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Outdoor education scholarships up for grabs in Yukon

Beginning a career in the outdoors may not be as difficult - or expensive - as once thought.

Beginning a career in the outdoors may not be as difficult - or expensive - as once thought. That is, at least, with a scholarship to attend the Yukon branch of the National Outdoor Leadership School, one of 15 international locations.

“Specifically, in the outdoor realm, we train people to be outdoor guides,” said NOLS Yukon director Jaret Slipp. “There are a lot of guiding companies up here that look for experienced, trained guides to lead canoe and hiking trips. So they can be a paid guide for an outfitter. The training is also excellent for camps or outdoor education centres, of which there are plenty across Canada.”

NOLS Yukon welcomes about 120 to 130 students a year from throughout the world to take part in the program. Through the Donner Canada Foundation, NOLS Yukon can offer from two to six scholarships, covering up to 80 per cent of the cost, specifically for Yukon students.

“We select them working with some youth groups. We look through the youth groups in town and see if they have folks,” said Slipp. “We put a general announcement out through the schools and post it out there.

“People submit applications and it is based on financial need and merit, so people (who are) interested in getting into the outdoor industry because we are a training school.”

Although other NOLS chapters offer education in rockclimbing and backcountry skiing, the Yukon outfit focuses on hiking, paddling (whitewater canoeing) and mountaineering, taking students as far north as the Peel Watershed to areas as southerly as Watson Lake.

“We actually go quite far and wide in the Yukon,” said Slipp.

But don’t be mistaken, NOLS is no vacation.

“I found this to be a great character builder,” said Whitehorse’s Kaitlin MacDonald, one of three Yukoners to take part in the program last summer. “I found out a lot about myself. I grew as a person being out there. For example, I found myself handling high-pressure moments very well and got the job done. Also being out of my comfort zone at times allowed me to explore my limits.

“As the catalogue says, it truly is an experience of a lifetime and you really do come out with friends for life. Also the instructors are top notch.”

MacDonald said she learned a lot of “valuable skills for the field and for everyday life” and she’d “most definitely recommend it to others.”

For Whitehorse’s Logan Godin, who spent a month hiking the Logan Mountains and paddling the Hyland River, it was an experience that changed his perception.

“It helped me become more organized and see things in a different way because we were so much closer to nature and we had to do everything ourselves, make sure we kept dry and things like that,” said Godin. “Things like keeping our gear dry became way more important while other things, problems we have in regular society, became pointless. Little arguments became irrelevant.

“I met a lot of great people and formed a lot of awesome friendships,” he added. “It’s hard not to after being with the same people for a month straight.”

According to Slipp, NOLS does not just benefit students outside the classroom, the program can benefit students in their post-secondary academic career. The NOLS program can lead to university credits, directly through the Universities of Utah and Northern British Columbia, but can also be transferred, he said.

“Every single one of our catalogue courses has a university credit option,” said Slipp. “Essentially what happens is we have partnering universities that give the credit direct through their program, so you’d get an environmental credit, a leadership credit, a biology credit, a risk management credit - there’s a bunch of different credits you’d get from universities that are direct.

“What happens is that you can transfer that (credit to another school). Those credits have successfully been transferred to over 400 universities across North America.”

NOLS, which began with its international headquarters in Lander, Wyoming, branched out to the north with its NOLS Western Canada office in 1994. However, with so many expeditions heading north, NOLS Yukon opened in 1999 and has seen an estimated 1,500 students pass through its doors since then. Last summer NOLS Yukon conducted 10 different courses, ranging from 10 to 76 days.

For more information on NOLS Yukon and scholarship opportunities, contact Jaret Slipp at (867) 668-3578.

Contact Tom Patrick at