Carrie Besnette Hauser considers her position as president of Colorado Mountain College to be a dream job.
“I’ve described it as a confluence, using a river term,” says the longtime river-running enthusiast. “It’s in Colorado, which I love. It’s the mountains, and it’s college.”
Hauser has embraced all three words in the name of Colorado Mountain College, which stretches across much of the state’s central mountain region, including Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties.
This summer, though, she celebrated a particular accomplishment regarding that middle word, “mountain,” achieving a new milestone in her avocation as a mountaineer by summiting the iconic and glaciated 14,410-foot-high Mount Rainier in Washington state.
It follows other climbing successes that include summiting 56 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, and 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. She also has trekked to Mount Everest base camp, at some 17,600 feet in Nepal.
Meanwhile, Hauser recently rose to prominence of a different sort, voted by the Colorado Wildlife Commission to serve as its chair until 2023. Her new position comes at a particularly pivotal time for the commission and CPW as they work to implement a measure approved by voters last year requiring wolves to be restored to western Colorado starting no later than the end of 2023.
“As much as it is a significant time commitment, I felt like during this year it was important for the Western Slope that a person from the Western Slope be a chair for the commission,” she said.
Hauser also has played a leadership role on another statewide issue of note, having been involved in efforts to bring the Olympic Games to Colorado.
It’s yet another reflection of someone with a longtime interest in outdoors and sports carrying those passions forward in her professional life and service to community.
Rabid about rapids
Even before Hauser became a gym rat in high school as a serious basketball and volleyball player, she was a river rat on the Colorado River. When growing up in Flagstaff, Arizona, her dad would take her on Grand Canyon hikes down to the Colorado River.
“Then he took me on a river trip when I was 12 or so, and I was totally hooked,” she said.
She later began working for Grand Canyon river-running company Hatch River Expeditions as a swamper, an entry-level worker who cooked, tended to porta-potties, led hikes, and on occasion rowed or drove boats.
“I just wanted to be in the Grand. That was all I wanted to do,” Hauser said.
Later on, though, she embarked on a professional career that took her to the Front Range, where one of her jobs was with the Daniels Fund. There, she served as a loaned executive whose work included time on the Metro Denver Sports Commission board to attract big sporting events. She co-chaired the women’s Final Four NCAA basketball tournament in Denver.
“As a former basketball player, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Hauser said.
As for the Olympics, Hauser was part of an exploratory committee that went to the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy, when Denver was pursuing hosting the 2018 Winter Games.
She later was involved in a Denver bid for the 2030 Winter Games. Neither effort succeeded because of a variety of factors.
It doesn’t help that Denver was awarded the 1976 Games, but state voters rejected holding them in Colorado over concerns about costs and environmental impacts.
”That’s a hard one to overcome in the Olympic movement,” Hauser said.
‘Historic’ wolf work
Hauser became president at Colorado Mountain College in 2013. She recalls advice she received around that time from Russell George, the Rifle resident who has served roles including speaker of the state House of Representatives, director of what was then the state Division of Wildlife, executive director of the state departments of Natural Resources and Transportation, and president of Colorado Northwestern Community College.
“He said, ‘Say yes to everything,’” Hauser said.
The point was that stepping up to serve in capacities such as on state boards is a way for the Western Slope to have a seat at the table, and Hauser viewed agreeing to serve on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission as one way of doing that.
She sees the wolf-reintroduction situation as one where it’s important for all interested Coloradans to have a seat at the table to voice their views, from ranchers worried about what reintroduction will mean for their operations to Front Range residents excited by science suggesting wolves can help balance ecosystems.
”One way or the other, (reintroduction) will be a very historic thing for Colorado, and I hope that we do it well,” Hauser said.
In her day job, Hauser has been involved with initiatives such as boosting representation of Latinos in CMC’s student body to better reflect the proportion in public schools in the college’s district.
This year, the federal government designated CMC as a Hispanic Serving Institution after efforts that increased its Latino representation to more than 25%.
A Sueños (Dream) Fund program allows DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students not eligible for other financial aid to borrow money from CMC to pay to go to college.
The recipients then pay the money back interest-free through an income-sharing agreement, and the repaid money is used for other participants in the program.
Hauser also created a President’s Scholarship program, under which every graduating high school student in CMC’s district is offered $1,000 toward attending the open-enrollment school, as long as they agree to attend full time and apply for financial aid. Hauser said full-time students are far likelier to finish school, and students leave money on the table by failing to seek financial aid. These are issues the scholarship helps to address.
For anyone counting peaks — as climbers of Colorado’s fourteeners tend to do obsessively — 24 of the state’s 14,000-foot-plus peaks are in CMC’s district. Hauser has climbed some of the state’s fourteeners with her husband Jeff, including a particularly memorable one, Challenger Peak, 12 years ago.
When they summited, Jeff Hauser asked Carrie to sit down for a minute, and then asked her to marry him.
“His question for me was, ‘Are you up for a lifetime of challenges?’” she recalls.
On Rainier, her climbing partner was Jon Kedrowski, a geographer, CMC adjunct professor and mountain guide who this year also summited Mount Everest for his second time.
The memories of the Rainier challenges and the mountain itself are plentiful for Hauser, such as ominously hearing rocks and ice falling at night as she tried to sleep at a camp during the ascent.
But Hauser was particularly struck by a serendipitous encounter during the descent when she and Kedrowski began talking with a fellow climber they met, Don Nguyen.
They learned that he’s a mountain guide who cofounded a nonprofit called Climbers of Color — and was a student in CMC’s Outdoor Recreation Leadership program at its Leadville campus.
“His first comment to Jon and me was, ‘I would never be a professional guide if it wasn’t for CMC.’ Uh — OK, job done, mic drop,” Hauser said with a laugh. “That was pretty cool.”
George is impressed by the contribution Hauser makes to CMC and is glad she is chair of the wildlife commission, not just because of the wolf issue, though he thinks she’s well suited to play a strong leadership role handling that.
“She’s one of my absolute favorite people. I have as much regard for her as anybody. She’s brilliant, she’s dedicated, she means to do well, and she’s got the goods to do it,” he said.
This article first appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and is being reprinted by permission in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.