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Work Hard, Play Hard

Western Colorado University, in partnership with CU Boulder, is tapping the state’s iconic outdoor setting to put its brand-new Paul M. Rady School of Computer Science and Engineering on the map. In a new collaboration with outdoor-focused media company BLISTER, known for its in-depth gear review site, the Gunnison-based engineering facility will put next-gen engineers to work on testing and standardizing everything from ski tips to bike wheels to waterproof garments.

BLISTER founder Jonathan Ellsworth calls Blister Labs the world’s first outdoor engineering program. “This is a great model and truly unique,” says Jenifer Blacklock, WCU-CU Boulder partnership director and Blister Labs collaborator. “Students are flying in from all over the U.S. to check our facility.”

With the program in its infancy, students are already leveraging the school’s state-of-the-art electronics, robotics, fabrication and testing facilities. According to Blacklock, a Blister Labs engineering internship is now available, and a master’s degree in the track is under consideration.

Field testing is also part of the engineering equation. This marries quantitative analysis in the laboratory with qualitative experience on the mountain and trail to help outdoor gear manufacturers better understand performance and make improvements to the products in which consumers invest heavily.

Outdoor industry giants are coming to the dedicated lab, too. “Imagine meeting with the lead ski designer at K2,” Blacklock says. “It’s a fabulous experience for our students with real-world applications.”

Ellsworth, whose background is in academia, is as giddy as the faculty and students at Blister Labs. “There isn’t a track for this — it hasn’t happened before,” he says of the venture. “The outdoor industry is a very powerful economic engine, and we want to be part of creating new opportunities, reevaluating standards and helping people make more informed decisions about the gear they purchase to follow their passions outside.”