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REI and the WRMC

As we busily prepare for this year’s Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC), we thought we’d take some time to reflect on our awesome community and those who help make it that way. We want to highlight some of the organizations that continually come the WRMC and find out why they attend and how the WRMC has influenced their risk management practices.

In our continuing WRMC Blog series, we caught up with Rebecca Bear, Outdoor Programs & Outreach manager at REI, in Kent, Washington and asked her some questions. Perhaps you will see similarities to your own program and discover how the WRMC community can help you.


WRMC: Tell us more about REI members and participants.

Bear: We primarily serve REI members and customers who are looking to learn new outdoor activities or deepen their skills in a particular outdoor sport. There are 5 million active REI members of all races, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, ages, genders, etc. It is a large [and] diverse group of outdoor enthusiasts.

WRMC: What do your participants gain from wilderness or remote settings?

Bear: Actually most of our Outdoor School participants are not in remote settings. We help our customers connect to the great, iconic, local destinations close to urban areas, like Climbing at Carderock [near] D.C. or learning to stand up paddle under the Statue of Liberty.

WRMC: Why does your organization send employees to the WRMC?

Bear: I send my field managers to the conference because I think they benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas and some of the foundational risk management concepts discussed in the workshops.

WRMC: How has attending the WRMC helped you provide a better experience for your participants?

Bear: Our managers appreciate the time we have to discuss concepts and how they apply to REI’s risk management. Many of them leave with tangible ideas and concepts they take back immediately to their work.

WRMC: How has attending the WRMC changed the way you manage your program?

Bear: Our program is relatively young (10 years old) in comparison to Outward Bound, NOLS and SCA, etc. As a result, we have benefitted from the knowledge, resources, and tools from the WRMC as we have built our risk management structure. Our training program includes articles from the WRMC library and concepts that are foundational to outdoor programs risk management (like subjective v. objective risk). We’ve also been able to innovate off of these concepts and design them for the unique circumstances of our urban day programming.          

We would like to extend a big thank you to REI’s Outdoor and Outreach Program for their contributions to the WRMC. We look forward to having them share their knowledge and experiences again this year. Bear and her colleague, Jeremy Oyen, will present a workshop offering solutions and techniques for training part-time and seasonal field staff. If your program faces challenges with how to incorporate seasonal staffing with the risk management needs of your organization, especially in an urban setting, come take advantage of the opportunity to network with the great folks at REI and other similar organizations. Join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.

Click on the image below to learn more about the WRMC or to register online.

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Permalink | Posted by Rahel Manna on Jul 22, 2014 in the following categories: Curriculum, Leadership, On The Net, Professional Training, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

NOLS Instructor Talks Leave No Trace Practices and Perspectives


image from a recent interview on Alaska Public Media's Outdoor Explorer program, NOLS Instructor Tre-C Dumais speaks about the ethics and practices of Leave No Trace (LNT). In addition to practical tips, listen in for a rich discussion about wild places and their role in our lives, wilderness ethics on a NOLS course, and the way we can all preserve the value wilderness for future generations. Enjoy!

Click here for current LNT courses offered through NOLS.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Pikla on Jul 11, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Curriculum, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Professional Training

Imagine your 2014 summer

Summer is here!

Well, at least the 2014 summer NOLS course catalog is here, and that's even better, because you still have time to plan the perfect summer with NOLS.


We have boxes and boxes and boxes of the summer catalog here at NOLS Headquarters, so request one here. If you'd prefer a paperless version, we've got you covered, too. Download the iPad version of the 2014 summer catalog here.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jan 16, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Amazon, Australia, Curriculum, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, India, Instructor News, Leadership, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, On The Net, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus, Yukon

The 12 Days of NOLS

We’ve found the perfect way to get you into the holiday spirit and fight the cold snap with a hearty laugh. Watch NOLS Creative’s newest (and possibly goofiest) release, “The 12 Days of NOLS,” a NOLS variation on the classic tune, to get a taste of the NOLS experience or reminisce about your course! Written with extensive input from the peanut gallery, shot and edited in less than 12 hours, and brought to you with only mild shame, we now ask you to watch the video and sing along.

On the first day of my course Paul Petzoldt gave to me ...


Windpants with a reinforced knee

Two trekking poles

Three Peaks Ranch


Five pounds of cheese

Six dudes belaying

Seven miles a' shwackin’

Eight malt balls missing

Nine quickdraws clipping

Ten backpacks bulging

Eleven toasty hot drinks

Twelve students mapping

 Happy Holidays from NOLS

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Dec 10, 2013 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Amazon, Australia, Books, Curriculum, India, Instructor News, Leadership, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, On The Net, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Yukon

NOLS' Newest Book is a Perfect Holiday Gift: Canoeing

Canoeing_300Effortlessly gliding through the crystal clear, smooth water, the canoes’ bow pierces the flat surface and sends ripples outward toward the shores. A single-bladed paddle silently dips into the water, propelling the watercraft further onward.

The simple, yet magnificent practicality of a canoe has been around for years. From the earliest cedar-ribbed and birch bark skinned hulls to the wood-and-canvas construction, and on to the modern-day myriad of ABS plastics, foam, and vinyl that are pressed together and known as Royalex. The materials, as well as the people using canoes, have changed drastically over time.

Nowadays canoes can be found splitting through Arctic waters bumping edges with mini icebergs, crossing the vast Pacific Ocean with help of sails and are still found on small lakes and ponds throughout the world. They are vessels for recreation, transportation, and scientific studies, among other things.

The new NOLS book, Canoeing, written by Alexander Martin and published by Stackpole Books, goes in-depth to explore and enhance the overall understanding of every aspect of canoeing—from planning an expedition and describing in detail the parts of a canoe to water science and river maneuvers and travel. Martin, a NOLS instructor since 2008, has a great understanding of a variety of canoe expeditions and was able to use past experiences and knowledge to create this all-encompassing canoeing book.

Nols_owned_image24_xxlRunning a section of whitewater on a river in the Yukon (Photo credit: Pascal Beauvais)

The book is the perfect gift for anyone with a passion for canoeing who would like to learn more regarding expedition canoeing, water travel and techniques, wilderness navigation, as well as advanced skills and other aspects that make up the world of canoeing. This book will serve as a great resource with colorful graphics and pictures to help demonstrate and teach skills and concepts. As everyone settles in for winter in the Northern Hemisphere, Canoeing will be a great companion. While the snow falls and the winds howl, read up on everything canoe related and gain more insight and excitement with each page. Then when winter finally loses its grip on the land and the waterways flow freely, unimpeded by ice, you can set off your own canoe expedition.

For those who wish to gain even more canoe experience and skills, a great avenue is a NOLS course. There are multiple courses with a canoeing component that will allow you to build a foundation and further your canoeing knowledge and experience. NOLS has taught canoe travel for the last four decades. Significant canoe components can be found at multiple NOLS operating locations including the Yukon, the Brazilian Amazon, Australia, American Southwest and Alaska. Any of these courses or locations would be greatly beneficial to anyone wishing to enhance their outdoor skills, leadership development, environmental studies and risk management techniques. 

Permalink | Posted by Mike Casella on Dec 2, 2013 in the following categories: Alaska, Amazon, Australia, Books, Curriculum, In The News, New Zealand, Northeast, Rocky Mountain, Southwest, Yukon

Campaign NOLS: Explaining Our Core Values, Part 3

NOLS’ core values are at the heart of our institution. Leadership, community, safety, excellence, wilderness, and education inspire everything we do. We share a commitment to these values; they define and direct who we are, what we do, and how we do it.

We believe that education should be exciting, fun, and challenging. With this in mind, our courses are designed to help people develop and practice the skills they need to live, travel, and play safely in the outdoors. On our expeditions, people learn by accepting and meeting real challenges. Our instructors are educators, not guides. They are committed to inspiring students to explore and develop their understanding of wilderness ethics, leadership, teamwork, natural history, and technical skills.

Self arrest
Rachael Abler practices her self-arrest in the Twin Sisters region of the North Cascades.

Rachael Abler on Education 

In 2011, after pursuing a Master’s degree in recreation, I started making calls to numerous collegiate outdoor recreation programs. I found myself hearing one thing that would help me make it in the industry from each and every coordinator, director, graduate assistant, intern, etc.: NOLS. At that, my mind was made up. NOLS, here I come!

The Pacific Northwest Outdoor Educator Course allowed me to develop technical skills in mountaineering and rock climbing while growing as an outdoor educator. Like many people, I was at the point of my life where, after obtaining two college degrees, I did not have much disposable income. But, thanks to the NOLS scholarship program, I had the opportunity to spend 30 days in the backcountry learning who I was, what I was capable of, and transforming myself into a better person for the rest of my life.

Rachael on Mt. Baker, overlooking Mt. Shuksan.

The outdoor experiences throughout the course of my life have allowed me to become the person who I am today, and I hold the strongest regard for the 30 days spent on my NOLS course. It is easy in our technological age to go through life without placing ourselves in situations that allow us to see our true potential. I believe there is nothing more powerful than immersing oneself in outdoors and that there is nothing like making personal accomplishments in some of the most beautiful places in the world. Without such educational experiences, how can anyone possibly know what they are capable of?

NOLS is responsible for impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. Whether the impact is teaching leadership and teamwork qualities, exposing people to new worlds, or offering career advancement opportunities with wilderness medicine, outdoor educator, and instructor courses. No matter what the case, the result is always the same—NOLS changes lives. 

Group photo
Rachael and her coursemates in the Twin Sisters Region of the North Cascades, with Mt. Baker in the backgorund.

My own ability to attend a NOLS course is attributed to the philanthropic efforts of those who came before me. As a donor, I am honored to join the fraternity of individuals who place value in continued education and outdoor leadership development for all who have the drive to pursue it. It is a privilege to give back to the organization that gave so much to me through support of Campaign NOLS. My hope is that many more future leaders and educators can reap similar benefits.

Mt baker view

The view from Mt. Baker.

Rachael Abler is a 2012 Pacific Outdoor Educator graduate, scholarship recipient and a donor.

To learn more about Campaign NOLS: Endowing Our Core Values or to donate, visit

Permalink | Posted by Larkin Flora on Apr 2, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Campaign NOLS, Curriculum, Pacific Northwest

Campaign NOLS: Explaining Our Core Values, Part 2

NOLS’ core values are at the heart of our institution. Leadership, community, safety, excellence, wilderness, and education inspire everything we do. We share a commitment to these values; they define and direct who we are, what we do, and how we do it.

NOLS is an international community composed of talented individuals who care deeply about what they do. We value diversity, integrity, and personal responsibility while recognizing that our strength lies in teamwork and commitment to our mission and each other. We appreciate creativity, individuality, and passion among our staff and as an institution. We take our jobs seriously and pursue our mission with enthusiasm, and we cherish our sense of humor and our ability to laugh at ourselves.

Sadie Sarvis (left) and coursemate enjoy the pictographs in Desolation Canyon during their river section.

Sadie Sarvis on Community

My NOLS experience was truly life changing. I learned how to make my voice heard, deliver constructive feedback, embrace hardship and the unknown, be intentional, and live minimally. I learned to appreciate each moment; that the past and future are only thieves of today. I hold all that I learned close to tackle the next adventure. 

I found NOLS through a guidance counselor at my high school in Portland, Maine and decided on a semester course because I wasn’t as engaged in my coursework at high school as I might’ve liked. Life is too short and wonderful to spend time doing something you’re not excited about; there are too many amazing things to experience! 

My course taught me the value and power of community. Everyone tried to be fair-minded, open, compassionate, respectful, and helpful. We worked hard at effective communication and conflict management, which paid off incredibly well. I will never forget the power of expressing even the smallest frustration to maintain a healthy relationship. By the end of our course, we completed tasks efficiently and relied on each other for support.


Sadie and coursmates pose in front of NOLS headquarters in Lander, WY after graduation.

In the backcountry you can’t let things “brew.” Although this is common in the frontcountry, it is not healthy or productive. Since my course, I am more aware of myself as a function of the whole community of my school, workplace, and teams. I understand that when everyone is decent and respectful, we can accomplish more.

I think everyone should experience outdoor education. One of the hardest parts of the course was raising enough money to be able to participate, and I could not have done my NOLS course without a scholarship. I have never seen myself, or anyone else, grow in leadership skills, competence, self-awareness, judgment and decision-making, risk management, and expedition behavior in such a short time. Everyone deserves to experience that.


Sadie Sarvis is a 2011 Semester in the Rockies graduate and scholarship recipient.

To donate or learn more about Campaign NOLS: Endowing Our Core Values visit

Permalink | Posted by Larkin Flora on Dec 3, 2012 in the following categories: Alumni, Campaign NOLS, Curriculum, Leadership, Rocky Mountain

The Wilderness Laboratory: Research Run Through NOLS Rocky Mountain

    You can learn a lot when you take a NOLS course- hard skills, such as navigation, backcountry cooking, and river-safety, and soft skills, such as leadership, teamwork, and communication. While these lessons have made NOLS famous, the school gains even more information through different research studies on our courses. Dr. John Gookin and the NOLS Research and Curriculum Department conduct studies each summer on courses running out of the Rocky Mountain Branch. Below Dr. Gookin provides some details on a few of this summer's studies.

Ironman Body Composition Scale- We use this scale to measure our students' and instructors' weight, body fat, and muscle mass in the arms, legs, and torso. It also measures their BMR (basal metabolic rate), and metabolic age. We take these measurements before and after the course for a ROCL (our month long rock climbing course), a SIC (NOLS instructor course), and a NALE (Naval Academy Leadership Expedition).Past studies have shown that everyone increases physical fitness (as measured by BMR) on their NOLS course, and that most students lose some fat. We have also found that some people add muscle while others lose it. We're doing this work now to look for a pattern of who adds muscle and who loses it on expeditions. This is a spinoff of the NOLS energetic study being done by Cara Ocobock, a doctoral student at Washington University.

          Below, Outfitting Specialist JD Merrit tests out the Ironman Scale.

JD on Iron Man Scale

Social Climate Scale- A survey that students take in the field, this scale measures the social climate on our courses. Social climate is like EB (expedition behavior) at the group level through a sociological lens. NOLS hypothesises that a better social climate correlates with greater learning. Ben Mirkin, a doctoral student at the University of New Hampshire, is conducting this study.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in NOLS/Naval Academy Students- This study measures heart rate patterns related to stressful situations to see if this changes after a NOLS experience. The hypothesis for this study, proposed by BUDS, the US Navy SEAL School, states that people who successfully complete the NOLS program remain calmer and more effective under stress. This study gives an objective measure of stress repsonses  that can accept or refute this hypothesis. A team of kinesiologists and sport psychologists, who do similar work with the NFL, are executing this study, and it is funded by the US Navy's Operational Stress Control project.

Ill-Structured Problem Solving- This study uses brief essays about how to handle dilemmas to measure six different factors which contain context specific factors, like how the width of a river may be more important in some contexts than others, depending on other loosely related factors. This study hypothesises that NOLS helps students improve in solving ill-structured problems. The staff of the US Naval Academy is conducting this study and it is funded by the US Navy's Operational Stress Control project.

    The mission of the NOLS Research Program is "to support, develop, and disseminate knowledge that contributes to education, to the preservation of wildlands, and to the quality of the experiences of those people who visit wildlands." All of these current studies certainly align with this mission, and NOLS is excited to continue to support this mission by using our wilderness-based classroom and curriculum for further learning on a growing number of diverse fields of study. 

Permalink | Posted by Matt Leslie on Aug 6, 2012 in the following categories: Curriculum, Rocky Mountain

ACS 6/21/12 switch from hiking to sea kayaking

Late last week we welcomed ACS 6/21/12 back from their hiking section in the King Leopolds.  In fine spirits, highlights on their hiking section included the amazing campsites with stunning waterfalls as well as a day spent swimming through a remote gorge/canyon.

Students spent the final 5 days of the section hiking in small groups independant of instructors, consolidating their risk management and leadership skills.

The group were excited to head onto their sea kayaking leg and spent time at the NOLS base switching gear before heading to the local caravan park for a well earned shower and rest.  

The trip to Dampier Archipelago is 10hrs, after which they met their two sea kayak instructors to head out for another adventure.

The group is now self sufficient until Thursday 2/Aug when they start their journey back to the NOLS base for final course wrap up and graduation.

Permalink | Posted by Cassandra Colman on Jul 23, 2012 in the following categories: Alumni, Australia, Curriculum

Summit Addresses Environmental Issues

After spending much of the first day of the Faculty Summit discussing leadership skills, teaching techniques, and ways to foster inclusion, the second day began with a reminder to faculty: you have an incredible opportunity to inspire a new generation to care about the environment.

Dan Garvey delivered the morning’s first presentation. Garvey’s humorous approach softened the otherwise sobering discourse about ethical failures and their catastrophic impact on the environment.

Dan Garvey addresses NOLS faculty. Photo Credit: Brad Christensen

Next, George Luber delved further into the theme of environmental consciousness with a thorough presentation of the changes occurring in the environment and, consequently, in the health of Americans. 

George Luber explains the numerous changes occuring in the environment. Photo credit: Brad Christensen

Although Luber’s statistics were staggering, he, like Garvey, urged NOLS faculty to take the information and act, rather than allow it to be paralytic in its seriousness.  For example, he suggested appealing to the self interest of students, whose appreciation for wild places grows during a NOLS course.  

“Instead of pointing out all of the weeds, get in the garden,” deplored Garvey.

For videos of talks, forums, and workshops at the NOLS Faculty Summit, please visit

Permalink | Posted by Alison Hudson on May 17, 2012 in the following categories: Alumni, Curriculum, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Instructor News, Leadership

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