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Empowerment in learning new skills with the AS Outdoor Center

The Stevens Pass excursion provides an opportunity for first-time skiers

Western Washington University students ski under a lift on a snowy mountain. The Stevens Pass excursion is one of many led through the university’s Associated Students Outdoor Center. // Illustration by Sam Fozard

The Associated Students Outdoor Center is hosting a beginner Nordic Skiing excursion Feb. 17-19 at Stevens Pass. This particular trip is just one example of opportunities for newbies to develop skills in winter sports and participate in group bonding activities.

With Mount Baker just an hour from campus, many Western Washington University students pack up their gear and make the drive each weekend. According to Nico Ryden, outdoor excursion leader and past participant, it can be intimidating to join in while not knowing the basics. Excursions such as this are built on community learning and creating a safe space for first-timers.

“Within every excursion, community is one of our greatest desires. We want to create environments that are inclusive and reflective of the campus community,” Kateri Rinallo, AS excursions coordinator said. “Winter is the hub of all snow sports. Therefore, we plan a lot of skiing, snowshoeing, clinics and snow frolicking trips.”

These outdoor excursions not only serve as resources to learn a new skill, but also to connect with others, through experiences that rely on trust and communication. Ryden, one of the excursion leaders for the upcoming ski trip, spoke about the impact they’ve witnessed from these trips as a leader since 2021.

“I feel like one of the most positive things I've seen is just a group of people coming away from an excursion feeling a sense of community and belonging to that group, and feeling empowered and competent in a new set of skills,” Ryden said.

In addition to an excursion, there are some small ways to set yourself up for successful learning, both in how you prepare and in attitude. 

“I would say dedicate time to it... it's hard though,” said Katherine Gooding, a former ski instructor at Snoqualmie Summit. “It's a money thing. But obviously I'd say repetition is super helpful. And also prepare yourself before you go, especially if you're our age, you can watch videos on YouTube and just get some basic understanding of what you're doing before you do it.”

Ryden said that classic skiing, where you are moving more in a walking motion, as opposed to skate skiing, where you are moving side to side, can be a good introduction for people first learning the sport — as it can feel more natural for your body. 

The AS Outdoor Center also hosts quarterly excursions that are for women and non-binary people, some of which have been proposed and planned by Ryden. They shared how they want to create a space for identities who are not traditionally represented in outdoor spaces, and the feeling of safety that brings to people putting themselves in an unfamiliar environment.

“That was really empowering for me because I'm a part of that group. And I can feel really intimidated in outdoor spaces,” Ryden said. “I felt like that could bring a lot of new folks onto our trips... people of all gender identities, because a lot of outdoor trips can be really dominated by cis men and that is really intimidating.”

Although the upcoming Nordic ski excursion is full, there is a waitlist available for all future excursions here

“Enter with an open mind, speak your needs, challenge yourself and get to know those around you. Biggest thing, enjoy the experience!" Rinallo said.

Other outdoor excursions for beginners are scheduled in the coming weeks. Notably, the Mountaineering Clinic on Feb. 21 and the Lummi Island kayak and camp tour from March 9-10.

Mina Di Virgilio

Mina Di Virgilio (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year Spanish major and journalism/public relations minor. Outside of reporting on Western’s campus, Mina enjoys reading, drawing, and figure skating. You can reach her at

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