Category Archives: Uncategorized

Everyone’s Doing the Dinosaur!


This Spring the Telluride Mountain School first and second grade students traveled to Fruita, Colorado where they spent three days exploring the Morrison Formation.

The Morrison Formation is a sequence of upper Jurassic Sedimentary rock where many dinosaur fossils have been found.  Students began their exploration with a visit to the Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey Museum. The Dinosaur Journey displayed real fossils, cast skeletons and robotic reconstructions of dinosaurs found in and around Western Colorado. At the museum, students were able to investigate fragments of bones, dinosaur footprints and real life fish that survived extinction. Many connections were built through hands-on experiences with paleontology digs and exposure to a working laboratory where scientists are piecing together bone fragments from local quarry sites.

Students then spent a day on a 25-mile stretch of the Colorado River, from Lomo to Ruby Horsethief, where they experienced local flora and fauna from juniper trees to bald eagles. Along the river students were surrounded by cliff faces with some of the oldest geological rock in all of Colorado. 18402658_1556318864391996_3849473205354267549_n

The trip came to a close with a hike to Rabbit Valley on the Trail through Time. The hike bridged classroom research to real life evidence of Jurassic fossils that are preserved in Sedimentary rock and available for students to touch and examine close-up. Throughout the trip, adventure, songs, and reflection provided meaningful experiences for individual growth and class bonding.

For a fun video recap of their trip please visit:

A photo gallery can also be viewed on Flickr

For more information about Experiential Trips at TMS click here.


Karen Walker Announces Retirement

Dear Mountain School friends and families,

I am writing today to share with you that I plan to conclude my headship at Telluride Mountain School at the end of the 2017-18 year. I will miss my day-to-day activities and interactions with all of you, but after almost 20 years of service to the school, including what will be five as head, I am looking forward to a change. With our son about to graduate from college, Peter and I have decided that it is time to get after our “someday” plans, including spending more time at our retreat in Bluff, Utah.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine when I first passed through the doors of the Montessori classroom in the winter of 1998 towing a two-and-a-half year-old child that I would have the honor of serving as head of school of this remarkable institution.  I cannot imagine a greater honor; TMS has been the work of my lifetime. Now, it is time for me to prepare to say goodbye to an institution that has shaped the daily and annual rhythm of my and my family’s life for two decades.

As I prepare for this transition, I am grateful to the talented and committed board of trustees who have both guided and encouraged me, the faculty who bring their passion, knowledge, and limitless energy to the students and program, the administration who work behind the scenes with their brilliance, tenacity, and commitment, and of course the inspiring students and their supportive parents for whom we exist. Not least, I am grateful to the founders of the school for their enlightened vision of a school dedicated to important core values, strong academics, and engaging experiential learning.

The time is optimal for this transition. The school is on solid footing, we have just completed a strategic plan, are mid-cycle in our accreditation, and have initiated fundraising that will fuel our immediate goals— all of which will provide a strong foundation for advancement.  The school’s trustees are prepared to both sustain the school’s mission and engender a new period of growth, and I have every confidence in them to secure the future for TMS with the identification and appointment of the next head of school.

Through June of 2018, I am entirely committed to the school and will be working hard to ensure its ongoing success.  There is a lot to accomplish over the next year, and I am excited to finish that work and assist with the transition. I look forward to this new chapter with optimism and ask that you join me in supporting the school and its leadership as we move into this exciting period of growth and change.

With warmth and gratitude,

Karen Walker, Head of School
Telluride Mountain School
200 San Miguel River Drive, Telluride, CO 81435
(970) 728.1969, x11

Work Hard . . . Play Hard

This exciting experiential learning program combined the solace of Patagonia with the vibrant hubbub of cities such as Valparaiso!

DSC_0044 2

This spring, the 11/12-grade class embarked on a trip of a lifetime! The students spent three weeks immersed in Chilean culture. The trip was one part backpacking and wilderness skills, another part Environmental Science, and a third part Spanish and Latin American history.

Students began the trip with a pack on, hiking the new Patagonia National Park. In this pristine, turquoise-lake filled landscape, they reinforced essential skills such as river crossings, navigation, and backcountry cooking and hygiene. From there, they did a farm-stay and hike up to the base of the San Lorenzo glacier, learning more about the region’s ecology and geology along the way.

Farm Stay

Throughout both backpacking components, they discussed Chile’s land management issues: the balance of wilderness and farmland, river preservation, and the national park vision. Finally, they traveled to Santiago and Valparaiso, where they learned about the nation’s history, both ancient and contemporary, while brushed up on Spanish, sampled seafood, and walked art-filled streets.

To view photos of this trip click here.



Upcoming Spring Experiential Trips

Each spring the Telluride Mountain School sends its students out into the greater world for their experiential education programs.  These programs range from 3 days for the first and second grade students to 3 weeks for the ninth through 12th grade students.  While out on their experiential education programs, students immerse themselves in place-based learning opportunities that bring education to life.

This year the students will be participating in the following programs:

1/2 – Dinosaur Discovery in Fruita, CO
3/4 – Desert Adaptations in Moab, UT
5/6 – Ancients of the Southwest; Past and Present in the Four Corners Region
7/8 – Civil Rights in the Southern US
9/10 – Biodiversity, Spanish Immersion and Costa Rican Culture in Costa Rica
11/12 – Ecological Restoration, Climate Change and Chilean Culture in Patagonia

These experiences offer TMS students the ability to be first hand observers, researchers and explorers.  They help form lasting bonds between classmates, teachers and people they meet along their travels.  They inspire debate, action and further research, which students undertake upon their return to TMS in the form of an immersion project.  And perhaps most importantly these trips teach the students to be active, respectful travelers, critical thinkers and global citizens rather than passive tourists.

Community Science Explores Energy

DSC_0364In the last two weeks of February the 9th and 10th grade students participated in an Energy Unit for their Community Science class. Community Science is an experiential educational unit that incorporates field trips, presentations from industry professionals and classwork into an in depth look at energy. The Energy Unit focused on the lifecycle of energy from extraction or construction to consumption, renewable energy vs. non-renewable energy and the pros and cons of different energy sources. The field trips took us to the Ouray Hydro Plant, Norwood’s new solar farm and the Nucla New Horizon Coal Mine and Power Plant. DSC_0393

For their final project students were split into teams, each of which represented a different source of energy. These groups presented on what percentage of the San Miguel energy portfolio their energy source should occupy in San Miguel county in 10 years. This presentation took place in front of a guest panel composed of our county commissioners Kris Holstrom and Hilary Cooper as well as Kim Wheels of EcoAction Partners.

DSC_0357Special Thanks to the following people for helping to make this unit possible. Kim Wheels, Paul Hora, Ted Brewster, Ben Gardner, Hilary Cooper, Kris Holstrom, Greg Keller, Eric Jacobsen and everyone at the Nucla New Horizon Mine and Power Plant!

For more photos please visit: Flickr

Winter Ecology High Camp Hut Trip


This week the 7th and 8th Grade students packed their bags, put on their snowshoes and hiked up to High Camp Hut for a three day, two night Snow Safety and Winter Ecology program. The cozy log cabin, warm fireplace, blue skies and fresh snow made for a memorable experience!

-9Students learned about snow safety with Josh Butson of San Miguel Mountain Adventures and The Avalanche School. They dug snow pits, identified layers in the snow-pack and learned how to use a beacon shovel and probe.

For Winter Ecology they studied animal tracks, insulation and how animals survive winter, snow water equivalent and temperature. Each afternoon they sledded, played games and enjoyed the scenery. Nights were spent eating good food, playing games and reading.

-6Being surrounded by the San Juan Mountains in winter is a special experience. Each student left knowing more about the winter world around them, how to enjoy it safely and continue to investigate this magical season.

For more photos of the trip please visit: Flickr


Telluride Mountain School Authorized IB World School

dp-programme-logo-enAfter three years of preparation, Telluride Mountain School is proud to announce their new authorization as an International Baccalaureate World School. As of January 2017, Telluride Mountain School received its official approval to offer the prestigious Diploma Program; it is the only independent school in the state of Colorado to offer the program.

The IB Diploma Program will launch for the 11th and 12th grade students beginning in the fall of 2017.  For current underclassmen and prospective juniors and seniors at Telluride Mountain School, this implementation means an opportunity to participate in an internationally accredited and recognized college preparatory program. The IB Diploma Program is rigorous and will challenge students across the curriculum and further develop their critical thinking, communication, and creativity through classroom activities and independent projects.

Often compared to the AP program, the IB program is distinctive in a number of ways.  While both programs offer courses in which a student may earn advanced standing or credit in college, the IB Diploma Program offers a holistic approach with a global mindset and continuity between subjects over a two-year period. Through studies in six core subject groups in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics and the arts, the program broadens students’ educational experiences and challenges them to apply their knowledge and skills across the integrated curriculum. Additionally, students complete a set of core, interdisciplinary courses, including a critical thinking course titled Theory of Knowledge, independent coursework in Creativity, Activity and Service, and an independent Extended Essay, an in-depth, college-level research paper on a topic drawn from one of the core IB subject areas.

While all juniors and seniors at TMS will participate in the program, they may decide whether or not to attempt the full set of requirements for the IB diploma, a coveted distinction of high academic accomplishment. To earn the diploma, students must complete all course requirements, sit for six essay-format exams, three at the standard level and three at the higher level, and earn individual and cumulative scores that represent sufficient mastery across the six subjects.  Students who do not wish to sit all six exams can choose which individual IB exams they wish to take. Passing scores on individual exams can equate to college credit or advanced standing while undertaking the full set of exams places students in a pool of highly competitive students from around the world and creates a significant advantage for students applying to the most selective colleges.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program will comprise the core academic program at Telluride Mountain School for juniors and seniors. The cost of the program is included in tuition, with additional fees charged for the elective exams.  Students in the IB Diploma Program will also continue to participate in traditional Telluride Mountain School activities, including the school’s outdoor education, winter sports, and international experiential travel programs, where they will have the opportunity to build relationships with students from other IB schools.  This year’s juniors and seniors have planned travel to the Patagonia region of Chile for field studies in ecology, geology, and environmental science as well as a visit to an IB World School in Santiago. The school leadership envisions future exchanges and cohort activities within the worldwide network of  IB World Schools.

For more information pertaining to the IB Diploma Program please contact Andy Shoff, Associate Head of School at (970) 728-1969 or by email:


Save the Date! 1st Annual Telluride Holiday Gala

The Telluride Holiday Gala, is a classy evening with a cause!

Please join the entire Telluride community for an evening benefiting the Telluride Mountain School and Montessori scholarship fund.

Nearly 36% of the students who attend the Mountain School receive some form of financial assistance. This meaningful and very important event impacts both current and new students of the school, please attend and help give a child the opportunity to receive a Telluride Mountain School education.

For more information or to purchase tickets

Why We Get Outside With Our Students

I stand on a gravel switchback below Bridal Veil Falls with the Telluride Mountain School 11th and 12th grade students, fastening my climbing harness. It’s the first Friday of the school year and we’re going to do the Via Ferrata, a protected climbing and hiking route that traverses a narrow cliff band 200 to 400 feet above the valley floor. In Italian, Via Ferrata means “iron way” and this route follows a narrow path supported by iron rungs drilled into the rock and a cable running parallel that climbers can clip into for extra protection.

There is one section on this route called the Main Event, during which, at the route’s highest point, the natural path falls away and climbers must traverse a portion of the cliff, only using the rungs. To step out onto that first rung, with only air below you, takes commitment, trust and confidence — both in yourself and in your group.

And this is why we are doing this—to foster team building and leadership. Throughout the school year, I, along with a team of colleagues and parents have the responsibility, and privilege, of guiding these students in their last two years of high school and through the college counseling process. A journey that even for the most stoic and confident adolescents is scary. The students, although they rarely show it, are vulnerable and exposed in this process. The purpose of today’s exercise is to let them know it’s okay to be uncertain and they can trust each other, but more importantly themselves, when confronting the unknown.

Yet I know, even for the Telluride Mountain School, this is a pretty ballsy thing to do with students the first week of school. But I’m confident in each of them. Each has completed at least four years of Telluride Mountain School’s outdoor education program, one is certified as a Wilderness First Responder, we have two professional guides from Ryder/Walker and Telluride Mountain Guides, my co-teacher has extensive climbing experience, I have extensive outdoor experience, and all adults are either Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certified. We also had an “opt out” alternative and each one of these students opted in.

We move onto the route; everyone falls into their own pattern. Most quietly engage in conversations with the person in front of them, two are louder and boisterous, using humor to mask their nerves. We move to the Main Event and give each other space to move across the iron rungs. We hear the chattier boys in front, both known for their big mountain skiing and snowboarding.

“I shouldn’t be this scared,” one says. “There are different types of being scared, and I don’t like this one,” he continues as he moves across. “Noah is crying he is so scared,” he shouts out about his friend and classmate behind him.

We know he is joking, sort of.

I move onto the rungs with a student in front of me who is often quiet in class, but known for his musicianship. He wears black skinny jeans and a colorful tie-dyed shirt. I had convinced him earlier to take off his wallet chain before putting on his harness. I check in with him; he has a huge smile and confidently pauses so I can take a photo.

Behind me is the only female student on this expedition, a serious academic who plays violin in two orchestras. When we discussed the trip earlier in the week, she confessed that she was afraid of heights. I assured her she’d be okay. I check in with her as she moves across the Main Event and she is solid, nervously laughing at the commentating from the skier boys in front.

“This isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be,” she says as she steadily moves across each rung.

There are still exposed spots after the Main Event, but the mood is lighter. The students know the hardest part is behind them and they have more confidence to face the rest of the route. There are a few comments about college, the school year, last year’s short story contest, a class, or teacher, the Olympics – but for the most part, the conversation is trivial.

At the end of the route, we journal and the students discuss how they felt. One student offered that he was willing to do it because he knew had his class with him. Another observed that what seemed really scary at first, wasn’t that bad once you actually started moving through it; you got used to it. Another appreciated the talkative student’s humor. Each chimed in.

I began my journal entry with a line about completing the Via Ferrata with “my” students – a term I often take issue with because students do not belong to any teacher. When I hear this term, I often think of the lines in Kahil Gibran’s poem On Children in his collection The Prophet:

Your children are not your children

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

………..And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you

However, as I spent the day with this new batch of juniors and seniors I realized that “my” doesn’t mean ownership, but instead signifies relationship. In his book The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life, author and researcher Michael Gurian stresses the importance of building relationship in classrooms especially to successfully teach boys.

And this is why I am here with these eight 11th and 12th grade students, walking across iron rungs along a rock wall 450 feet above the valley floor below me. To build relationship. I’d be naïve to think that we’ll be able to bring the same energy and camaraderie from the Via into the classroom every day. I know in addition to the successes we’ll have, there will be conflicts throughout the year, student meetings, parent meetings, and disappointments.

But I also know we have this experience as a starting point and that we can move through the obstacles throughout the school year just like we did on the Via – carefully, intentionally, hopefully with a little humor, and most importantly together.

By Jesse McTigue