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Hands-On Program Gives Central Wyoming College Students a Foothold in the Recreation Industry

Hands-On Program Gives Central Wyoming College Students a Foothold in the Recreation Industry

A view of the Alpine Science Institue near Lander from overhead

Article courtesy of Wyoming Truth

Standing around the guide house during a mandatory internship to Mount Denali in Alaska, Taylor Pyle spoke with fellow guides, many of whom were older and more experienced, and realized he’d made the correct decision to study at Central Wyoming College.

It was there in Alaska that Pyle, now 31, discussed a philosophy about group dynamics and guiding that gave him an “aha moment.”

“The internship was required,” said Pyle, who earned a spot on an expedition to the summit—a 25-day adventure. “[The opportunity] gave me the chance to go do something I had on my mind and I had wanted to do for a while.”

Then and there, Pyle knew that he wanted to pursue outdoor recreation as a full-time career. Today, he owns Expedition Winds, a mountaineering company based in Pinedale, and Peak Professional Services, a contracting company based in Sheridan.

Pyle graduated from Central Wyoming College in 2016 with an outdoor recreation degree rather than an outdoor education degree, so he could focus on starting his own business.

Photo of people riding mountain bikes on top of a rocky cliff

“[The] outdoor [Recreation] program had an emphasis on skills that would prepare me for the guiding profession of the outdoor industry and being an individual that will create their own path in the field,” Pyle told the Wyoming Truth.

The Alpine Science Institute, formerly known as the Sinks Canyon Center, is a division of Central Wyoming College located at the foothills of the Wind River Mountain Range. It was formed in October 2015, and today about 25 students are enrolled. Some live in cabins and others in town, said Darran Wells, a professor of outdoor education and leadership.

Pyle, who graduated before the name change, enjoyed the outdoor learning experiences. His seasonal mountaineering company offers custom backpacking, climbing, fly fishing and summit trips, as well as education and survival courses in Wyoming, primarily in the Wind River Range.

Because it’s weather-dependent work, Pyle also runs a contracting company that provides construction, remodeling and handyman services, among others.

At Central Wyoming College, Pyle was required to take entrepreneurial courses, which planted the seed for him to start his own business.  

The outdoor recreation degree helped him enter the professional guiding world, he said, because the coursework instilled a variety of skills, including leadership, facilitation and land management.

“I have kept all of my textbooks to this day, and still reference material that helps me in my trip planning,” he added.

Wells was instrumental in Pyle’s decision to become a professional guide. He teaches biking, skiing and rock climbing, along with the business aspects of running a guide company, such as permitting and operations. In addition, Wells serves as an academic advisor for all the outdoor-related degrees at Central Wyoming College—some of which include business coursework.  

An undergraduate degree in Applied Science in Organizational Management, with an emphasis on Outdoor Leadership, requires several business classes where students learn how to build and manage their business. The four-year degree program launched last year, and seven students are currently enrolled. The school recently introduced two new degree certifications: professional mountain bike guiding and trail building.

“We are in the process of building our trail lab right now,” Wells said. “So that’ll be 10 miles of model trails of all different kinds.” These include hiking-only trails, biking-only trails, rocky trails and machine-built mountain bike trails.

In addition to classroom work, students live in cabins and learn through fieldwork, which is accessible on 130 acres and a trout stream. 

“[Students are] able to kind of walk out their back door and go fly fishing or mountain biking or rock climbing without even traveling,” Wells said.  “ . . . we’re just on the edge of the National Forest. And the [Sinks Canyon] State Park is a quarter mile up the road. So it’s an ideal location, really, for anybody who wants to live and play outside.” 

Focus on food and ag enhances outdoor experience

Jacki Klancher, a professor of Environmental Science and Health and director of Instruction and Research at the Alpine Science Institute, believes the program is one of the best kept secrets in the nation. 

“… [We] have some of the finest mountain biking around Lander, we have great camps for high school students …and we offer experiences that many undergraduates do not get an opportunity to experience until they are in graduate school,” said Klancher, noting that many field programs provide a stipend to students and include financial support for tuition and fees.

Central Wyoming College’s Alpine Science Institute also focuses on local food and agriculture. The student farm is about a half-acre of diversified vegetables; the training program runs from April to October. 

Ethan Page, who leads the agriculture initiative, said that students are exposed to all aspects of managing a small farm—from seeding and soil prep to harvesting, packing and selling—and that the program is the only one if its kind in both the state and region.

“We try to incorporate various practices focusing on soil health, biodiversity and natural weed and pest control,” he said.  “We’re trying to demonstrate that it’s possible to grow a high volume of great produce in a difficult environment and feed our community at the same time.”