Austin Dyer fell in love in college, but not in the usual way. A bit of a self-described lost soul, the then-Texas State undergraduate wandered into the offices of the university outdoor program and found a home away from home. One trip later, the University of Colorado Denver’s first-ever outdoor adventure coordinator was born.
“It was an eight-day backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon,” said Dyer, who, like millions of people, was overwhelmed by the deep, colorful chasm, a natural Western wonder formed by the Colorado River. “At that moment, I’m like: OK, this is what I want to do.”
An outdoor-focused life
With his newfound passion and the influence of his outdoor mentors, the Texas native forged his college path, earning his bachelor’s in recreation administration and his master’s in higher-education administration. His vision: someday teaching others about the life-changing power of nature.
Seeing the outdoors in seven dimensions
The Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center, the result of a student-led initiative, was created with the intent of nurturing holistic wellness for its CU Denver community members and was thus based on seven dimensions. Dyer touched on each dimension as it relates to outdoor recreation:
If you are doing it right, outdoor adventures are human-powered and fitness-focused.
The pull of nature is naturally ingrained in humans, connecting us with our future and our past.
Nobody will carry you up that mountain. Outdoor sports instill independence and self-confidence in achieving goals.
It’s all about the environment. Outdoor enthusiasts should follow the tenets of “Leave No Trace,” principles Dyer teaches that are all about understanding and protecting the environment.
Relatively speaking, outdoor entertainment is cheap.
It’s inevitable: Things happen. And in the backcountry, any problem often takes some seriously creative problem-solving.
When exploring the outdoors with others, reaching goals and overcoming obstacles together creates a special bond that’s hard to break.
“I wanted to be able to share my experience with university students,” said Dyer, who found his way to Colorado after graduating, working as a mountaineering guide in Boulder and Estes Park. “The outdoors provides a vast classroom for experiential learning and self-discovery.”
Yet Dyer soon realized that his narrow career choice limited his chances of clinching a job, especially in the competitive outdoor mecca of Colorado. So he grudgingly left the Rocky Mountains and headed south.
Finding a dream job
“I had a lot of friends out here, but I mostly missed the mountains,” Dyer said, recalling his time in Alabama mourning the loss of unmet adventure goals he had set for himself in the Colorado high country.
Then serendipity struck again. Dyer spotted a job posting for “outdoor adventure coordinator” at the brand-new, CU Denver Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center.
“I had never seen a job description that was more tailor-made for me,” Dyer said. Beating what even his new boss called “astronomical” odds, he had found his dream job. “When I got the call that I got the position, I stuck my head out the window and yelled for joy.”
Sharing skills and instruction
Now, CU Denver students can benefit from Dyer’s contagious passion and outdoor expertise. An all-season outdoor adventurer, Dyer’s favorite sports are mountain-climbing, mountain-biking, skiing, trail-running and paddle-boarding, “in that order,” he said.
“My main sport is climbing,” said Dyer, who began teaching climbing-fundamental workshops with the opening of the Outdoor Adventure center and its 38-foot climbing wall this summer.
Along with his multifaceted expertise, Dyer stood out as an applicant for his passion and personality, according to CU Denver Executive Director of Wellness & Recreation Services Amber Long. “We wanted someone who would engage our students in the outdoors,” Long said.
Building an outdoors culture
“That’s the coolest opportunity for me,” Dyer said of being asked to preach his passion as part of his job description. Because CU Denver has never had an outdoors program, it has no outdoors culture, he said, adding that he even runs into Denver locals who have never been to the mountains. “You’re like: Wow, can I drive you right now?”
For members who already are outdoors people, part of Dyer’s job includes oversight of a rental shop stacked with inflatable paddle-boards, ice axes, tents, sleeping bags and more. Campers can rent anything from a “bear can” or a “camp chair” for $3 per day to a sleeping bag or backpack for $5 per day.
For those who prefer a guide, Dyer has plans for many trips in the years ahead; his first weekend outing set for the San Juan Mountains on Oct. 12 is already sold out. For $35, adventurers will experience Colorado’s outdoors with transportation, food, gear and planning all included.
“They basically just have to show up with their clothes.” A longer outing in Rocky Mountain National Park slated for Nov. 16 through Nov. 20 still has slots available. The Thanksgiving-break backpackers will return in time for the holiday.
Teaching safety, peace and presence
Dyer, a member of the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) and a wilderness first-responder, teaches preparedness and safety and emphasizes the therapeutic “peace” of the outdoors.
“Being in nature forces you to ignore the responsibilities that you have at home. When you are in the middle of the woods, there’s nothing you can do but be present,” he said. “And I preach being unplugged when you are in the backcountry.”
Dyer, who has already led two day-hikes, one with freshmen and one with new international students, said introducing people to the backcountry is his proven dream job. “Getting to see other people’s faces light up as they see these beautiful views for the first time is incredible. I’m lucky. It’s really hard to put into words.”
“When you are in the middle of the woods, there’s nothing you can do but be present.”