Noah Koski ‘10: Life Outside

Noah Koski ‘10

Noah Koski, class of 2010, grew up in the Sun Valley Community School Outdoor Program. Today, he heads up the Compassionate Leader Program for Flourish Foundation and leads trips for our Outdoor Program. We checked in with Noah as he was just off this year’s 6th grade City of Rocks trip to find out why he has pursued climbing and what role our Outdoor Program played in his world.

H+T: What trips do you remember most vividly from your time at SVCS?

Noah Koski: The trips I remember most vividly are Coast (10th), Grand Gulch (8th), Solo (11th), Senior Quest, Red Rocks (6th), the 5th grade Seattle/Sailing trip, and the 4th grade Montana Trip.

H+T: Did you do a climbing trip in 6th grade to City of Rocks? If so, what do you remember loving about that trip? What challenges do you remember?

NOAH: I was on both City of Rocks and Red Rocks when I was in 6th grade. I remember climbing at the City when I was younger, but the 6th grade trip was really my first true introduction to climbing. I have a clear memory, before we roped up, of having to walk down a seemingly too steep granite slope with climbing shoes on and learning to trust my feet and the rubber on the rock. I remember loving the collaborative experience of climbing, cheering others on, feeling trusted when belaying, overcoming fear while others supported me. I remember loving the easy pace of a climbing day, spending time outside at the bottom of a cliff talking with friends, moving into a personal physical challenge, and then returning to spending time sitting with others at the base.

Climbing has become one of the most valuable activities I do in my life, and it’s directed a lot of places I’ve dedicated my time to—climbing all over Southeast Asia, India, and Colombia. These international trips—partially dedicated to climbing—have built me up in so many ways. Climbing has become a focal point in my life and fuels much of what I do.

H+T: Why do you lead trips now? What has the Outdoor Program meant to you over the years?

NOAH:  When I was at Community School, the Outdoor Program challenged me in ways that allowed me to grow into someone I didn’t really think was “in there.” I wasn’t an athlete or particularly gifted with outdoor skills, but what struck me so much was how “human" spending time in the backcountry is. Of course, there is the physical effort, the knowledge of the fundamentals—packing well, setting up camp, cooking, staying healthy—but the most valuable pieces for me were connecting with other people. The Outdoor Program allowed me to connect with the backdrop of these beautiful wild spaces, and that shaped me in some pretty profound ways. These trips provided a relatively non-athletic student like me to see that the outdoors weren’t limited to grand, macho experiences. They were an avenue to dive deeper into myself, to understand myself on more levels, and to confront the way I grappled with difficulty, and the way I treated others while I was challenged myself. It opened my eyes to what I was capable of and gave me confidence which stretched beyond the outdoors, but confidence in so many avenues.

Since I’ve been leading five or six trips a year with SVCS over the past nine years, I’ve really wished to help provide a similar experience to current students. I am motivated to help create that space for others to grow; it feels like a natural way to give back and share my gratitude. How to be playful through challenges, thoughtful with actions, confident through adversity, and that the wilderness is the best place to learn deeply about yourself, and how to be in community. As young people have positive experiences in the wilderness, hopefully this helps develop a personal commitment to environmental stewardship, to care for and stand up for the wild spaces that allow us to grow so much.

H+T: Some favorite stories from this year's trip? Kids going beyond what they thought they could do? Grit and determination on display? Anything funny?

NOAH: The stories that always stand out are when students move through adversity with joy. This year we had a massive hail storm shortly after we set up camp, marble-sized hail, and the students all sat in their increasingly wet tents, laughing, only to burst out of the tents to cheers and smiles. In addition to that, seeing students find themselves on the top of a climb that they thought they’d never achieve is always a joy to see.

H+T: You are heavily involved with The Flourish Foundation—what do you do there and how did you find your way to that organization?

NOAH: I’ve been working with the Flourish Foundation for the past five years, directing their Compassionate Leader Program, running international trips for high school students to India, Morocco, and Mexico, and facilitating Mindful Awareness programs in the schools throughout the valley. I didn’t attend college after Community School, and instead I saved  money to travel and climb overseas, mostly in India and Southeast Asia. I was unsure what I wanted to study and decided to follow the things that were reliable sources of joy: working with youth (guiding for the Outdoor Program), traveling to places I felt would be adventurous and I’d find challenging, and developing my experience in contemplative practice, investigating my mind and the way I engage in the world. These all happened to align with Flourish, and after running into another SVCS Alum Emilie DuPont '00 working with Flourish in India, I found that the things I had been putting my effort into had value outside of myself, and voila! I’ve been working with this wonderful organization implementing some positive change in our community and beyond. We try to build positive, intentional community in our youth. Because our mental life determines the way we engage with the world, Flourish Foundation explores how we can transform our inner world to better engage in the outer world. Can we become kinder and more compassionate people to ourselves and others? If so, that's a win!

I’ve brought a lot of what I learned through the Outdoor Program into my work, most clearly through running Environmental Stewardship backpacking trips into the Sawtooths and the Frank Church Wilderness, applying the skills directly to wilderness experiences with youth, and more subtly in the way I teach and the values I hold.

H+T: Having been a student and now a trip leader with our Outdoor Program, what do you say is at the heart of the program?

NOAH: That the outdoor program is very human, and being human requires us to investigate ourselves, be in community with one another, and care deeply for our wild spaces. The Outdoor Program provides the perfect catalyst to tap into your humanity.