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Minimalist Camp Gives Outward Bound A New Look

'Micro' Cabins at Outward Bound center
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Modern, minimalist cabins pepper the Colorado woods after an ambitious project by University of Colorado students to update an Outward Bound campus.

'Micro' Cabins at Outward Bound center
‘Micro’ Cabins at Outward Bound center, near Leadville, Colo.; photo by Jesse Kuroiwa

In a pine forest near Leadville, Colo., the rustic life got an upgrade. Finished last summer, a steep hillside dotted with 14 cabins is the staff village for Colorado Outward Bound School’s (COBS) central campus.

It’s known as the Leadville Mountain Center (LMC), a logistics base for the outdoor and adventure skills school, Outward Bound. The cabins are also home for instructors and staff, who live 2-3 per unit on a rotating basis throughout the summer.

I was among the first to live there. The modern, minimalist cabins were a step up from the bed of my Ford F350, where I’d often slept before the cabins were open.

Colorado Outward Bound center
photo by Jesse Kuroiwa

The wood-and-steel cabins represent a collaboration between Outward Bound and the University of Colorado-Denver’s architecture program.

Outward Bound ‘Micro’ Cabins

A former Outward Bound instructor, JD Signom recognized a need for improved housing beyond the limited beds in staff dorms and platform tents. The cabins were designed to be low-impact and to blend into their surroundings.

Cabins Outward Bound
photo by Jesse Kuroiwa

A group of grad students built the 14 micro-cabins, each with a unique floor plan. The site, not accessible to cranes or large trucks, required a different kind of design.

There was minimal budget, too, with a goal of less than $10,000 per unit. Signom and students made it happen by creating a system with wall panels that were packed flat in small trucks.

About half of the cabins are winterized with electricity, easing the high demand for winter housing at the LMC.

Each cabin has a small porch area
Each cabin has a small porch area; photo by Jesse Kuroiwa

Cabin Size, Specs

The cabins are 140-200 square feet and split into two living areas with separate entrances. The steel serves as the frame for the structure, with vertical lines and sharp angles that blend well with the surrounding pine trees.

Interior of Outward Bound cabin
Interior of Outward Bound cabin; photo by Jesse Kuroiwa

The frame and corrugated roofs serve as outside storage for bikes, kayaks, and skis. The boxy interiors vary but share many key elements.

Each has a raised bed with storage space underneath and a desk-like surface for counter space.

Large windows and porches allow for natural light and views of the Arkansas River Valley and the Mosquito Range.

'Micro' Cabins at Outward Bound center
Storage is built-in; photo by Jesse Kuroiwa

Cabins In The Woods

The LMC is the logistical hub for COBS programs that stretch across the state, and as far as Alaska, Joshua Tree, and Ecuador. Staff prep for their courses here, eat their meals, plan personal adventures, and return after expeditions.

Currently, the cabins are used almost exclusively for staff. Friends and family of staff members are welcome at the LMC for $8 a day, or an hour of work trade (completing chores around the base).

Last summer, as a logistics coordinator, I spent my days at the LMC working in the warehouse. I ate meals and spent days off with my coworkers.

'Micro' Cabins at Outward Bound center
photo by Jesse Kuroiwa

While I loved the work, people, and the many adventures I went on, the time spent alone was precious. In my cabin, I could hang up pictures or drink a beer uninterrupted on my little porch.

This year, the collaboration between CU and Outward Bound continues. The OB base in Moab, Utah, lacks a central campus to create a sense of camaraderie among staff.

CU is finishing blueprints for a large community gathering space to be finished in late spring.

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