Experiential and Instructional

Mountain Connection, September 19, 2022

By: Jed Donnel

The fall trimester is now in full swing, and with it the POPs program, or Physical Outdoor Pursuits – one of the signature aspects of the SMS experiential education curriculum – is likewise running at full-speed. Since I’m new to the Upper School, myself, I was pleased to sit down with POPs Coordinator, Kevin Hopsicker last week to hear his take. As Kevin states, “POPs is experiential and instructional. It’s meant to develop kids’ skill sets within a discipline that helps them to connect deeply with the awesome outdoor offerings around Steamboat, and to feel a sense of community within a team. Each option includes instruction from coaches with a passion within the particular field.” Twice per week, on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, students engage in one of various offerings: climbing, wilderness skills (hiking, navigating, building shelters), mountain biking, trail running, and – new this year – life skills. Each activity is rooted in physical pursuits within the great outdoors, and students are involved in self-selecting their particular programs. They are then matched with faculty who have particular passions and experience in those relative domains, who guide the students in engaging with and improving their relevant skills, problem solving, bonding with their peers, and developing appreciation for recreation in wild spaces. New this year, too, is a deeper commitment to time: the program has been scaled to occur over the same hours but within two days, which means that students and faculty alike now have more time to venture further from campus on a regular basis and explore more broadly. As in year’s past, several of the programs likewise correspond with upcoming ‘Desert Week’ trips; the climbing group will pursue a rock-climbing trip around Moab in October, for example, and will then be accompanied by professional guides who will further the belay and knot-tying skills they’ve needed to develop over the past few weeks. Also new this year is the Life Skills option, which is purposefully designed for students to remain highly active outside of a specified, athletic context. They’ve taken on an array of tasks, including carpentry, mechanical maintenance, and landscaping, with several other activities under construction (including bee keeping, which I hope may manifest this spring). Kevin is highly encouraged by how the changes this year have propelled the ambitions. He adds, “I think the fact that we now have more time and more choice to dive into activities both lend to a supportive team culture. Team building has become more overt as an objective within each of the Pops programs.”

In the winter, the offerings will change in accordance with the seasons and therefore will all be snow-based in several capacities. Kevin states, “We’re going to continue the traditional backcountry POPs offerings, and any student interested should see me, since we can hook them up with gear or take donations. The front country offerings will change a bit, too; we’ll still head to the resort, of course, though we’ll also offer intro to backcountry travel with easier, entry-level activities.”