Telluride Academy

It was all chill vibes during a Telluride Academy trip on the Gunnison River. (Photo courtesy of Sophie Fabrizio)

The folks at the Telluride Academy are busy getting ready for the 39th summer of experiential education. Beginning June 3, camps, which run through Aug. 16 and available to children ages 5-17, start.

The academy also hired new program director Sophie Fabrizio last fall, something that hasn’t happened since Executive Director Luke Brown took the job in 2006.  

“As an organization it was helpful for us to revisit and update that position,” Brown said. “We’re fortunate to land on Sophie Fabrizio who’s taken charge and moved full steam ahead.”

Training for approximately 25 new instructors begins Tuesday, followed by an overnight with a full staff of 55. Fabrizio hired the large class of freshmen instructors.   

“I’m looking forward to forming relationships with our staff so that they feel supported to make camping adventures come to life,” Fabrizio said.

With a shortage of affordable housing and the high cost of living in Telluride, retention of instructors is a challenge, she added.

“Living in Telluride is tough, and given that we can only offer 10 weeks of work, it’s even tougher,” Fabrizio explained. “So you know the instructors who are here really want to be here.”

The first session of camp that begins June 3 is the earliest start ever for the academy, with four programs geared towards local students.

“Local students are getting out earlier this year and starting school earlier in August,” Brown said. “We’re beholden to the school schedule.”

This summer, the academy will offer approximately 100 programs, which are unique ways, Brown said, “to experience our backyard.”

“You’ll see an enhancement of our pack animal programming,” he added. “And more opportunities for double overnights, which allow campers to go further afield and a lot of one-week options, where students are off-campus for long blocks of time on small micro-expeditions.”

Last summer was the first time the academy ran programming at High Camp, an in-holding of 320 acres located up Lizard Head Pass that’s owned by longtime area resident Cindy Farney.

“Cindy is very generous and a big advocate for outdoor wilderness education,” said Matt Guertin, who is entering his second year as director of High Camp programs. “We found that what kids really like is to be challenged in the outdoors. And a big part of that is the setting of High Camp, where you’re immersed in the mountains and you’re not going back in a van at the end of the day.”

High Camp will host two sessions of the new camp Survivor San Juans, two Alpine Academies, SUP Yogi, Wildlife Whisperers and the Outdoor Leadership Challenge.

“We’re going for a more utility-based mindset,” Guertin said. “We want to get older kids into programming where they learn skills that set them up for their own independent alpine adventures.”

Due to spring snows, high alpine programs may be rerouted in the early summer. Students may even need to rent snowshoes to access certain locations.

“When you look at what we dealt with last year with the lack of moisture and the rerouting around fire danger, we’ll take this any day,” Brown said.

Spring moisture translates to ideal conditions for river programming, a luxury that’s not always available the entire summer.

“Luckily, we have enough permits across the region that we can make adjustments for water if we need to,” Brown said.  

This summer will also mark the end of over three decades of Mudd Butts programming.

“Theater has always been a component of the academy and Mudd Butts has had a magical tenure,” Brown said. “Right now, we are focused on celebrating this final summer with program leaders Sally Davis, Kim Epifano and Mike Stasiuk.”

The academy also offers a tuition assistance program, which is a way to maintain 40 percent local enrollment across academy camps.

“Academy assistance is for regional students only,” finance director Larry Rosen explained. “And its purpose is to maintain our founding principles of an inclusive and diverse local enrollment.”

The academy raises $200K annually for students in the Telluride School District and in the workforce community.

Brown explained that while tuition absorbs industry costs like health and liability insurance and “monstrous” van leases, assistance funds help to underwrite those costs for the local community.

This year the academy launched a community-wide initiative called the All Play Scholarship. Teachers, mentors, coaches and anyone who works with youth in the Telluride area were invited to anonymously nominate a student for the scholarship who “would benefit from the academy experience, but may otherwise not be given the opportunity to attend due to financial challenges at home,” according to Rosen. The scholarship allows 75 percent off tuition on any academy program and resulted in 100 nominations.

“A lot of these kids have never been to the academy before and for us, it’s important that we’re reaching the community and families most in need,” Brown said.

Another assistance program launched this year called Teacher Love offers teachers, school district and youth program workers a 60 percent discount off academy programs for their kids.

The Local Love program informs by email each Wednesday those in the Telluride School District and the workforce community about programs with availability and offers a discount code.

For more information on summer programming, visit