Youth Outside | E.P.I.C. Adventures with Kids: Training and inspiring future youth leaders

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, learn about the leadership development opportunities The Mountaineers offers for youth programs and how to best provide meaningful outdoor experiences for kids involved in our programs.
Kelly Hampton Kelly Hampton
E.P.I.C. Seminar Facilitator
November 26, 2022
Youth Outside | E.P.I.C. Adventures with Kids: Training and inspiring future youth leaders
Seattle Nomads at Smith Rock. Photo by Erik Evenson.

It starts with a twinkle of curiosity in their eye. The twinkle turns into an adventurous grin, and in an instant, a child can become lost in their imagination. We want to nurture the spark of joyful adventure when working with youth in the outdoors, and that’s why the goal for each Mountaineers youth program is to introduce kids to the benefits of outdoor experiences.

A few months ago, I co-led a two-part Leadership Development Series seminar titled E.P.I.C Adventures with Kids. Together with Katy Snyder, we sought to share with attendees the special sauce that goes into making magic and building connections between youth and the outdoors. The sessions were, dare I say, epic.

Katy has been with The Mountaineers since the beginning of youth programs as a 2010 founding member of The Mountaineers Adventure Club (MAC). Katy was later hired on staff as a Youth Field Coordinator in July 2020, where she planned and led trips for youth ages 6-13. She was instrumental in spearheading efforts to diversify the variety of activities offered to youth and families, and she knows firsthand the profound impact volunteers have on youth.

DSC_0098.JPGKelly Hampton and Katy Snyder at the second installment of their E.P.I.C. presentation. Photo by Michelle Song.

“As a high school student and member of MAC, I found so much value through interacting with Mountaineers volunteers. I looked up to them as mentors and greatly appreciated them spending their time with us high school students. Each volunteer brought something different. Adam Hollinger was very patient in teaching me, a timid high schooler, various technical climbing skills. John Rijhoff brought the party to camp and the crag with glow sticks, temporary tattoos, stickers, and more (and he’d often hang a prize bag at the top of climbs when cragging). Loni Uchytil still volunteers with MAC today and has taken some of the youth up climbs they never would have thought they could do. These are just a few volunteers who I have interacted with over the years.”

Growing need for qualified youth leaders

As more families have become inspired to adventure outdoors with their children through The Mountaineers, the need for Qualified Youth Leaders has increased. When Katy reached out to parents and community members to get involved, many were excited and willing, but hesitant because they felt they lacked the skills necessary to lead kids outdoors. Our volunteer leaders are experts in teaching participants of all ages various skills like the mechanics of rock climbing, the essentials of hiking, or how to put on cross-country skis. What is sometimes missing in the teaching process is a format forhow to teach adult leaders what adventure looks like from every developmental stage and how to create an appropriate expectation for those age groups while keeping the fun alive. Katy contacted me, a parent coach and former elementary school teacher, to help design and co-lead a seminar that would close this gap.

Katy Snyder_Seattle Pathfinders_Goose Rock_Photo Credit David Rothstein.jpgKaty Snyder and Pathfinders at Goose Rock. Photo by David Rothstein. 

I joined The Mountaineers Nomad Youth Program with my middle daughter Paige in 2021. Our family of five holds a deep passion for play and adventure – it is where we find our truest selves, see our children regulated and balanced, and hold more curiosity for the world around us. Admittedly, on our first night of climbing with the youth program, I showed up nervous and timid knowing absolutely nothing about climbing. However, what I felt that night and every adventure since was the deeply impactful value The Mountaineers holds for learning and empowerment. The outdoors is a classroom and the continual goal when you are in it is to learn, play, and teach others. As a parent and coach, it was the most beautiful form of empowerment at every level. Saying yes to teaching a class with Katy in order to grow this program and recruit more volunteers was easy.

More volunteer support, more youth in the outdoors

Part one of our series taught the foundations of our E.P.I.C. structure: Expectations, Preparation, Imagination, and Control. In this virtual seminar, we covered the basics of child development and behavior, how to prepare for play and adventures, the value of imagination, and the importance of giving kids control in their adventures. Attendees left part one with an increased understanding of why they want to adventure with youth and the fears that prevent them from releasing appropriate control to children. During the session, we revealed the importance of boundaries and taught how to set expectations with youth proactively. Together as a group, we discovered how to decipher a child's behavior and understand what they need. We ultimately learned how to let a child lead the adventure.

Katy Snyder_Seattle Pathfinders_Exti 38.jpgKaty Snyder and Seattle Pathfinders spend a day climbing at Exit 38. Photo credit unknown.

In part two we played. Parents, Qualified Youth Leaders, and aspiring volunteers learned games to play on the trail, riddles to share, stories to tell at the campfire, and how to capture a toy frog without being seen. Play brings a great deal of laughter and joy, even to adults. If you have ever been on a hike, climb, or other outdoor adventure with children, you will know this is true: everything they want to do involves imagination and play.

The youth programs thrive on volunteer involvement. Children are the next generation of adventurers and conservationists, and it is vital that we invest in their development and natural curiosity. Having skilled Qualified Youth Leaders to mentor our children in developing their natural sense of wonder, imagination, and exploration is key to both their development and the protection of our outdoor places. To those who are keen on volunteering as a Qualified Youth Leader, bring your passion and enthusiasm, and everything else will follow.


  • Know your “why” and share it with the group. Why are you here, and what are you hoping to get out of today’s activity? Ask kids what their goal is for the adventure.
  • Reflect on what fun means to you vs. what fun means to youth. Discuss as a group.
  • Have a few trail/camp/climb “games” in your back pocket at all times.
  • Know your boundaries and communicate them, then let the kids take the lead within those boundaries.
  • Adventure without kids to fulfill your adult definition of fun. Satisfying this desire helps you relax into the slower pace and frequent stops of a kid-centric activity.
Interested in getting involved?
  • Join us at the Youth Volunteer Orientation Dinner on September 29 at the Seattle Program Center from 5-9pm, where you can learn more about the opportunities available.
  • Keep your eye out for the next E.P.I.C. Adventure with Kids during the 2022–2023 Leadership Development Series. We would love to see you there!
  • Reach out to Member Services at to learn more about becoming a Qualified Youth Leader.

This article originally appeared in our fall 2022 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.