Teaching outdoor survival

After a long day of skiing at Killington, you and your buddies decide to take a few last runs down the mountain.You are a little bored of the same old trails and want to push it to the limit on some self-made trails and take advantage of the remaining daylight. You and your friends ski off the marked trail to do some backcountry exploration.

A few minutes after you complete the run you end up in a large basin surrounded by ridges in all directions and you realize that you have lost your sense of direction and do not have enough daylight to try and find your way out of the woods before dark.

You are cold, wet, and hungry and you have no cell phone service in this remote part of central Vermont.

What do you do?

Students who have taken courses within Castleton Sate College’s Outdoor Education Program would know what to do and have the skills necessary to get themselves and friends out of such a situation safely.

With a large population of outdoor athletes like skiers, snowboarders, and hikers on campus, Castleton State College has made efforts to provide outdoor education for students.

Starting originally with a popular course in Backpacking and Orienteering, Castleton has made great strides in recent years to expand the unique program. The Outdoor Education program at Castleton currently features a wide variety of courses ranging from primitive survival skills to mountaineering to ice climbing and winter camping.

According to instructor Steve Lulek, the program is seeing increased popularity with each semester and the future looks incredibly bright for outdoor education at Castleton.

Lulek, who teaches courses including winter camping, ice climbing and mountaineering, has been a part of the rapid growth of the program and values the programs roots.

“The program started about nine or 10 years ago with backpacking and orienteering which was very popular and has just taken off ever since,” he said.

Lulek, who has 22 years of military experience, is as skilled an instructor as you will find. He taught ice climbing, mountaineering, and orienteering to the military’s special operations and other top divisions. He feels that his experiences have given him the ability to educate college students to the highest degree.

“Me and the other instructors in the program aren’t just classroom taught. While we are educated, our real-world experience really sets us apart and makes this program pretty unique,” he said.

Lulek is pleased with the present state of the program and stated that the primitive survival skills and the winter camping and mountaineering classes are becoming very popular, often filling up before any other classes at the college.

Castleton State College junior Jarrod Pulsifer recently took the primitive survival course and had a great experience.

“The entire course was just awesome,” he said. “Obviously we learned a lot in the classroom, but the best part was being able to get out in the woods and apply what we were taught. For our final exam we were dropped off in a remote section of a local forest and forced to make it through the night without any tools or supplies.”

“We had to use the resources around us to make our fire and create necessities like our lean-to shelters and spruce bough beds. I am pretty lucky to have been able to take the course and would highly recommend it to other students,” said Pulsifer.

When asked about the rewards of the program, Lulek displayed his passion for teaching outdoors education in his answer.

“The best part for me is seeing the smiles on the kids faces after they complete a task. They have a real sense of pride and accomplishment after they use what they have learned to succeed in the outdoors,” he said. “A lot of the kids who take the courses don’t have any outdoor experience and we not only educate them, but we take them to some of the most beautiful and remote areas around, places that they normally would never see.”

The Outdoor Education Program instructor described a story of a recent Castleton graduate who took one of his classes and was forced to apply the skills he learned there in a real world situation.

“The student called me recently and told me about how he was driving and came upon a bad accident. While he couldn’t carry out any advanced procedures, he was able to provide basic treatment and instruction to those involved, skills he said he picked up during his time in the outdoor education program,” said Lulek. “Stuff like that provides satisfaction and makes us feel good about what we are doing here at Castleton.”

Students in the primitive survival skills course are working toward their final exam, an overnight trip to remote wilderness in Goshen, and the winter camping class will be taking part in a 48-hour adventure that requires students to build their own snow shelter and live in it.

Also, the mountaineering class is going to complete a very unique challenge as they will trek into Smugglers Notch and later hike over giant Mt. Washington in Northern New Hampshire.

Another Castleton State College student, Henry Thatcher, echoes what Pulsifer and Lulek have to say about the program.

“I really think it’s a great program. I think that everyone should have to take camping and orienteering and primitive skills and survival because the skills you learn are a necessity if you were ever stranded on your own. These were some of the best classes that I have taken at this school and I would recommend them to anyone,” said Thatcher.

With growing popularity and support, the future of the program looks very bright. So bright that according to Lulek, the school plans to offer the program as a minor to the college’s outdoor-oriented students.

Eventually, Lulek would like to see the Outdoor and Adventure Education Program turned into a major, culminating with a community service type project where students may guide area school children or adults on hiking, camping, or survival trips.

“It’s a real program and we’re teaching from real world experience. It’s just great that we can provide kids with these experiences right here in Vermont,” said Lulek.

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