An Artist. An Adventurer. A Q&A with NOLS Grad Dori Bergman

By Dori Bergman

Apr 20, 2021

Artist smiles next to her painting of a mountaineer
Photo courtesy of Dori Bergman

What were some of your outdoor experiences when you were young? How did you find NOLS?

My mom would take my sisters and me on mother-daughter trips, and we each got to choose whatever we wanted to do. I always chose camping in the Adirondacks because I loved the little toads and lizards. This sparked my lifelong love for the outdoors.

I was 17 when I went on a NOLS course in Alaska, and right away I was hooked. This was followed by courses at NOLS Rocky Mountain and NOLS Pacific Northwest. I then went on to work for NOLS Northeast as an intern!

Artist stands beside painting of a woman standing in a river washing her face
Photo courtesy of Dori Bergman

What were the biggest takeaways from your time at NOLS?

One of the biggest takeaways I got from NOLS was the immense value in taking risks. I remember hunkering down on the Maclaren Glacier, getting lost in the Beartooths, and being pelted with giant balls of hail in the Pasayten Wilderness. I remember thinking This is it: this is how I am going to die. But do you know what’s funny? Those were the times when I felt most alive.

Another is the importance of community. On all three of my NOLS courses, I felt a sense of belonging that I’ve never experienced elsewhere. I also found unparalleled mentorship. One day, I would like to be a role model for others like so many were to me.

And lastly, leadership. So many people believe they do not have what it takes to be a leader. But NOLS taught me that leadership is a set of skills that can be learned. It was on my last course that I truly began to feel like a leader.

Against the Current

Tell us more about your artwork, your inspiration, and what you hope your followers and fans get from your work?

I hope people take away deep meaning from my work. I paint about women in the outdoors, with a focus on mental health. I have a bachelor’s degree in Wilderness Therapy and a master’s in Outdoor Education, so you will see both of these carried over into my work.

I have painted about empathy, connection, fear, failure, gratitude, vulnerability, self-compassion, perseverance, minimalism and more. I hope people feel something when they look at my artwork.

Essentially, all of my paintings are inspired by NOLS and similar experiences in the wilderness! You can find all of my artwork at

Walk us through some of the pieces you created to reflect your time at NOLS

Take the Risk

This painting “Take the Risk” is of my Alaska Mountaineering course.

Badass Backpackers

This painting, “Badass Backpackers,” is of my all-women’s course in the PNW.

Comfort Zone

This is a 4ft x 4ft painting I made as a gift for NOLS Northeast, during my summer internship! I believe that most people’s life purpose and passion lies outside of their comfort zone. NOLS provides students with a safe and supportive environment to expand their comfort zones.

What is your advice for artists looking to start or improve their outdoor-themed artwork?

Paint from your own experiences. I think that this is where the magic happens!

See all NOLS courses

Written By

Dori Bergman

Dori has a bachelor’s degree in wilderness therapy and a master’s degree in outdoor education. Her passion lies not in the outdoors but using it to help people. She paints about women in the wilderness, with a focus on mental health. Learn more about Dori and her art on her site

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