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Three Elements that Make a Challenge Hike

While away from their everyday lives at Keystone Science School’s summer camp, kids get the chance to step out of their comfort zones, gain independence, and learn about themselves. Challenge Hikes are one of many ways that campers and students can learn these lessons. Simply put, a hike is just a long walk. Sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for being social, and sometimes for exercise. Our Challenge Hikes combine all three of these elements into one influential experience for campers.

challenge hike kss

The first and most apparent element of a Challenge Hike is the physical challenge of walking itself. We believe that campers are almost always capable of much more than they think they are. It is our job on a Challenge Hike to help campers show themselves how much they are capable of, and to provide support for campers so that they can reach their potential. In their typical routines, most kids do not get the opportunity to push their limits and learn how strong they really are. Our Challenge Hikes are chosen to be appropriate difficulties for kids of all abilities. For some, stepping onto the trail is an achievement, while others may be ready to scale alpine peaks. Rather than focusing on the destination as an achievement, we focus on the personal accomplishments of each camper, and the destinations become an extra treat.

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From Camper to Student, the KSS Progression

We have two terms in which we refer to our participants during the summer season. We have campers and we have students. We refer to participants in any Day Camp, Discovery Camp, or Discovery Adventure as campers. The most important aspect of KSS for campers!

The camper experience should be one of fun, community, learning, and growth. The focus for campers is the traditional camp experience: games, campfires, friends, skits, s’mores, in essence, everything that makes camp, camp. We want campers to grow by pushing themselves in an environment that is comfortable and nurturing for their development. We break down barriers through songs, skits, costumes, and goofy camp magic. The camper experience is a phenomenal building block towards becoming a student. Campers are introduced to the tools that they will later use when they graduate to our more trying programs.

kss progression camper to student

The student experience is designed to look and feel different from a camper experience. Participants in our Discovery Expeditions are referred to as students. While the camper experience is centered around fun, the student experience is more concentrated on learning and challenge.

The core curriculum of Discovery Expeditions are leadership development and outdoor living skills. Students in these programs will be challenged. We push our students physically, mentally, and emotionally to grow in a safe environment. Students are physically tested through hiking, backpacking, and other adventures, but we also challenge students to learn to lead their peers and discuss topics such as diversity and inclusion. The student experience is not always an easy one, but it is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences KSS can offer.

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Summer Staff Training: Preparing Instructors to Change Lives

kss staff training 1

We believe that the key to exceptional camper and student experiences is having a professional, caring, and happy staff. While we have ongoing mentorship and meetings throughout the summer, the bulk of our training starts before any campers or students arrive.

Building the best staff starts long before the sunny days of summer. We begin building our staff in the heart of winter when snow still buries our mountains. Applicants go through a thorough interview process so that we can find those who best fit at the Keystone Science School. In order to be hired applicants must obtain at a minimum a Wilderness First Aid and CPR certifications. Many of our staff members go above and beyond and obtain their Wilderness First Responder. They then must pass a comprehensive background check before being welcomed into the KSS family.

Training starts in early May with our camp leadership team coming together to bond, prepare, and put the finishing touches on summer plans. After our leadership team, the next to arrive are our overnight camp staff. This includes the staff for our Discovery Camp, Discovery Adventures, and Discovery Expedition programs. All of our overnight staff goes through 2 weeks of intensive training including:

  • Risk management and decision making
  • Covid protocol training 
  • Colorado State Licensure training
  • Curriculum and teaching training 
  • Wilderness training
  • Mental health training
  • Camp activity training
  • Social-Emotional Learning training 
  • And much more!

Our day camp instructors are the last to arrive for training. Day camp staff joins the team and quickly becomes part of the KSS family. As soon as they arrive, the day camp staff gets to work on becoming the best counselors they can be. The day camp staff receives all of the above training with a special focus on elementary school-aged children.

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Adventure, not just for the kids!



Drop your children off at summer camp and have your own fun adventure!

Keystone Science School has a summer camp program located in Summit County, Colorado, a hotbed of adventure, outdoor activities, and amazing food. Most people know Keystone and Summit County because of skiing and snowboarding but it is quickly becoming a summer destination. A common saying among locals is, “I came here for the winter, but stay here for the summer.”

So you just dropped your precious cargo in the hands of super qualified and awesome Keystone Science School counselors and… now what? Well, it’s time to start enjoying that well-earned time for yourselves and you better hurry up because there is way too much to do in this neck of the woods and you don’t want your kids to have more fun than you.

From the top of Loveland Pass to the edge of Green Mountain Reservoir, from the back of Keystone Mountain to the south of Breckenridge, and the towns of Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne all connected by the Dillon Reservoir (Lake Dillon), you are set up for a mountain adventure even if you never leave your car.

If your legs are up for it, a bicycle is an awesome mode of transportation to explore Summit County. The bike trails, paved and dirt are endless. If you are driving here to Keystone, bring those bikes. You will have more options to explore from wherever you land. Your feet can also access these same trails too.

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2021 is the Year of Connection for KSS

2021 kss year of connection 2 2020 day campers learning the web of life

By Ellen Reid, Executive Director

In the quiet moments that I carved out for myself in 2020 (while few and far between), I took time to reflect, hoping to learn from the chaos and upheaval surrounding me. Most of the time, my mind wandered to thoughts of which way to go on the trail or how happy my puppy seemed.

Recently, though, I had the realization that I really missed people. Being around people, laughing with them, listening to their stories, learning from them. It’s probably a realization most of you had months ago and my introverted self was slow to come around. Sure, I’ve participated in my share of Zoom calls attempting to remain connected to work peers, family, and friends. But nothing can replace in-person time together.

We are inherently social beings and being connected is good for us. In 2014, Dr. Emma Seppala, the Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, noted that “strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity, strengthens your immune system, helps you recover from disease faster, reduces anxiety and depression…Social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being.”

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