In the past, Winterline has done backpacking trips with NOLS in Colorado and Wyoming. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these areas, it gets cold in the fall. We are excited that our students will get the chance to hike in a warmer climate; the Southwest of the United States.
Our students will travel from the Sonoran desert in Tucson to the Gila National Forrest of New Mexico (approx. 5-hour drive), where they will begin their backpacking trip with their peers and NOLS instructors. This is a mountainous area with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet and plentiful with Ponderosa pine trees, beautiful plateaus and mesas, and 1,000-year old ruins.
During the trip, students and their leaders will hike on trail, but there will be some opportunities to walk off trail. One benefit of our Southwest NOLS trip is that the weather is more stable than other mountainous areas in the U.S.. This will allow more time for skill building, an emphasis on learning, and is also a great benefit to this shorter backpacking course. Of course, weather is unpredictable so we cannot promise that it’ll be great, but the weather should be better than years’ past.
Students will learn a variety of skills, such as camping, living in the backcountry, self-care in the outdoors, cooking, and navigation. NOLS also has a strong leadership curriculum, and this will be highly emphasized throughout the NOLS trip, as well as the duration of Winterline. As a former NOLS student, the leadership skills and learning opportunities were one of the highlights for me. NOLS really enables students to learn more about themselves and because it takes place in the beginning of the gap year, students are able to develop a sense of community together.
In the words of Ben Venter, Senior Field Instructor for NOLS, “the community that is developed on a NOLS course allows and encourages people to be better versions of themselves and that can then be applied to all realms of their lives… We are constantly thinking of how to make more positive experiences for our students.”
The American chef, David Chang, once said, “Food, to me, is always about cooking and eating with those you love and care for.” I began to deeply understand his words after my year with Winterline, and especially while reflecting on one of my favorite skills on the program; cooking.
I’ve always loved to bake and cook at home for myself and my family, but I had never taken any professional cooking classes. Throughout my year with Winterline, I was exposed to an array of culturally diverse cuisine with the opportunity to learn how to make some incredible dishes. We had some amazing partner organizations, but I was most impressed with the cooking schools we worked with while I was on Winterline. I further discovered my love and passion for cooking this year, and found the beauty in creating and sharing meals with my closest friends.
The first partner that introduced our group to cooking was actually not a cooking school. NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) was our first official partner with Winterline. We did an 8-day backpacking trip in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and learned a lot about a lot, specifically in the outdoors. We each were split up into small cook groups and had to ration our food before the expedition. By the end of our trip, I was amazed by how delicious our meals were each day, especially considering we only used dry ingredients and a small, propane-powered stove. For breakfast, we had eggs and sausage, chocolate chip and cranberry pancakes, and even brownies one morning! And for dinner, we made quesadillas, pasta, pizza, and even a quinoa-based dish with Salmon! We ate like kings during NOLS, to say the least. After my positive experience with cooking in the backcountry, I was hooked. I wanted to cook as much as possible throughout the rest of Winterline, and I did.
Although our first “official” cooking partner wasn’t until second trimester, I had plenty of opportunities to cook in Central America. Most of our accommodations in Belize and Costa Rica had kitchens. When we stayed at Rancho Mastatal, I assisted in the kitchen and even helped cook dinner with my homestay family there. And during my ISP in Costa Rica, I learned how to make corn tortillas from scratch, all in Spanish! If it’s something you’re interested in learning more about, I’d encourage you to find out-of-the-box ways to cook during the first trimester.
When we were in Cambodia, we spent a couple days at École d’Hôtellerie et de Tourisme Paul Dubrule, a hospitality and culinary school located in Siem Reap. We went through a series of learning about techniques and various meals. We then made our own savory dishes, desserts, and baked goods. By the end of each day, we had lots of amazing food to try. I particularly liked that there were full-time students on the campus, so we had the chance to ask them questions about their experience. After we learned our skills at Paul Dubrule, we took it upon ourselves to create and serve a 3-course meal, plus cocktails and dessert, at our hotel. Winterline rented the hotel kitchen and bar for us that night and we put on quite a show for our guests, the other Winterline cohort. We made Asian-inspired courses, and I had the enjoyment of being a chef that night! It was a great (and tasty) way to celebrate our successful week.
When we were in Bangkok, Thailand, we also took cooking classes at Bai Pai Thai Cooking School. This was one of my favorite partner organizations all year! The class was really hands-on and we made a 4-course meal (including a delicious dessert). The courses were all traditional Thai food, and creative dishes. They even gave us individual recipe books to take home, and I’ve put it to good use already!
For my Independent Study Project, I went to Paris to take French cooking classes. Although none of the other Winterline students did this with me, it’s something I felt worth including in this post. It was a significant and meaningful way to come to an end of my year with Winterline. I built upon cooking skills that I had acquired earlier in the year, and I shared my meals with total strangers who I grew to become friends with.
I discovered the beauty in creating and sharing a meal with someone, or many people, this year. I found my passion and interest for cooking, and I was able to share my passion with so many of my close friends during the year. We coined the term, “chef up” as slang for “cooking.” Some of my fondest memories from Winterline involve creating and or sharing a meal with the group. It’s a very special part of the Winterline experience, and I hope some of you reading this can find your own ways to “chef up” during your gap year.
Near the end of trimester one, our students spent an exciting two weeks in the beautiful town of Monteverde. To keep you engaged with our students’ journey, we’re giving you an in-depth look of the town.
Monteverde is known for its high altitude of 4,662 ft (1,440 m) above sea level, which places it directly in the clouds. Thanks to these clouds and the moisture they provide, the town has an incredible amount of biodiversity. This variety of species makes the town a big spot for ecotourism, and a great place to visit or study.
The community of Monteverde itself began when four pacifist Quakers from Alabama sought to find a place to embrace peace and cultivate their dairy farms. In 1950, some of the Quaker families moved to Costa Rica. Then, they began to establish Monteverde with some of the area natives. Today, Monteverde has about 7,000 permanent residents. The town is also home to environmental organizations, the Monteverde Conservation League and the Monteverde Institute, where our students are lucky enough to study.
The Monteverde Institute was founded with the vision to build “a sustainable community for a sustainable world”. The Institute brings attention to, and attempts to find solutions for, local issues affecting the community. All food comes from local sources, and the facilities are environmentally efficient. They achieve this status by collecting rainwater, using biodegradable cleaning supplies, recycling, and using passive solar energy and natural lighting.
In addition to giving back to the environment, the Institute gives back to the people of it’s community. Our students participate in homestays through the Monteverde Institute! Families who host don’t just receive compensation. They are also able to participate in programs and classes specifically geared toward them, such as a sustainability and energy audit.
During their homestays, our students complete an Independent Student Project (ISP). Each person gets to pick a study focus, and some of the options are truly unique. For example, some of our students get to process coffee, all the way from farming to brewing. Others paint their own batiks, creating a cloth that expresses their individuality. Others still participate in tree climbing, a home bakery business, or upcycle discarded materials like tires to create new products. Spanish conversation and foot reflexology are also two popular options.
The rest of the ISP programs include making handcrafted paper, woodworking, mapping, working in aqueducts, tropical farming, horsemanship, dairy farming, natural building, and bird tracking. With all these options, each student is sure to find something new that they love. In fact, it’s probab;y hard to pick just one!
Monteverde is full of incredible opportunities not just for our students, but for visitors of all kinds. Whether you’re after ecological learning or cultural immersion, this breathtaking town is sure to draw you in.
Both of our Gap Year cohorts are currently in Costa Rica, and they’ve just finished up their time at the one-of-a-kind farm within a rainforest, Rancho Mastatal. While there, our students worked with the community to learn how to live sustainably and reduce their carbon footprint.
Climate change is real and it’s happening now. The way we live impacts the Earth, and that means we have the power to decide how much of an effect we have. We hope that the visit to Rancho Mastatal teaches our students not only to be kinder to the earth, but to each other as well.
Rancho Mastatal cares a lot about the people around them. They source their food and building materials locally and “support regional efforts for clean water, healthy food, fertile agricultural land, and safe, naturally constructed buildings”, according to their mission. This focus on community resilience is a lesson students can apply to both home and wherever they travel. While there, the students bunk in communal living, teaching them patience, practice, and balance. Learning to live peacefully and share resources with others is a skill that will go far for students. It’ll come in handy when they get to college and have roommates!
Of course, our students learn a lot about the environment at Rancho Mastatal. A sustainability lesson shows how climate change affects the area of Mastatal. Individuals also learn how they can change their habits to prevent further damage. Students learn about permaculture, a way of agriculture that mimics the patterns and relationships found in nature. This method allows for the reuse of outputs as inputs, minimizes work, and restores environments. Learning permaculture gives students the tools to be ethical and responsible consumers. This means producing their own food when possible or choosing wisely when they shop.
To further protect the environment and its species, Rancho Mastatal created its own wildlife refuge, consisting of an amazing 200 acres of land. Rainforests contain an enormous variety of species, and this area is no exception. Refuge areas like this one are integral to preserving the livelihood of the plant and animal species who call the rainforest home.
Natural building is also a huge focus here. This means building with native and unprocessed materials: wood, earth, straw, natural grasses, bamboo, stone and rocks, and manure. Students learn the different techniques used to build with these materials, like timber frame construction or lime and earthen plasters. You can take a look at some of the infrastructure built with these methods and materials. Not only are building materials natural, but so is the energy use. Rancho Mastatal uses solar energy for power, hot water, and cooking. The ranch also uses biogas, rocket stoves, composting toilets, and wonderbags and hayboxes which minimize fuel use when cooking. Food is sourced locally and prepared by hand without the use of tools like microwaves. The goals at Rancho Mastatal are to make meals cost-efficient, nutritional, and sustainable.
Our students learn a wealth of information about living green. Simultaneously, they get to help the the residents – human, plant, and animal – in Costa Rica. Every day is something different, and no experience here is replicable anywhere else. Rancho Mastatal is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure.
Both of our groups have been basking in the beauty of tropical Belize, where they’ve had the opportunity to work with our partner Ridge to Reef Expeditions. Ridge to Reef, or R2R, was founded in 2014 by the non-profit organization Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) to manage protected areas.
R2R focuses on environmental awareness, using natural resources, and sustainable economic development. These are three skills that our students comprehend and demonstrate everywhere they go. The program is structured specifically for volunteers, making it a great fit with Winterline.
One of the main concerns in Belize was the decline of manatee populations due to hunting and gill netting. R2R continues to work on protecting vulnerable and endangered species today. TIDE reported that a recent study showed 10% of manatee sightings were calves, meaning there’s strong reproductive activity. This shows how the hard work of researchers, scientists, and volunteers is paying off!
As important as the conservation work is, volunteers also get the weekends to relax and explore. Students get to explore the temples, learn to make (and taste) chocolate, swim in waterfalls, and zipline through the jungle. There’s never a dull moment in Belize!
Last week, we highlighted the YMCA of the Rockies for you. Now, our groups have moved on to Lander, Wyoming, where they spend 11 days with our partner NOLS: the National Outdoor Leadership School.
Photos by: Meagan Kindrat
NOLS was founded in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming in 1965 by Paul Petzoldt, whose dream was to train leaders who could live sustainably in the wilderness and pass on their knowledge to others.
This leadership theme is still prominent. Today, NOLS prides itself on teaching the core curriculum of leadership, wilderness skills, risk management, and environmental studies. Just a few of the things our students learn include how to sleep outside and stay warm, cooking over a single burner stove, navigation, and bonding under adversity, all led by the highly qualified instructors.
Of course, another perk of NOLS is the breathtaking location. Wyoming is proof that beauty is everywhere in nature; you don’t need to be on a beach to get a great view.
The beautiful mountains of the Northwest.
Snow already? Not so unusual for Wyoming.
Blue Cohort goofing around in some free time.
NOLS teaches our students how to stay safe in the woods when the sun goes down.
Our Gap Year program kicks off with orientation at YMCA of the Rockies located in Estes Park, Colorado. We begin our adventure by introducing students to Winterline while laying the foundation for the rest of the year.
It’s amazing that we get to learn and play in such a beautiful place. Surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park, YMCA of the Rockies offers an environment inspired by nature where friends and family can grow closer together while enjoying the natural beauty of the world around them. During their stay in Estes Park our students participate in group discussion, games, and team building activities to strengthen their bond before they embark on their 9 month trip.
Do you want to learn more about Estes Park and YMCA of the Rockies?
Check out our fast facts listed below.
YMCA of the Rockies has more than 860 acres of Colorado beauty.
Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park are home to around 3,000 elk.
The national park covers 415 square miles of wildflowers and mountain views.
The town of Estes Park is one of the highest-rated family destinations in the United States.
While staying at the YMCA our students have the opportunity to hike, roller skate, do yoga, observe wildlife, build campfires, and play miniature golf and other outdoor sports.
There are over 300 miles of trails to be hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Elk, big horn sheep, marmots, squeaking pikas, and the iridescent broad-tailed hummingbird all find their home in Estes Park.
The national park is great for climbing with peaks ranging from 12,000-14,000 feet above sea level.
YMCA of the Rockies sits at an elevation of 8,010 feet.
Rocky Mountain National Park has more than 265,000 of acres ready to be explored.