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Jim Ferguson

Jim FergusonNOLS Instructor since: 1984
Quote: "I see myself as a teacher and NOLS courses provide a stupendous avenue to teach people who are highly motivated to learn."

Jim Ferguson remembers reaching the crest of a knife-edged ridge in Alaska on his student course in 1982 and being told that if the next person on his rope team fell, he should jump off the opposite side of the ridge to catch him.

"Fergie" looked down at hundreds of feet of air that ended in a layer of clouds far below and thought, "This is absolutely crazy, there is no way I am ever going to be a mountaineer."

Seventeen years later, Fergie is one of the most respected mountaineering instructors at NOLS. He's led the annual Denali expedition, worked in British Columbia's Waddington Range, and instructed mountaineering courses in Patagonia, the Pacific Northwest, and Wyoming. In addition to courses, Jim also teaches several of the 60 NOLS instructor seminars, where instructors develop new skills each year. Somewhere in the intervening years, he forgot about the resolution he made that day in Alaska.

Fergie has worked for NOLS since 1984, spending many months in the wilderness. Ever since he was a kid, he's been drawn to places like Alaska. That lure is what brought him to NOLS in the first place.

"I had this idea that I could find some outdoorsy person in Alaska, someone I called a mountain man, to teach me everything he knew about the wilderness in exchange for having a helper who was willing to work hard all summer. I wanted to be a 'mountain man apprentice.' Try looking that up in the phone book!" Fergie laughs. When his search for such an apprenticeship failed, Fergie started looking for other ways to get to Alaska. A friend put him in touch with two people who ended up being NOLS instructors. The next thing he knew, he was heading to Anchorage for a mountaineering course.

Fergie paid for the course out of savings he'd earned from two summers working in a Miller beer bottle factory. Fergie worked the night shift searching all night long for defects in bottles that whipped by him at a rate of six bottles per second. The most challenging aspect of the job was trying to stay awake for the entire shift, and after two summers Fergie had enough money to go to NOLS.

These days, Fergie is known around NOLS for his meticulousness and his talents as a skier, mountaineer, and teacher. Fergie points to three factors that he likes about working for NOLS.

"First I like teaching," Fergie says. "I see myself as a teacher and NOLS courses provide a stupendous avenue to teach people who are highly motivated to learn. Second I'm comfortable in the woods, whether it is the quietness or the size of your world out there, or because I like the problem solving aspect, the fact that you need to rely on yourself to figure things out. And finally, it's the people I work with. The NOLS community is great," Fergie says.

Meet a few of the nearly 800 people who make NOLS the Leader…
Dave Anderson
Andy Bassett
Pip Coe
Matthew Copeland
Jim Ferguson
Victor Flores
Lindsay Nohl
Sarah Hueniken
Janeen Hutchins
Rey Johnston
Paul Koubek
Jen Lamb
Sarah Lancaster
Riley Hopeman
Brian Murphy
Fredrik Norrsell
Amy Rathke
Atila Rego-Monteiro
Katie Price
Kary Sommers
Phil Schneider
Shawn Stratton
Darran Wells
Missy White
Roger Yim

An early season Alaska Mountaineering course toting skis on the Matanuska Glacier.
© David E. Anderson

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