NOLS Course: Rocky Mountain Adventure, 1997
Instructor Since: 2008
Growing up in Lander, Wyoming, Riley Hopeman was introduced the outdoors immediately. Although his family never had a formal connection to the organization, he always felt as though we were a part of the NOLS community. Through family trips in the outdoors, as well as spending time with family friends involved with NOLS, it was only a matter of time before he applied for a course.
In 1997, upon receiving a local Rocky Mountain Scholarship, he enrolled on an Adventure Course. While this wasn’t Riley’s first introduction to the weight of a pack or multiple days in the backcountry, he quickly realized how little a 14-year-old actually knows. “Our first night we pitched our tent in a run-off bed,” recalls Hopeman. “And, of course it rained, my gear got soaked and I was immediately humbled. At 14, if that’s not eye opening, I don’t know what is.”
A year after his course, Riley spent the summer issuing equipment to students at NOLS Rocky Mountain, the same branch that outfitted his course. It was here where his obsession with gear began. “Student feedback is an incredible thing,” comments Riley. “You quickly realize that an item won’t work for every student.” However protracted, the eight-year NOLS hiatus that followed proved rewarding and productive.
Riley majored in Physical Geography and Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations (he acknowledges and jokes about the dissimilarity of the two interests in the same breath) at the University of Wyoming, where he also achieved great athletic success. A collegiate nordic skier, Riley was the 2005 USCSA 8.5km Classic national champion and helped his team achieve the national championship the next season.
Riley’s passion to ski at the collegiate level transcends into his enthusiasm for spending time in the outdoors. During his summers while attending the University of Wyoming, he led pack trips for Lander Llama Company, a Lander-based outdoor guide service. Here he gained first-hand experience in what he refers to as the “service industry.” “I loved being outdoors and I loved my clients, but I felt I had more to offer to people as an instructor than a guide.”
Upon graduation, with college degrees in tow, Riley was searching for a job that would help him to avoid the so-called “real world.” While periodically checking the NOLS Job Announcement Network, he came across a position where he could travel the country on a 36-foot vegetable oil and solar powered bus while spreading the word of NOLS. For the next year, Riley spoke with countless people sharing both his experience with NOLS, as well as explaining what a NOLS experience could do for them. “It is amazing how enthusiastic someone can become when you tell them about NOLS,” says Riley.
Following his stint on the NOLS Bus, Riley transitioned into a position within the marketing department. “It was basically the bus, without the bus,” he says. “Flying solo, I would book a series of events in a certain area and do presentations, classes, and clinics.” For over two years he would travel the country, before the call of returning to the field became too strong to put off any longer.
In May 2008, Riley fulfilled what seems like a life long time dream to become a NOLS instructor. For 35-days he developed a mastery of the skills needed to lead a group of students safety and efficiently. His enthusiasm for outdoor education can be felt immediately when a conversation is sparked. “The instructors on my student course changed my life,” says Riley. “I want to be that mentor for my students in years to come.”