A windswept, snow-covered ridge in the Jewel Basin is a long way from Flathead High School.
But for students in the school’s Alpine Club, this is Outdoor Adventure 101.
The school’s Alpine Club — and a similar program at the Kalispell Junior High School called the Adventure Club — brings a wide array of outdoor activities to the students, from hiking and mountain biking to avalanche education, alpine skiing, backcountry skiing and winter camping. In two weeks, the students from both clubs will participate in a backcountry ski trip to Mount Aeneas in the Jewel Basin.
Growing up in Redlands, Calif., Eric Sawtelle witnessed the power of the outdoors.
When he was in high school, Sawtelle was a member of his high school’s outdoor club and spent his free time rafting, hiking and exploring the outdoors. “That really got me into the outdoors,” he said. “I figured we needed some kind of club like that here, and be able to provide kids with that kind of opportunity.”
Sawtelle, now a science teacher at Flathead High School, brought that passion for the outdoors to his students at Kalispell Junior High School by forming the junior high’s Adventure Club.
English teacher Rob Ford, Sawtelle’s peer at Flathead High School, runs a similar program called the Alpine Club. Next year, as both schools combine their ninth grades, Sawtelle and Ford will combine their respective programs into one outdoor program called the Alpine Adventure Club.
It’s the two teachers’ goal to offer Flathead High School students an alternative to traditional high school sports, and provide a healthy, educational, outdoor experience.
“There are no cuts here,” Sawtelle said.
This fall, with the opening of Glacier High School, students from that school can participate in the Alpine Club, Sawtelle said, if they don’t form their own outdoor program.
The clubs’ goal is to continually improve the students’ outdoor skills, so that the level of activities continues to challenge the students. Last year, Ford and Sawtelle accompanied a student on a technical climbing trip to the summit of Grand Teton in Wyoming.
Sawtelle sees the Alpine Club continuing to grow in popularity. About 40 students take part in the club activities each year. “There’s a lot of room to expand it. Every trip we do, there’s plenty of interest. We’ve got good participation and a great group of kids,” Sawtelle said.
The outdoors are a large part of people’s lives in northwest Montana. Many of the students in the junior high and high school outdoor clubs already have solid outdoor experience, Sawtelle said, but for others, the clubs give them their first taste of the outdoors.
Whether or not the students have outdoors experience, the clubs are all about “getting kids together outside in a positive environment,” Sawtelle said.