National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Patagonia is the Chilean branch of the North American -based organization, which uses the outdoors as a classroom for teaching leadership, technical adventure sports skills, leave no trace, and conservation issues. The majority of NOLS Patagonia students are college-aged young people from the United States who attend year, semester, and shorter term courses in mountaineering, rock climbing, sea kayaking, and hiking. Each course cohort includes a scholarship student from Chile. NOLS Patagonia also has a growing Spanish program which offers mountaineering, sea kayaking, wilderness first responder, and outdoor educator courses. While English-language courses are held in Patagonia, some Spanish program courses are taught near Santiago, the capital and population center. Spanish program courses are shorter than most NOLS Patagonia core courses as a way to be accessible to Chileans and other South Americans, in terms of time required and tuition costs.
NOLS staff are experts in technical outdoor skills, outdoor education, and leadership training in experiential formats. In their own athletic pursuits, NOLS Patagonia instructors are accomplished and respected leaders at the forefront of their sports. In Patagonia, it would be rare to find a group that is as knowledgeable about the region’s backcountry geography. NOLS Patagonia’s staff is also planted firmly in Chile and Patagonia. Half of the in-town staff is Chilean, and they have all lived in Coyhaique where the branch is located for at least several years. The non-Chilean in-town staff (primarily from the United States) is composed of individuals who have made long-term commitments to living and working in Patagonia; they have each been at NOLS Patagonia for multiple seasons. There is a similar breakdown in the instructor staff. Whereas the branch was started without any Chilean instructors, there are now 20 Chileans out of 57 (2015-16), and, as with the in-town staff, many of the foreign-based instructors (9 countries are represented) have spent multiple seasons leading courses at NOLS Patagonia.
NOLS Patagonia is affected by forces that will determine the long-term sustainability of its expedition-based courses in Patagonia:
1. NOLS expeditions are conducted in wilderness, which in Patagonia is becoming less remote and more developed.
2. Land ownership in Patagonia is changing. Where ranchers and other landowners have been generous in allowing NOLS Patagonia to use their open land, newcomers are more likely to restrict access to visitors.
3. As more people visit Patagonia for sightseeing, rock climbing, mountaineering, paddling and other outdoor activities, overuse, litter, and other impacts threaten the natural landscape.
4. The behavior of members of the outdoor community (schools, guides, environmentalists, etc.) affects how receptive the general public, businesses, and policy makers are to the emerging outdoor education and adventure tourism industry.