Robb Gneiser leaves a legacy of connection at Windy Peak Outdoor Lab

Robb Gneiser at Windy Peaks Outdoor Lab. Gneiser served as principal for 14 years. Photo courtesy of Robb Gneiser.

“It’s all about people and positivity.”

This mantra guided Robb Gneiser through 14 years as principal at Windy Peak Outdoor Lab, an outdoor education program for middle school students in Jefferson County. 

Founded in 1975 and located on 205 acres in Bailey, Colorado, Windy Peak provided an immersive educational experience to an estimated 60,000 students during Gneiser’s time as principal. As Gneiser prepares to pass the torch to Jeremy Brasher, the former principal at Shaffer Elementary in Littleton, he leaves behind a legacy of lasting bonds among the school’s students, interns, and staff.”

“Robb is a very passionate person, and that’s contagious,” said Roxanne Herzog, secretary at Windy Peak. “He has poured himself heart and soul into the program.” 

According to Garden Marantino, program director at Windy Peak, Gneiser worked to create a space where everyone felt seen and inspired. 

“What Robb brought to the curriculum is this incredible understanding of how important people are to this whole system,” Marantino said. “He frequently said, ‘We’re not in the outdoor business, we’re in the people business.’” 

Gneiser made sure all Windy Peak employees bought into this philosophy. 

“We need to come to work positively,” Gneiser said. “This is each student’s only week here, and for these kids getting off the bus it should feel like we’ve been waiting for them the whole year.”

Positive influences flow both ways between students and staff at Windy Peak. Gneiser recalls a student who had undergone a hemispherectomy to treat a severe seizure disorder, and the operation caused one side of his body to be partially paralyzed. 

“Let me tell you, it was hard to see,” Gneiser said. “I asked the kid, ‘If there was one thing you wanted to do here, what would it be?’ He looks up at me and he goes, ‘Everything.’ And that kid made it through every single hike, all five days. It was just beautiful.”

Gneiser’s leadership style is exemplified in Windy Peak’s “I C.A.R.E.” sticks, passed between students to recognize acts of Integrity, Commitment, Awareness, Respect and Empathy. He encourages students to be as specific as possible with their praise during each exchange.

Whether it’s through his Scottish accent impersonations, his handmade wood-burned gifts, or his iconic mutton chops mustache, Gneiser has a flair for lasting impressions.

 “He’s had an unbelievable impact,” Marantino said. “Everyone in his orbit feels recognized. It’s incredible to me that he’s able to give that experience to essentially every kid and high school leader and adult that comes through our site. I don’t use this word lightly, but it’s truly legendary.”

Gneiser’s retirement marks the end of a career dedicated to helping others. That sense of family will likely be at the core of Windy Peak Lab for generations to come.

“It’s all about taking care of people, making sure that everyone who came here felt welcome whether it was the 6th graders, the interns, the teachers, the bus drivers…They’re all part of the family,” Gneiser said. 

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