Specializing in Youth Adventures since 1981

2018 Summer in Review

Program Director, Ashley Smith

 October 2018


The 38th summer at Telluride Academy offered a solid mix of Academy classics and some fresh new ideas involving mystical creatures, stunts and giant swings. No need to reinvent this creative and adventurous wheel, as the Academy’s recipe for success is tried and true! (Make sure there is a little something for everyone, while holding on to our CORE goals and activities.)

The numbers are in and it’s safe to say the Academy had another rewarding year of programming: of the 900 students served thus far this year, 45% (or 405) were from the Telluride R-1 School District and our Total Summer Program Spots Filled were 1,554 (summer and after-school).

Program Director favorites this year were also some of our student favorites: Guatemala, Expedition Grand Canyon, and Telluride to Moab were some of our biggest successes this year!


Guatemala ran with 13 students, and ‘senior’ instructors Dave and Bria say this was “the best one yet!”. The blend of cultural immersion and adventure travel continues to be trending high among teens. One of my favorite things about these trips are the photos and updates we receive on a regular basis from the group during their travels:

On day 1, we began our expedition at a trail beginning in a small village in a region called Alaska, so called for its reputation as the highest, coldest place in Guatemala, at about 10,000 feet. Passing through beautiful scenery in the lush, jungle cloud forest, our group got our quads in gear descending about 5,500 feet throughout the day! Finally, we crossed a river and gratefully proceeded up a quite steep trail for the last leg, to a small Mayan village called Comon Oj, or translated from K'iche, the Land of Many Avocados (insert official stamp of approval here). That night we were guests in the village, sleeping on the floor in our sleeping bags and mats in two of the homes, experiencing the traditional Mayan sauna, or temescal, and of course, playing with the local children. In the spirit of the world cup, there was a rousing game of soccer with the local kids, many vigorous games of tag, a variation of red light green light, and more. The next morning, we said “adios” to our new friends and hit the trail, just catching the score of the world cup final in the first half as we passed a mud home in the village where family and friends were gathered around a tiny TV with universal soccer gusto. The second day we pushed our legs to take us a couple thousand feet uphill, finally arriving for a laid back lunch in a village at the casa of two hermanas who cooked us a delicious lunch, complete with fresh hand-patted tortillas hot off the griddle. They also patiently transmitted their expertise by teaching us to “tortillar” - make tortillas! Bellies full, we proceeded on foot to our destination for the evening, the town of Santa Clara, where we happily showered and stayed in a hostel.


This morning, we awoke at 4:30 in the morning, shouldering our packs once more for a pre-dawn hike to an overlook amidst fields of corn. There, just as the sun colored the clouds with pastel pink, we got our first view of Lago Atitlan below, circled by volcanoes and glimmering in the fresh light of dawn. We ate breakfast of fresh fruit and coffee, soaking in the view, before descending the last couple of hours to the town where we now find ourselves!


Now we will be taking our own bus to our final leg of our journey - El Paredón on the beach! Needless to say, the prospect of surf has been pretty exciting for the group. We will arrive there this evening before dinner and enjoy 3 full days of community involvement, surf, and visiting mangrove and turtle sanctuaries.


Expedition Grand Canyon was also one of my next favorites! This program was a last minute add, and it was our first program to sell out. With the help from our friends at Grand Canyon Youth (a Flagstaff, AZ nonprofit), Academy students took a boat up-river from Lee’s Ferry to the Glen Canyon Dam. From there, they navigated back down the canyon for several days, learning multi-day river trip logistics and paddle techniques, taking side hikes and engaging in service learning projects. This was easily one of my favorites because the students who poured out of the van at the end of the trip, said their goodbyes with long-lasting hugs and tears streaming down their cheeks. They all promised one another this would not be their last adventure with one another. The Instructors felt the same way as they gushed about the cohesive group and community they had built together. Instructors, Hannah and Michael, immediately began proposing next year’s trip only a day after returning. As Program Director, it’s so incredibly gratifying to experience these outcomes and sense the strong bond between a young group of people. And to think, this program almost didn’t exist!

Finally, Telluride to Moab! This burly week of pedaling hut-to-hut from mountains to desert has historically been called a ‘boys club’ program at the Academy until this year. This year was the first year we were able to break up the boy’s club with a Female instructor, Emma Christensen, and we brought in two rock star girls on this breathtaking and rugged ride to Moab. Girl Power!!

Other 2018 Successes worth noting: In 2018, the Academy awarded over $200,000 in tuition assistance to nearly 300 local students! It is our goal and part of our mission to include all who want to participate in an Academy program!

Speaking of Inclusion: This year Luke Brown, Executive Director, renewed the Academy’s vows and commitment to INCLUSION. This initiative puts extra resources and trained staff (at no additional cost to the family) into the field to assist a total of 16 students with special needs throughout their Academy experience. Our efforts were a huge success and massive financial undertaking for the Academy, but the student experience outcomes were so significant and meaningful for all those who joined us in the field that you should expect to see this initiative grow even more next year, and eventually be a part of our Academy foundation.

That’s all for now! Please consider donating to our Tuition Assistance fund (during our Fall Membership Drive and throughout the Holiday Season) that allows hundreds of local under-served kids access to wild places! Enjoy the Fall and stay tuned for our 2019 Program Offerings, announced in early January!


Happy Trails,

Ashley Smith, Program Director