An appreciation for the great outdoors has been a part of the Asheville School experience since its founding in 1900. The men who built this institution chose the mountains of Western North Carolina because of their natural beauty and for the abundance of recreational opportunities that this unique region provides. Nearby, there are countless spots for backpacking, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, snow skiing, caving and mountain biking. Asheville School's mountaineering program provides the staff, training and equipment you'll need to develop your skills in these activities and foster a lifelong love of outdoor adventure.

Students can take mountaineering as an afternoon activity for daily on-campus instruction and practice. Our on-campus facilities include a high-ropes course, an Alpine Tower, a climbing wall, a swimming pool (for kayak instruction) and 200 acres of forested land with miles of trails for biking and exploring. After students have demonstrated a mastery of the basic skills and safety procedures, they may join us for off-campus trips to places such as Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest, the Tuckaseegee and French Broad rivers, and the Tsali Recreational area. The mountaineering program also sponsors optional trips almost every weekend. These trips are open to any interested student so that both the novice and the more experienced adventurers can find challenges and fun.

All new students go on at least one overnight camping trip during their first year at Asheville School. This trip serves as a chance for students to "get their feet wet" early on, introducing them to the school's mountaineering program and to the beautiful region.

No matter what your level of interest or skill, the mountaineering program at Asheville School can teach you, inspire you, challenge you and thrill you.

Fall/Spring Activities

Mountain Biking

Whether you come to us as a seasoned rider or as a novice interested in trying this sport for the first time, we have a place for you in our program.

Beginners are able to try out mountain biking using one of our "fleet" bikes. Instruction is provided so that all of the necessary skills can be developed; shifting, braking, weight distribution, safety, repair and maintenance, and fitness training are all part of the early lessons.

As a rider's skills are sharpened, trips off campus are arranged, and with literally hundreds of miles of trails to choose from in the nearby National Forests, there's almost always a new route to explore.

For the serious bikers, advanced techniques are practiced and developed, and the newly established Mountain Bike Team takes riders to various competitions in the Southeast.

Hiking & Camping

Western North Carolina boasts some of the greatest geological, ecological and biological diversity in the country. Our mountaineering program takes full advantage of our location within the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and our hiking and camping programs encourage all students to experience the richness of this area first hand.

All new students are required to participate in an overnight camping trip during their first year here. Some weekend trips are just day hikes. Other trips are moderate camping trips with small packs and short hikes to gorgeous campsites and ghost stories around a campfire. And still other trips might be more advanced backpacking trips, taking students on longer hikes with heavier packs, and sometimes even more spectacular views.

Learning self-sufficiency, exploring new territory and enjoying the sanctity of nature are all a part of the experience our camping program has to offer.

Rock Climbing

The school's climbing program is founded on safety, personal challenge and skills development. Because of that, it affords opportunities for development at all levels.

For the beginners, "belay school" begins on the ground as novices literally "learn the ropes." Once a mountaineer has demonstrated a mastery of the knots and the safety systems, her skills are then put to the test on the School's Alpine Tower - a 60-foot climbing structure here on campus.

After the basics of climbing and belaying are perfected, students are then able to go off-campus for trips to the local climbing gym, as well as to some of the many rocks in the area.

For climbers with a serious interest in this sport, more advanced techniques and more challenging climbs are offered.


Asheville School's mountaineering program focuses primarily on kayaks, introducing students to fundamentals of this sport on flat water in the pool. There, the novices begin to learn how to get in and out of the boats safely, how to steer and maneuver the boat, and finally how to roll.

After these basics have been mastered, students are taken to a nearby stretch of class I-II water on the French Broad River. There, skills are sharpened and some of the subtleties of navigation through the current are learned.

For those students with the interest and aptitude we are able to offer trips to more advanced rivers, such as the Tuckaseegee, the Pigeon, and eventually to the Ocoee.

A byword of whitewater boating is "grace under pressure." Without a doubt, students who master this adventure sport will have learned skills that extend well beyond the banks of the rivers they paddle.

Winter Activities

Ice climbing is an odd combination of strength and finesse; the ice-tools and crampons need to be wielded with force, but sometimes the ice is fragile and a delicate touch is needed. Add to that, sub-freezing conditions, sharp tools and a vertical ascent taking you well off the ground, and you've found a challenge worthy of even a seasoned adventurer.

Our instruction begins with the novice, showing him the equipment, demonstrating the techniques and offering a more moderate introduction to the sport. For the more advanced climbers, we offer steeper ice, more extreme conditions and more challenging techniques.

No matter what your level of interest or ability, however, we can provide you with a safe, enjoyable and thoroughly memorable experience in the world of vertical ice.

Western North Carolina has numerous spots ideally suited for winter mountaineering. When the weather permits, Asheville School students can experience the exhilaration of both cross-country and downhill skiing or snowboarding.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed to motorized traffic once the snows begin to fall, providing a wonderful track for cross-country skiers to follow. Six area ski resorts are able to help, by making snow when the temperature drops below freezing. Asheville School offers downhill ski trips almost every weekend during January and February to resorts such as Beech or Sugar.

Also during that time, the school participates in interscholastic ski races sponsored by the Cataloochee Ski Area. These take place on Wednesday afternoons and evenings, and Sixth Formers or students with honors are eligible to participate.

Though it's not a regular part of our afternoon mountaineering program, caving is an activity that we sponsor numerous times during the year.

Students are given safety instruction, as well as some background information on cave structures, karst topography and the history of spelunking in North America. Equipment for each student includes a helmet, a headlamp and a secondary light source.

With these tools, students become underground explorers, and once inside the cave they are quickly entranced by this "other-worldly" experience. For more avid cavers, topics such as conservation, mapping, vertical caving and cave rescue are discussed, along with the opportunity to visit some more remote and extensive caves.

History of the Program

In the early 1960s, James G. "Pop" Hollandsworth brought "mountaineering" to Asheville School. Focusing initially on camping skills, basic rock climbing and outdoor living, Pop's mountaineering program gave students an opportunity to learn more about the environment around them and master the skills needed to enjoy it safely. Since then, the program has expanded to include a wide range of adventure sports, operating year round, and suited to all skill levels.

Paulsen Outdoor Center

The Paulsen Outdoor Center is the result of a generous gift from Bill Paulsen 1965, an Asheville School alumnus who believes he owes much to the lessons he learned from the mountaineering program during his time as a student. The Lodge is the primary meeting and classroom training site for mountaineering students. The Alpine Climbing Tower is a training center for beginning mountaineers. Our extensive Ropes Course complements this facility, providing an opportunity for groups or individuals to build confidence, skills and trust.