Feature

38 Cool Colorado Classes For Adults

From learning to scuba dive or brew beer to building a guitar or joining a curling league, we found a plethora of local ways to nurture your intellect, challenge yourself, or just have some fun as you continue your coursework in Life 101.

March 2017

Illustration by Scotty Reifsnyder

An MBA—perhaps the most classic and practical of master’s degrees—is one way to pad your resumé and climb the next step on the corporate ladder. But forget about your CV for a moment. Heck, forget about that ladder, too. Instead, ask yourself, What have I always wanted to learn how to do? Maybe it’s scuba diving; maybe it’s beekeeping. Maybe you want to figure out how to brew beer or captain a sailboat. No matter what you’re curious and passionate about, you’re in luck: Colorado’s vast and varied cultures and geography allow for countless ways to indulge your desire to learn. (Yes, even if you’re into water sports.) Whether you want to work with your hands in a pottery class or hope to break out of your self-conscious shell by studying public speaking or feel like trying something way outside your comfort zone—burlesque, perhaps?—you can do it right here.

When In Colorado...

Classes and activities every Centennial Stater should try—including a few you might be surprised to find here. —Jordyn Siemens

Take REI's class on backpacking basics before you set off for adeventures through Colorado's wilderness. Photograph courtesy of REI

Victoria Sailing School: 303-697-7433

Colorado may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean there’s nowhere here to set sail. With course offerings that range from an introductory class to the more complex Celestial Navigation, Victoria can school landlubbers about the basics of four-person racing sailboats as well as tune up salty sailors’ skills (advanced students have the option to take the helm of bigger cruisers). Six expert instructors work out of four locations: Lake Dillon, Lake Carter, the Cherry Creek Reservoir, and the Chatfield Reservoir. Once you’ve achieved Basic Coastal Cruising certification, allowing you to charter in any U.S. waters, you can sign up for Victoria’s Why Buy Club, which grants you seasonal, shared access to a fleet of sailboats (a one-person membership is $539 to $944).

Plenty of low light-pollution spots (see: wilderness areas, designated dark-sky communities Westcliffe and Silver Cliff) make the Centennial State an ideal place to stargaze. To find out more about what you’re looking at, attend one of the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society’s free, open-to-the-public monthly meetings. You’ll learn to identify galaxies and star clusters while CSAS members answer questions about constellations, naming stars, and more. Plus, monthly star parties feature guidance on how to use telescopes and related equipment, such as refracting mirrors and telescope mounts.

Backpacking through Colorado’s wilderness can be an intimidating prospect for those new to the activity: How much water do I need? Will my sleeping bag be warm enough? And should I be worried about bears? At this free 90-minute REI class (offered several times a year at many local stores—check the ones near you for specifics), participants can ask their most pressing questions and learn about proper gear, trail etiquette, Leave No Trace principles, trip planning, and more—all in a refreshingly judgment-free environment.

Learn the business of beer at Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery. Photograph via istock

Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery’s Brewery Immersion Course970-626-5333 (Ridgway); 970-240-2790 (Montrose) 

You, after a few craft pints at the neighborhood pub: “We should start a brewery.” Your friend: “We should definitely start a brewery!” Sound familiar? Maybe it’s time to do something about it—and that something is letting the Western Slope craftsmen at Colorado Boy school you on the business of making beer (including how to get into brewing with minimal up-front investment). Owner Tom Hennessy says 60 percent of his course’s participants have gone on to start their own operations using his newbie-friendly program. The course ($2,500 total) is designed for two, and after the three-day immersion, you and your drinking buddy just may be ready for your next (ad)venture.

Denver Divers: 303-399-2877

Once you’ve completed a two-hour introductory scuba class, during which you’ll get your fins—and the rest of a full set of diving gear—wet in Denver Divers’ Cherry Creek pool, you can move on to the Open Water Diver course ($350 to $550, depending on class size, and available year-round). If you’re thinking, What use is this in Colorado?, well, that’s why Denver Divers specializes in organizing group travel experiences (eight to 10 each year) to scuba destinations around the globe where you can show off your new skills with new friends.

Survive the Wilderness970-669-9016

Coloradans tend to make light of our backcountry pastimes (e.g., summiting 14,000-foot mountains is considered routine)—so it can be easy to forget how quickly these adventures can turn into life-or-death situations. Make sure you’re prepared for worst-case scenarios with mountain safety education from Loveland’s Wilderness Survival Institute, which was launched in 1970 by late search-and-rescue pioneer Robert “Papa Bear” Whitmore. Today, Don Davis of Larimer County Search & Rescue continues Whitmore’s work with two-day public classes that teach lifesaving skills such as signaling techniques, water purification methods, and fire starting. Courses are $100 per person for 16 hours of instruction.


School Is Back In Session

I may have finished school years ago, but I'll never stop going to class. —Natasha Gardner

Illustration by Scotty Reifsnyder

Even though I completed my last academic degree (probably) about eight years ago, each fall, I find myself craving that student’s thrill: getting a new class schedule, buying books and supplies, and opening my mind to foreign, potentially worldview-shifting topics. But between work, commuting, preschool pickups, family dinners, and everything else that fills a working parent’s life, I probably have about 15 minutes a day of me time.

This isn’t a complaint per se: I love my busy life and how nearly every second is filled with reporting and writing and time with my family. But I will always try to use any spare moments I can carve out for learning. While I stroll the grocery store, squeeze in a run, or wait in a doctor’s office, I put on my earphones for a quick hit of a nonfiction audiobook (the Abraham Lincoln biography Team of Rivals is my current history lesson). Hardly a month passes when I don’t manage to attend a lecture or sign up for a workshop. I’ve learned how to needle-felt ornaments, make pajamas, roll tamales, stuff sausage, and take (good) photographs.

It’s not quite a full-on return to the classroom, but it gives me the same charge I felt as a young student every time I cracked open a new textbook, sharpened a pencil, and dived into a subject I couldn’t wait to explore. It’s my self-nurturing and, dare I say, healthy addiction—one I am certain I will never be able to kick. 


An Old Hub For New Ideas

While Chautauquas elsewhere have withered, Boulder's outpost of the 19th-century movement to edify the masses remains vibrant.

Folk singer-songwriter Andrew Bird performs at the Chautauqua Community House. Photograph courtesy of Jonathan B. Auerbach/Colorado Chautauqua Association

It may come as a surprise, but lovers of the Colorado Chautauqua—most famous for its Flatiron-adjacent hikes and summer concert series featuring hippie favorites like the Indigo Girls—have Protestants in western New York to thank for Boulder’s iconic National Historic Landmark. In the late 1800s, before ideas could be widely disseminated via radio, film, and television, the Methodist church founded the national Chautauqua Movement in an effort to educate the working class. Think of it as the 19th century’s version of TED Talks: Families would travel to assemblies—which began popping up across the country—to hear teachers, musicians, religious leaders, and other orators enlighten them about the issues of the day.

In 1898, a group of Texas educators wanting to escape the summer heat approached city officials in Boulder about starting an assembly there. By then there were some 20,000 permanent and temporary Chautauquas nationwide, and seeking to bolster Boulder’s claim of being the “Athens of the West,” the city’s citizens quickly voted to approve the proposal. Within four months, organizers built the (still-standing) auditorium for $6,700 and wisely included a dining hall. “At the time, there was as high a demand for these assemblies as there is today for having a football stadium,” says Ann Obenchain, the Colorado Chautauqua’s marketing and development director. “The citizens of Boulder voted to set aside 80 acres for the assembly, which was the first time Coloradans had allocated open space for public use.”

The arrival of radio and film, along with the Great Depression, largely neutered the Chautauqua Movement, and today the only remaining permanent assemblies are on the original site in New York; in Lakeside, Ohio; and in Boulder. Obenchain credits the legacy of the original founders for carrying the local assembly through lean years. “We still have guests from Texas here every summer whose families have been visiting Boulder for eight generations,” she says. The site also served as the University of Colorado Boulder’s first accredited summer school in the 1920s and hosted veterans on the GI Bill after World War II; more recently, it’s become a popular site for weddings, graduation parties, and reunions.

One thing hasn’t changed, however: Visitors can still choose from dozens of talks each year with authors, scientists, and other intellectuals (Al Gore and Stephen King are past lecturers). “People have always come here for respite and enlightenment through nature and the arts,” Obenchain says. “It’s endured largely because of where it is.”


Chautauqua's New Old-School Classes

In January, Chautauqua launched a monthly series of history lectures “dedicated to exploring our regional sense of place.” Go on March 7 for a discussion about some of the Boulderites who are in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. All events begin at 7 p.m., and tickets are $12 for nonmembers (members get in for $9). 303-442-3282


Learn, Build, and Grow

Front Range colleges, universities, and continuing education outlets offer a host of adult classes. Find the one that fits you best.

Find out what you can create—or fix—using your own two hands at either the Art Students League of Denver (left) or Red Rocks Community College (right). Photographs courtesy of (from left) the Art Students League of Denver; courtesy of Red Rocks Community College

1. If you're an intellectual polymath...

Check out: University College’s College of Professional and Continuing Studies at the University of Denver
Course Catalog: Single-night lectures from area politicians, businesspeople, and academics; courses in art history, event planning, political science, and history
Our Pick: Hunger, Food and Health—A study of the impact of globalization on world health, in a socioeconomic and political context
Contact: 303-871-2291

2. If you're looking for more vocational skills...

Check out: Red Rocks Community College
Course Catalog: Automotive service and engine repair, carpentry, emergency management and planning, fine woodworking, welding
Our Pick: Classical Guitar Construction—How to build a Spanish-style guitar
Contact: 303-914-6600

3. If you're trying to advance or change your career...

Check out: Colorado Free* University
*Note: Classes are not free, but most cost less than $100
Course Catalog: Computer skills, money management, nonprofit leadership and administration, real estate fundamentals, languages, digital marketing
Our Pick: Get in Bed with Your Audience: Public Speaking Made Easy Preaches stripping formality to make a more personal and engaging connection with an audience
Contact: 303-399-0093

4. If you're a hands-on creative type but not necessarily a working artist—yet...

Check out: The Art Students League of Denver
Course Catalog: Mixed media, jewelry, fiber arts, screen printing
Our Pick: The Costume Studio Teaches students 16 and older how to make professional-grade costumes for any occasion
Contact: The Art Students League of Denver

5. If You're after some self-help-style ways to better yourself...

Check out: The University of Colorado Boulder’s Continuing Education program
Course Catalog: Nutrition, interpersonal communication, popular culture, painting, drawing, ceramics
Our Pick: Nutrition for Health and Performance—A hybrid—classroom and online—or online-only course about the “basic anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of nutrition”
Contact: 303-492-5148

6. If you're interested in adding some avocations to your repertoire...

Check out: Arapahoe Community College
Course Catalog: Soap making, micro-farming, green design, genealogy, photography, drawing
Our Pick: Horse Training and Horsemanship Lab—From breaking to finishing, techniques for handling equines of all ages and types
Contact: Arapahoe Community College


Off The Beaten Path

These esoteric, specialized, and occasionally oddball endeavors will teach you skills you don’t necessarily need—but will most certainly enjoy.

Aerial Cirque Over Denver. Photograph courtesy of Aerial Cirque Over Denver

Aerial Cirque Over Denver
Attention, Cirque du Soleil fans: Here, you can hang from silk pleats of fabric, on a suspended hoop, or from a Spanish web (a type of rope). 

Boulder Circus Center
Run away with the circus—without leaving the Front Range. Boulder Circus Center offers classes in Cyr-wheel tumbling, aerial arts, youth acrobatics, and even juggling. 303-444-8110

Gunsmoke School of Taxidermy
So you bagged an elk—now what? Learn how to skin, salt, tan, and mount your prize over a three-week course in the small town of Craig. 970-826-4293

Backyard Hive
Beekeeping is about more than jars o’ honey. In Eldorado Springs, you’ll also learn about these insects’ special place in the food chain. 

Vivienne VaVoom
Hone your skills in the art of (tasteful) seduction with performer Vivienne VaVoom’s monthly burlesque classes in Baker. 720-308-5091


Hands on

The appeal of performing physical tasks in our increasingly disembodied age.

You can learn how to design and build planter frames that look as beautiful as these. Photograph courtesy of Christine Bayles Kortsch

With every release of the latest iPhone or a new app comes the promise of being able to do things in a “better” digital way—or at least in a more fun, and possibly addictive, manner. (See: the Apple Health app’s newly redesigned suite of wellness tools.) So why are so many people these days interested in completing tasks—such as spinning wool into yarn or writing in calligraphy—in ways that even their grandparents might consider to be antiquated?

Perhaps it’s a reaction to the way technology has overrun our daily lives, a desire to prove that each of us can indeed create tangible things using only raw materials, basic tools, and our own 10 fingers. “The power of working with your hands can have a tremendous impact on people,” says Elizabeth Uhrich, founder of the Living Arts School in Boulder County.

Living Arts is a folk school that preserves and teaches traditional methods for a wide variety of crafts, music, and life skills such as furniture-making and blacksmithing, canning and pickling, and animal keeping and organic gardening. The school partners with experts from all over Colorado to create seminars (for adults and children, including programs targeted at home-schooled kids) that show students how they did things in the good ol’ days.

Even those who aren’t inclined to, say, carve a spoon can produce beautiful or utilitarian keepsakes while reaping a sense of personal accomplishment that’s often missing from our increasingly digital days. Christine Kortsch, who teaches creative writing at the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, has partnered with Denver Botanic Gardens to lead “ink and stem workshops”—seminars that combine writing with planting succulents into living frames, which participants nurture and use for inspiration. “We focus on one frame or scene per person and go back and forth between planting, building the frame, and writing exercises,” Kortsch says. “I actually don’t think this embrace of the old-school is new at all. The Arts and Crafts movement in the late 19th century was a radical response to industrialization. We’re in a similar moment now in the return to guilds and artisans and an anti-factory trend. People want to feel connected to other human beings in a more embodied way.”


Give Gym Class Another Chance

So you’ve mastered mainstream Colorado athletics: skiing, biking, hiking. Why stop there?

Jab away, and try your hand at the fast-paced sport of fencing. Photograph courtesy of Maggie Barrett

Apex Movement: Go full ninja with an intensive eight-class program that will teach you the basics of strength, flexibility, gymnastics, and “free running” (a version of parkour that emphasizes aesthetics). 720-295-7279

Denver Fencing Center: First a military training exercise, then a sport for aristocrats, fencing is now a weekend-warrior activity. 303-922-7288

Colorado Budokan: Seventh-degree black belt Isao Gary Tsutsui teaches basic self-defense techniques using the Kubotan key-chain weapon (definitely cooler than a pocket knife). 720-253-7473

Denver Curling Center: You know you watch curling in the Winter Olympics and think, I could do that! Find out via the Golden-based center’s classes and increasingly popular league play. 303-321-1107


I Built That

Unleash your inner creativity through arts and crafts.

Face it: There’s not much need for DIY projects in an age when you can buy just about anything for your home or garden from Amazon or IKEA. But even if you’re inclined to justify shortcut purchases by saying things like “I’m not creative” or “I’ve never made anything,” you might be surprised at what you could produce with a little guidance.


Top Chefs

As a burgeoning hub for foodies of all stripes, the Front Range has never had more ways to learn about cooking, dining, and drinking.

For: Home Cooks
Cook Street School of Culinary Arts
This training ground for family meal-makers offers one-time and extended food classes. 303-308-9300

For: Food Network Fans
Stir Cooking School
At Stir in Highland, students work with professional chefs during two- to three-hour classes that cover niche topics (e.g., gluten-free or holiday foods, cocktail-making). 720-287-4823

For: Social Butterflies
Kitchen Table Cooking School
Affiliated with the Colorado Culinary Academy and the Espressolé Caffe, this Greenwood Village school’s couples-only and girls’-night-out courses are especially popular. 303-220-9769

For: Leftover Lovers
Dream Dinners
Watch how meals are prepared online, then come into the store and cook them yourself. You’ll end up with multiple items to take home. Multiple locations

For: Party Planners
Wine & Whey
Wine & Whey provides instruction in cheese- and wine-making as well as classes about how to pair them at your next get-together. 303-325-3831