on Feb 19, 2010 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Yukon

NOLS at the Olympics

Aah . . . the winter Olympics are upon us once again.  It’s time for some hard-core athletes to shred the nar nar.  And more importantly, it’s time for the rest of us to root them on as we lounge languidly on our La-Z -Boys in front of a fire and a large-screen LCD with a warm mug of liquid in our paws. 

But who should I root for, you ask?

Well, for starters, two 2004 NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute graduates are competing with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team.

Casey PuckettHolly Brooks

Casey Puckett is a free-style skier and a five-time Olympian, and Holly Brooks is a first-time Olympian competing in four cross-country ski events.  

Stay tuned for updates on Casey and Holly - we will be tracking their progress as they shred and slide their way through Vancouver. 

Olympicdreams02_smBut the NOLS-Olympics connection doesn’t stop there. Wyoming native and former NOLS instructor Sarah Konrad is also in Vancouver representing the U.S. team.  Sarah was dubbed “an inspiration” by the Master Skier Cross Country Ski Journal when she competed as a biathlete in the 2006 Olympic Team at the age of 38.

Noel Leigh Cockney And here's a unique NOLS-Olympics connection - probably a first.  NOLS Yukon Grad and Rations Manager Noel Cockney, a First Nation member from Inuvik, will be showcasing his talents at the Inuit Games.  When asked what he was most looking forward to about the Olympics, Noel responded "I cannot wait to show the world Inuit Culture; our games, they way our ancestors lived, and what kind of people we are."

Other NOLS-affiliated 2010 Olympians include cross-country skier Simi Hamilton (relative of a l2332565559_074142a758ong line of NOLS graduates and instructors), and Amy Rathke (who is using the mad driving skills she gained on the NOLS Bus to help transport Olympic athletes).


But we cannot talk about the NOLS-Olympics connection without hearkening back to one of the most famous NOLS Olympians.  In 1984, NOLS alum Deb Armstrong was crowned “Queen of the Mountain” by Sports Illustrated when she blew her competition away in the Giant Slalom. Over twenty-five years later, Deb is still going strong – she is the Alpine Technical Director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club

0b75248ca312f24e2f0667a8c20cf3e9And more recently, NOLS Yukon alum Graham Nishikawa earned two Golds for Team Canada in cross-country ski events in Torino.

Know any other NOLS Alums involved in the 2010 Olympics?  Let us know so we can send a shout out to them.


Permalink | Posted by Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin on Feb 12, 2010 in the following categories: Alumni, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Yukon

NOLS Alumni Service Award - Yoshie Kumagae

Yoshie Each year NOLS recognizes an outstanding graduate for their volunteer service to the school as we pursue our broad educational mission. This year's Alumni Service Award winner is Yoshie Kumagae of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.

Yoshie, Yukon College's International Education Coordinator, is a 2006 graduate of a NOLS Yukon paddling expedition on the Bonnet Plume River. She saw an opportunity to connect a NOLS field education with Japanese university students' interested in wilderness values, leadership and practical experience with English as a second language. Her brainchild culminated as a very successful 7-day NOLS backpacking expedition in the Yukon with students from Tokyo's Waseda University. The course was so successful that Waseda repeated it in the summer of 2009. A university administrator summed up Yoshie's work quite nicely: "This is exactly what young Japense students need!"

For her creativity, energy, vision, dedication and fearless belief in the value of a NOLS education, please join us in recognizing Yoshie Kumagae as this year’s NOLS Alumni Service Award winner.

(photo courtesy of Rich Brame)

Permalink | Posted by Rich Brame on Oct 21, 2009 in the following categories: Alumni, Yukon

Planning in the Hart of Beringia

Day hike in the YukonAs the world warmed from the last great ice age, land in northern Canada and Alaska, which never became glaciated, reunited with the rest of the world. Called Beringia, the ecosystem of this land before time persists in isolated pockets. In the Yukon, remnants of Beringia can be found in the Peel Watershed. Four great Canadian rivers, the Wind, the Bonnet Plume, the Snake, and the Hart, form the major tributaries of the Peel River. In this remote wilderness, where access is only conceivable with a float plane, an industry based on river rafting, outfitting, and eco-tourism has gained a foothold in the last 10 to 20 years.

NOLS runs 20-day river courses on some of these rivers. With increasing interest in oil, gas, and mineral development in the region, major changes are underway.  A planning process for the Peel Watershed, which began in 2004 is rapidly reaching its culmination, with a final document expected later this year. Overseen by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, the final document will dictate management decisions including conflicts between industrial development and eco-tourism.

For those lucky few who have visited the Peel Watershed, for those who have yet to explore the Northern Yukon, and for those of us who may never get there but care a great deal about so-called bio-gems, now is the time to weigh in. The Commission has released their draft plan, with three possible management scenarios, and is continuing to accept comments from the public on these plans. If you feel compelled to weigh in and assert your values on the planning process, the Commission is very open and receptive to your opinion.

Visit for details on the plan.
To submit comments via e-mail, contact
If you would like to see comments submitted by NOLS, contact
For more updates please join the “NOLS Wildland Advocacy” group on facebook.

photo courtesy of Rich Brame

Permalink | Posted by Paige Healy on Mar 6, 2009 in the following categories: Yukon

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