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Alumni Outdoor Pioneers

Andy Carson
Andy Carson, who taught for NOLS for many years before buying Jackson Hole Mountain Guides in 1984.

Andy Carson
Climbing Guide

“I got a letter from Paul Petzoldt in the early winter of 1965. The letter was an invitation to attend this new school called NOLS and I jumped at the chance,” reminisces Andy Carson about the school’s early days. “It’s going to be neat,” Petzoldt continued.  He was right.

In the summer of 1965, Carson attended the first NOLS course in the Wind River Range with instructors Tap Tapley and Paul Petzoldt.  “The first group was very small,” says Carson. “After that I worked summer courses until 1970.”

In 1970, Carson recalls that NOLS experienced a major shift and expansion. “The school received some national press from the Alcoa Hour, then a popular television show, who sent Mike Wadleigh,” says Carson. “[Wadleigh] was the same guy who filmed Woodstock.”

Growing up in Pasadena, Calif., Carson toured around the country as a child and young adult. “We used to do a lot of classic American car-camping. We would scramble to the top of summits of this and that, but nothing technical. My first roped climb was at the Wisconsin Dells.”

When the young outdoorsmen moved to Wyoming to join Petzoldt, he was aware of the mission for the school, which was intended to help shape outdoor travel in the United States.

“Paul had been working for Outward Bound before he started NOLS. Outward Bound had only one school in Colorado at the time and was still very much based around English outdoor style,” says Carson. “Paul wanted to start a school that stressed camping, group dynamics and safe mountain travel.” 

In 1984, after working for NOLS, Outward Bound, Exum and other guiding services, Carson bought Jackson Hole Mountain Guides from Berry Corbet, an influential mountaineer who was paralyzed after a helicopter accident. In 2000, he sold the guiding company to former NOLS graduates. He is still considered an expert on mountaineering in the Tetons and serves on the board of the Access Fund.

Carson is now 57 and lives in Wilson, Wyo., where he has lived since 1972. These days, he manages property that he bought in Jackson Hole many years ago.  “Retired? No, I’m enjoying a life that has a little more freedom than working a 9 to 5 kind of day.”

Carson still occasionally climbs with his son and daughter.

- Will Waterman

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