There are a lot of reasons to embark on Canadian Outdoor Leadership Training: as a break from your career, a gap year in your education, to learn new outdoor skills, become a guide or educator, retrain from military service, to challenge yourself, or become a better leader or team player. No matter which ones apply we think COLT is a great option, though it’s not ideal for everyone.
COLT involves land and water activities. It focuses on practical, hands-on education, mostly in the field and in all kinds of weather. You will be uncomfortable. You’ll spend a lot of nights under a tarp or inside a tent. Your fellow COLT students will be your new family and friends. Bottom line: it is going to be intense.
What we think it does better than any other program is to create outdoor educators. Lots of programs train guides, but an educator knows how to pass on their knowledge. It’s a subtle but important difference. An educator can guide, but a guide can’t always teach. The extra skills set you up for even more possible career options.
Why is COLT better than the competition?
Compared to other outdoor skill semesters we think COLT is the best. It offers better chances for employment. The most experience for your dollars and time. The location is ideal, and the format and instruction style optimizes learning.
That doesn’t mean we think COLT is right for everyone. If mountain and land skills are your interest, other programs are more focused. We don’t offer a college degree, like two-year programs, or the math and English courses they require.
For those looking for a diverse skill set, in an intensive, 100-day experience, COLT is the way to go. Here’s why:
|COLT||Sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking and canoeing, mountaineering, rock climbing, backpacking, leadership, first aid||Lake water canoe instructor, assistant sea kayak guide, radio operator, 80-hour first aid||$7,900 tuition plus $6,900 in accommodation and food|
|Yamnuska||Rock climbing, whitewater canoeing, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, first aid, leadership, mountaineering||Avalanche skills training, first aid||$11,200 to $13,000 including most meals and accommodation|
|College Adventure Tourism Program||Varies by program, includes college classes||Varies by program: raft guide, sea kayak guide, ski instructor, whitewater instructor, first aid||$9,800 not including meals or accommodation|
Length of Course
|COLT||Onsite work practicum, employment at Strathcona Park Lodge, sea kayak guide, climbing gym, hiking guide, outdoor education centre instructor||100 days||Job opportunities. Teacher training. Water and land skills|
|Yamnuska||Climbing gym, ski hill, hiking guide,||80 to 83 days||Land focus. Beginning of ski and rock guide progression|
|College Adventure Tourism Program||Raft guide, sea kayak guide, climbing gym||9 months to two years||College diploma|
For the time spent in the field, the price can’t be beat. Comparing COLT to other programs, particularly college programs, is like comparing a swimsuit to a canoe. COLT’s price includes all the accommodation and food during the entire three months. Most college programs are only charging course fees; living expenses (housing and food) add significant cost over two years.
Want to get working in the industry already? The COLT program is one of the fastest and most affordable ways of gaining the experience and education to become a sea kayak guide or outdoor educator. In three months you will be employable with many of the same skills as college grads.
We designed COLT’s curriculum to create employable outdoor leaders. Every year we offer some successful COLT graduates a spot in Strathcona Park Lodge’s Practicum, an on the job training program for outdoor educators. It’s excellent, real world, job experience and a great way to join the staff at Strathcona, one of Canada’s busiest and best outdoor education centres. You will meet many college program graduates working at Strathcona. Plus COLT graduates work all over the outdoor industry.
Strathcona Park Lodge is COLT’s base. The employees that call the Lodge home are welcoming and inspiring. They will be your friends and mentors. Living with other outdoor guides provides guidance and networking opportunities, which help with breaking into the professional outdoor scene.
You will spend three months living and learning with your COLT colleagues. It’s intimate and incredibly valuable, forcing you to develop leadership, group dynamics and group management skills in a real-world setting.
COLT is not about being guided. It’s about learning how to do it yourself. Our instructors are there to teach and to keep you safe, but also to let you make mistakes and, more importantly, help you learn from them. As the course progresses, students will progressively take on more leadership responsibilities until they are ready to start leading their trips.
COLT utilizes indoor and outdoor classes to optimize skill retention and understanding. Evenings at the Lodge are often spent learning skills in a theoretical setting or watching educational movies. During the day is when the real learning takes place in a hands on, supportive environment. It’s a group centred education. You’ll learn everything with your peers. It’s a formula that encourages success.
We reinforce regular oral feedback throughout the course with a written evaluation and interview with the COLT director at the middle and end of the semester.
We’ve been doing it longer than just about anyone else. We founded the COLT program in 1977. Read more about the history of the program.
Skills you will learn
Rivers, trails, rocks, ocean and forest are the COLT program’s main classroom. Spread over 100 days, that’s a lot of time to hone a bunch of skills. Some are specialized – like learning how to roll a kayak. Others come in handy in every environment – like navigating with map and compass.
Just as important is the “soft” skills. Living in a small group, learning new skills in a challenging environment will force you to develop and hone your group management, problem-solving, communication and leadership skills. These hard-to-teach skills have crossed over to any job that involves working with a team of colleagues, in any setting, indoors or out.
- Sea kayaking – everything needed to plan and execute two multi-day wilderness expeditions
- Whitewater kayaking and canoeing – progressing from forward strokes to rolling a kayak to a three day overnight trip down the Nimpkish River
- Mountaineering – the rope work and climbing techniques necessary to get off the trail and into the alpine
- Rock climbing – going from “climb on” to the top of a five-pitch Squamish classic and everything in between needed to hit the crag safely
- Backpacking – traveling through the Vancouver Island mountains on a trail, leaving no trace along the way
- First aid – learning to deal with any wilderness emergency with 80 hours of training
- Navigation – finding the way off the trail with a map and compass
- Leadership – experience guiding a group in different wilderness situations
- Group dynamics – living, learning and working with the same people for 100 days
- Perseverance, determination, problem-solving, etc. – traveling through the wilderness never ends up going quite as planned
Certifications you will earn
Beyond the hard skills, COLT students have the opportunity to earn six certifications. Recognized throughout the outdoor industry, they open the door to jobs and careers.
- Lake Water Canoe Instructor – teach flat water canoeing, guide canoe trips
- Assistant Sea Kayak Guide – day trip kayak guide or assistant on multi-day trips
- Restricted Marine Radio Operators Course – any job that involves radio work
- 80 hour Wilderness First Aid – any overnight wilderness trip
- Swiftwater Rescue Technician – a minimum certification for any river-based work
- West Coast Trail Guide – accreditation to guide on the world famous West Coast Trail
The COLT director hires instructors for the COLT program who are not only experts in their given field, but who are educators as well. These are people who are passionate about teaching their craft and inspiring adventurers. Many are leaders in their field. They also provide a window into possible career paths and are a treasure of advice on how to make the outdoor world more than a hobby.
Meet some of COLT’s talented instructors.
When you graduate
The whole point of COLT is to produce job-ready graduates (see how COLT compares to other similar programs).
COLT alumni have exclusive access to a practicum at Strathcona Park Lodge. The list of jobs COLT students land, right out of the program, is long. And you can find grads all over the outdoor industry: guiding trips in the Himalaya, heli-skiing in British Columbia, sea kayak in Belize, running outdoor tour businesses, managing climbing walls, putting up first ascents and descents.
As a COLT grad, when you apply for a job, it’s not just your resume they’re seeing, but a little piece of all the COLT students who have gone before you.
Read about where some of our alumni are now.
Some COLT graduates will be offered a working practicum at Strathcona Park Lodge. During this unpaid work experience, you will shadow Strathcona instructors as they teach school-aged children everything from rock climbing to overnight camping skills. At first, you will mostly observe, but as the weeks go by you will gradually take on more of a leadership role. It is an excellent experience for whatever job you choose to pursue afterwards.
Jobs you can do right out of COLT
- assistant multi-day sea kayak guide
- lead day-trip sea kayak guide
- day and overnight hiking guide
- rock climbing gym instructor
- outdoor education instructor
- flat water canoe instructor or guide
- kayak instructor
- international travel guide or leader
- youth at risk or adjudicated youth worker