Director's Desk • A Rocky Mountain High
By Michael Van Denend '78

cross and mountains at Snow Mountain Ranch

Summer school was never like this.

Approximately 40 Calvin students spent their summer in the high altitudes of Snow Mountain Ranch, the YMCA of the Rockies, near Fraser, Colo.

Just 20 miles from the southwest entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, the ranch offers every kind of outdoor experience imaginable. There are hiking and climbing, of course, and horseback riding, canoeing, bird watching and, oh yes, the ranch chaplain teaches fly fishing a couple of times each week.

One of the most important things going on at Snow Mountain, however, is happening in the minds and hearts of the Calvin students at the Leadership Challenge Institute — students chosen out of numerous applicants by the college’s career development director, Glenn Triezenberg, and that fly-fishing chaplain, the Rev. Phil Dicks.

“This is a place where students discover their gifts and calling in ways not possible in other places,” said Triezenberg. “This place gets students out of their comfort zone.”

For 11 weeks, students work somewhere on the ranch grounds, attend weekly seminars given by guest Calvin professors, staff members or graduates, and meet in small groups for Bible study.

I was there the week of July 4 with my family and immediately saw the impact of these Calvin students at Snow Mountain. There were Andrew Tazelaar (Rochester, Minn.) checking us in at the registration desk and Kari Aalderink (Jenison, Mich.) helping two of our boys through their first experience at the ranch — the rock climbing wall. At evening vespers, Laura Smit (Newmarket, Ont.) was serving as worship leader. And so the week went, with group events organized by two Calvin Snow Mountain veterans, Dave Deschamps (Arlington Heights, Ill.) and Annelise Pettinga (Grand Rapids, Mich.).

Legendary Calvin troubadour Glenn Bulthuis and his family came up for the week, too, and he and I paired up to present a talk on leading and working in groups, punctuated by famous Bulthuis songs. It was there, and during the next evening’s “relationship discussion,” that I saw the beginnings of how the Snow Mountain experience was affecting the students.

Maybe it’s the air at 9,000 feet. Perhaps it’s the breathtaking backdrop of the mountains. It could be the day-to-day challenge of working at the ranch, not only with fellow Calvin students, but also with other young people from literally all over the world.

students leading worship
All Calvin students involved in the Leadership Challenge Institute also have full-time jobs with Snow Mountain Ranch.

Whatever the combination of factors for each student, there’s plenty of deep thinking about God’s call going on.

And these 40 kids take care of one another. During the week I was there, it was discovered that junior Mayom Achuk, who was born in the Sudan, didn’t know the exact date of his birth. His fellow students decided that (at least for this summer) Mayom’s birthday would be July 7, and they celebrated in grand style. A parent of another student wanted to contribute something Mayom really needed, so Triezenberg went shopping with Mayom for hiking boots during his birthday week.

The Colorado Alumni Chapter leadership wanted local alums to know that this amazing class was being held in their own backyard, so a “Glenn Bulthuis in the Rockies” concert was organized. It was a delight to see students chatting with alumni at the pre-concert barbeque (music provided by students Jackie Klamer and Kyle Sandison) and gratifying to note that Bulthuis’ songs about vocation and following God’s leading — some written over 20 years ago — hit home with students and alumni alike.

The Leadership Challenge Institute at Snow Mountain Ranch is another example of the innovative ways in which the college prepares tomorrow’s agents of renewal. For next summer, choose a week that suits you and see for yourself.

Perhaps you’ll hear God’s call a little more clearly in the mountain air, too.