"Looks like your shelters are about to be tested!" our instructor says as the temperature drops and a massive front rolls off the Continental Divide. The air fills with ozone as eight of us run into the forest to gather and stack more pine boughs atop the lean-tos we constructed an hour earlier.
My shelter partner, Landon Rolfe, 18, and I try to cover the gaps in our pine-needle roof as the first drops fall, and we wonder how wet we're going to get tonight. Neither of us has done this before, but that's why we're here: to learn basic survival techniques and to work together.
We're on a family course with the Bear Grylls Survival Academy. The Scotland-based outdoor-skills school recently expanded operations to the United States, with new bases in New York, California and this site at Glacier View Ranch near Ward. The academy, started by the star of Discovery Channel's "Man vs. Wild," teaches Grylls' rapid-paced, self-rescue survival style.
Though the school offers intensive adult courses as well, the 24-hour family option is designed for adult-child teams, for children ages 10 and up. Since my own daughters are too small to learn fire-starting, rappelling and rabbit gutting (although my 1-year-old would have excelled in the bug-eating part of the course), I brought Landon, my neighbor for the past six years and a close family friend. Landon just graduated from high school, and he is ripe for some real-life experience.
"I love that the lessons are more about doing it and learning, rather than just listening and regurgitating information," he says as we scrape dirt with our fingernails from our shelter floor and inspect our pine-needle roof for gaps.
It's difficult to imagine a better bonding experience with a child, nephew, niece -- or neighbor -- than smearing mud on your faces, tearing through the woods and pretending to be stranded in the middle of the mountains. Or, for that matter, being ordered to build a shelter at 8,500 feet above sea level as a summer storm approaches with nothing but our hands, survival knives and whatever we find in the forest.
The goal, explained our instructors, is not to engineer some beautiful, air-tight treehouse, but to construct something quickly, with the goal of temporary protection for a short rest and then to keep moving. If you've seen his show, that's Grylls' style in a nutshell: Be proactive, think on your feet, and get back to civilization as quickly and safely as possible.
Another goal is to get people off their couches, into nature and pushing their limits. Landon, I can see in his animated, dirt-smeared face, gets it.
"If I can handle this," he says, "I can handle anything!"
Joshua Berman is the author of five books about travel. He can be found on the Web at JoshuaBerman.net and on Twitter @tranquilotravel. This article first appeared in his "Around Colorado" travel column in The Denver Post.
BEAR GRYLLS SURVIVAL ACADEMY: Cost: $299 per person for family course. 877-742-2925, beargryllssurvivalacademy.com