The bright sun has been melting the sparkly snow of Snow Mountain Ranch’s trails all morning, but that’s not stopping a group of sixth-graders from strapping on snowshoes for a hike. Kaily McNamara, a fit 34-year-old and new Outdoor Education (OED) instructor is helping a young girl into the baby blue snowshoes. For Kaily, this short snow trek is a walk in the park compared to her usual expert expeditions up fourteeners in the Rockies, but she brings the same enthusiasm to get the kids excited to explore a small slice of SMR’s 5,000 acres. For Kaily, any trek is a big accomplishment when the kids return safe, sound and excited about nature.
Meet Kaily McNamara, a California native and Colorado adoptee, who is beyond excited to teach Outdoor Education to the children of the Front Range. Kaily, an avid climber and backcountry skier, can’t remember a time before she loved nature and camping. Even when her family vacationed in Disneyland, they camped in the cement campground provided by the park. In her twenties she made a habit of working seasonally to support her travels to South America, India, Thailand and Europe. Oftentimes, she’d sell her car and house to leave town with a plane ticket and a backpack.
After graduating with a degree in Biology and Education from the University of Montana, Kaily accepted a two-year teaching job at an international school in Atyrau, Kazakhstan. She quickly learned that locals keep to themselves and that Kazakhstan gets very, very cold— even compared to Fraser, Colorado! During the winter, the temperatures would hover around -25 Fahrenheit for up to six weeks. That meant that her students weren’t allowed to play outside—a far cry from the outdoor teaching Kaily was used to. Needless to say, she didn’t feel at home in the land where it’s common to eat horse and where the mountains were hundreds of miles away.
Returning to the states meant reconnecting with the mountains she loved and working for Outward Bound, guiding outdoor adventure seekers of all ages through the backcountry of Colorado. Finally, after years of globetrotting and chasing the endless summer, she and her husband have settled in Grand Lake to enjoy views of the Rockies while sharing their backyard with a friendly moose. “I’m so excited to combine my experience as a science teacher and an outdoor educator with Snow Mountain Ranch’s OED program,” Kaily says.
Snow Mountain Ranch’s OED courses combine life skills and academics in a way that’s more engaging and interactive than a traditional classroom. All courses meet the Colorado Academic Standards and can be catered to any age group. Last year, 2,259 students learned about forest and water ecology, pioneering, gold mining, orienteering, team building, and wilderness survival. Wintertime OED classes include Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing to take full advantage of the Snow Mountain Ranch’s 100 km of groomed Nordic trails.
MaryAnn Degginger, Program Director at Snow Mountain Ranch, is thrilled to welcome Kaily to the OED family. After 10 years at Snow Mountain Ranch, MaryAnn has seen first hand how OED programs change lives. “OED gives students a great introduction into life in the mountains, which we believe every child in Colorado should experience.”
OED students discover much more than the natural world— they discover themselves. “Take a kid who doesn’t fit in at school or in their family and put them with a group of strangers deep in nature, and suddenly they realize how important they are to the group,” Kaily says. OED is “all about stretching comfort zones.” Kids learn to conquer their fears as they hike into the unknown.
Back on the ranch, Kaily leads the line of young, bundled snowshoers into the pines with a smile on her face. Even after years of extreme outdoor experience, Kaily, can relate to OED participants who are new to nature. “I’d never really backpacked prior to my first climb up the 18,897 ft mount Pisco, in South America and I’ve never been so humbled.” Kaily knows that it’s not about how high you climb, but rather finding inspiration and learning along life’s many journeys.