Dipping Her Toes into a Professional Guiding Career
How one Colorado Mountain College outdoor student landed her first job in the outdoor industry before graduating
One year ago Leah Elkins completed Kayak Touring Leadership, her first water-based outdoor field course at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. It was through this experience that the Outdoor Recreation Leadership student discovered her passion for guiding and kayaking - an interest that has lead to a growing career in the outdoor industry.
“Thanks to Colorado Mountain College, I’m a sea kayak guide for San Juan Kayak Expeditions for the upcoming summer season of 2019,” says Leah, who will soon relocate to Friday Harbor, WA for the position, “I'll be leading half day, full day, and multi-day trips in the San Juan Islands.”
The 2018 Kayak Touring Leadership class taught Leah technical skills, leadership skills, and gave her the confidence to dip her toes into professional guiding. After she returned from the class, which was based in the San Juan Islands, she applied to be an intern for next year’s class and enrolled in Kayaking and Swift Water Rescue. She also accepted the TA (Teacher’s Assistant) position for Land and Water Navigation before returning to the San Juan Islands for the 2019 Kayak Touring Leadership course as a student intern.
“I grew up kayaking on the east coast,” says Leah who is originally from Charleston, SC, “ but I didn't have the skills I needed to be a kayak guide until Colorado Mountain College’s outdoor courses. My kayaking instructors, Pete Huber and Kent Clement, have so much experience and patience. They taught me about risk management, leadership, self-rescuing and I felt comfortable learning at my own pace.”
After jumping at every opportunity to cultivate leadership experience in-and-around water, Leah saw a job opening listed on the CMC Basecamp page, a team communication tool for students, staff, and faculty. San Juan Kayak Expeditions was looking to fill an internship guide position. Before sending her application, she had CMC staff review her resume and asked her instructors to provide references.
“I was actually hired as a lead guide! I always knew I loved the outdoors but I never knew I could make a career of it until I came to Colorado Mountain College,” says Leah, “Of course, I have a lot more to learn and I certainly have the passion to learn it.”
Before heading out to start her guiding career, Leah will graduate from Colorado Mountain College with two Associate degrees in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Outdoor Education. She’s certainly made the most of her time at CMC—discovering her passions, growing her skillset and leveraging connections to build a career in the outdoor industry.
“You don't need to be an experienced outdoor enthusiast to be successful at Colorado Mountain College. You just need a passion for it,” says Leah, “The OUT program took me, a novice but enthusiastic outdoorsman, and helped me earn the skills to enter the outdoor industry as a professional.”