I am really interested in getting into mountaineering and I am considering taking a summer course. I like the look of the NOLS courses (I don't like the prices!) but I cannot decide which place would be the best.
NOLS offers the following courses in the following locations:
North Cascades often gives you the best mix of glacier and rock, so it's a lot of bang for the buck so to speak.
Every thing with NOLS is slow and methodical. If you have quite a bit of experience, it may be too slow for you, but if you want to learn to DO IT on your own, instead of being guided for a while then go home, it is a good program.
BTW, I taught wilderness courses for NOLS from 2001 to 2003.
The best course is the one you are on. I took a NOLS, 25 and older, climbing course on Rainier in 1993 and had a great time. Some day I'd like to take another and then another still. I'd vote for North Cascades from your list.
I taught 13 NOLS mountaineering courses from 1969-1975. That was a long time ago! I still keep in touch with some of the instructors. The Wind River or Cascades courses would teach essentially the same stuff. If you really like snow climbing, Cascades would be better for you. You need to check if the Ptagonia, Waddington or Himilayan courses require a previous NOLS course. They used to require the basic courses before you could take courses in these more "exotic" locations.
At NOLS you will learn all aspects of mountaineeirng from cooking meals, rationing, orientering to the technical climbing. It is broad, comprehensive. We used to say that once you have finished a basic course, you are ready to START mountaineering. The emphasis is on making YOU competent. It is really hands on and you do it yourself. It is not a guided course.
If you simply want to learn very specific mountaineering skills, you may prefer other instruction. Almost all guide services will do some instruction. Or if you simply want to see an area, a guide service may be more what you want.
The price of NOLS is not bad considering what you get. You will be hard pressed to find another school with equal or less "per day" costs. You will get about 2 weeks of ancillary skills and 2 weeks of mountaineering. I had climbed quite a bit when I went to NOLS and I actually learned more from the ancillary instruction. NOLS makes you a good overall outdoorsman whether you are into mountaineering or not.
NOLS also has a scholarship program. You will want to check to see if you qualify for some financial assistance.
I personally think NOLS is one of the best courses of instruction out there. That is if you really want instruction, not a guide service. I think that those who get the most out of NOLS are those who have been out a little bit (not complete novices). It may not be the best investment if you already are a intermediate climber. The dominant age group is 18-25 years old. And the "social scene" is primarly geared to that age group. They do have some special courses for older people.
Call them and get more information. They want students who really WANT to come to NOLS so they will give you enough information to be sure the school is a good fit for you.
All very good points Daisy. NOLS is definately not a hold-you-by-the-hand guide service. If you are looking for that type of service you need to keep looking. I had wanted to take a NOLS course for 15 years (time lag between reading Petzoldt's The Wilderness Handbook at age 15 and actually taking my course at age 30) and wish I had done so during college.