The University of Wyoming is one of the best colleges in the country when it comes to winter, according to a College Consensus, a website that aggregates college rankings and student reviews.
UW was No. 18 on the site’s list of “Best Colleges for Winter Life,” which looked for schools that embrace the cold and snow. The list noted the area’s annual snowfall of 58 inches, the variety of offerings through the UW Outdoor Program and the proximity of ski resorts, mountain lodging, hot springs and public lands.
“Students can enjoy the outdoors while engaging in winter activities of their choice,” the site says.
The top schools on the list were Middlebury College, Dartmouth College and Colorado College. In the Rocky Mountain region, University of Denver was listed at No. 10, University of Colorado Boulder at No. 11, University of Utah at No. 16, Westminster College at No. 17, Montana State University at No. 21, Colorado Mesa University at No. 22 and Western Colorado University at No. 25. To see the complete list, go to www.collegeconsensus.com/rankings/top-ski-colleges.
Garret Genereux, who coordinates UW’s Outdoor Program, said Wyoming has a reputation for harsh winters but also access to outdoor recreation.
“With winter comes a lot of fun,” he said.
The Outdoor Program offers a range of winter activities for students and staff from the start of the spring semester through spring break, including snowshoe hikes, Nordic ski classes, ski tuning classes, avalanche instruction and backcountry touring outings. Almost all of the outings take place on nearby public lands, such as the Medicine Bow National Forest.
Genereux, who enjoys Nordic skiing and climbing, is leading a new trip this year to go ice climbing in the western Bighorn Mountains.
He said snowshoe hikes and Nordic ski classes in both the skate and classic techniques are among the most popular outings.
The Outdoor Program offers rentals of climbing, camping and winter recreation equipment for UW students and staff, which Genereux said was also a popular option.
“People seem to get out there,” he said.
For those who want to take up a new winter sport, Genereux suggested snowshoeing or Nordic skiing as easy entries into outdoor recreation.
Trails starting at the Tie City Trailhead on the Medicine Bow National Forest a few miles east of Laramie are well-maintained with good signage for skiers, snowshoers and fat bikers, and they’re usually busier in the winter than they are in the summer. Maps of the winter trails — some intended for skiers and some intended for multi-use — are even available online.
“There are plenty of different things to do, even though it’s really cold,” he said.
Rebecca Walsh, who owns Laramie’s Basecamp, an outdoor gear store, said UW definitely belongs on any ranking involving winter recreation.
“I love that in Laramie, we have these bright sunny days with cold temperatures, so the snow is good and I think it’s just gorgeous,” she said. “It’s not like those bleak days on the East Coast where it’s gray all winter. We get to see the sun.”
Walsh said she personally enjoys most winter sports, especially Nordic skiing. Basecamp offers rentals of classic skis, skate skis, touring skis and snowshoes.
Walsh suggested that anyone wanting to try a new winter sport should take a class, tag along with a friend or join a group. No one should be intimidated by winter recreation, she said.
“There’s a lot of barriers to outdoor recreation, especially in the winter, and those can be eliminated if you arm yourself with a little bit of knowledge,” she said.
The College Consensus ranking adds to UW’s reputation for outdoor recreation. In 2016, Backpacker magazine ranked it as No. 3 on its list of the best colleges for hikers. In 2012, Outside magazine ranked UW as the No. 15 school for outdoor experiences.
In each case, UW’s strengths include access to nearby public lands, the availability of outings and equipment rentals and a culture that celebrates outdoor recreation.