NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Graduate and Former Instructor Jimmy Chin Wins the Oscar for Best Documentary Film “Free Solo”

Share Article

Co-directed by former NOLS instructor Jimmy Chin, the Academy Award-winning documentary “Free Solo” put the renowned filmmaker, photographer and alpinist’s skills to the test. Chin has embraced lessons learned in his wilderness expeditionary experience with NOLS in a lifestyle defined by adventure and storytelling in extreme environments.

Former NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructor Jimmy Chin on location filming the Academy Award-winning documentary feature film “Free Solo” (© National Geographic Partners).

Chin commented in a recent interview with NOLS that “it was an amazing and life-changing experience.”

The 91st Academy Awards recognized “Free Solo,” the first climbing film to win an Oscar for the top documentary feature film. “Free Solo” was co-directed by former NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructor Jimmy Chin and his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. The documentary featured climber Alex Honnold, chronicling his unprecedented “free solo” ascent of El Capitan’s Freerider route in Yosemite National Park without ropes or safety equipment.

In 2017, Honnold’s incredible feat immediately resonated in the climbing world, and with the release of “Free Solo,” his achievement reached far beyond the climbing community. With dramatic visuals and intimate storytelling, Chin and Vasarhelyi captured Honnold’s intense, complicated nature and conveyed the magnitude of his accomplishment to a broader audience.

In her acceptance speech, Vasarhelyi thanked National Geographic, which produced the film, “for believing in us and for hiring women and people of color because we only help make the films better." She went on to say that Free Solo is “for everyone who believes in the impossible."

Chin—a renowned filmmaker, photographer, and professional alpinist and skier—is a NOLS graduate and former instructor for the school. He took an instructor course in Arizona’s Gila Desert at age 22. Chin commented in a recent interview with NOLS that “it was an amazing and life-changing experience...I really began to appreciate the craft of teaching on that course and how rewarding it is to share knowledge.” He’s continued to embrace a lifestyle informed by the lessons he learned on NOLS expeditions, one defined by adventure and storytelling in extreme environments.

This is not the first time Chin and his wife have used the powerful medium of film to illuminate moments that redefine the limits of what humans can accomplish in the outdoors. Chin was a member of the first team to successfully climb the Shark’s Fin route on Mount Meru, and in 2015, he and Vasarhelyi released “Meru,” a documentary tracing the ascent.

Chin explains that he and his wife seek to share stories about “experiences that are powerful in our own lives, like the importance of friendship, mentorship, facing your fears, having courage, and being true to yourself.”

NOLS expeditions range from two-day Wilderness First Aid courses to full-length immersive semesters in 16 locations worldwide. To explore the outdoor leadership school’s latest courses, please visit

NOLS is the world’s leading wilderness school. A nonprofit based in Lander, WY, the school provides students the opportunity to step forward—whether on an expedition, wilderness medicine or custom course. Students of all ages graduate from their courses prepared to step forward and lead their communities in a changing world. Graduates have a lifelong desire for leadership, commitment to continued skills development, and ongoing education. Since 1965, NOLS has embraced and explored the unknown through outdoor and classroom-based experiences. To learn more about NOLS, call 800.710.6657 or visit

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Anne M. Parsons
Word PR + Marketing
Email >
Visit website