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USNA Midshipman Shares Lessons in Leadership

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Dale Lescher, midshipman 2/C at the US Naval Academy, recently shared a few of the lessons she's learned through NOLS. A two-time NOLS graduate, Dale participated in the first USNA expedition to attempt Mt. Denali, the highest point in North America, in the summer of 2014. Read about the lessons Dale gained on the USNA blog.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Pikla on Jan 29, 2015 in the following categories: Alaska, Leadership, Professional Training

Honoring a Shared Legacy

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Paul Petzoldt (second from left) poses for a photo at Camp Hale, Colo. Photo: Frank Chuk 

As NOLS celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we take a look back at the connections forged along the way and honor our history. This year, the 10th Mountain Division Foundation generously donated scholarship funding to NOLS for active military, veterans, and their immediate family.

In 1943, the U.S. Army formed the 10th Mountain Division to fight in mountainous terrain. The young men—recruited from ski patrol, U.S. Forest Service, ranches and Eagle Scouts—trained at Camp Hale, near Leadville, Colo. at an elevation of 9,300 feet. Beyond combat skills, the men were practicing wilderness survival and rescue techniques.

The following year, and 21 years before founding NOLS, 36-year-old Paul Petzoldt joined the division as a staff sergeant to teach safety and preparation techniques. The legendary mountaineer was an obvious choice to train the men who would ultimately fight in the mountains of northern Italy during World War II.

Troops went out from Camp Hale in groups of 10 to develop their protocols and maneuvers. They often skied up to 25 miles a day and spent nights in snow huts. Given the small groups, there was a great deal of camaraderie among recruits and higher-ranking officers. It is clear that Petzoldt’s teaching was revered, respected, and absorbed.

In 1945, the 10th Mountain Division became the last U.S. Army division committed to the European Theater. They were in combat for over 110 days, took every objective, and never retreated. Of the division, 1,000 men were lost in action and many more wounded.

After the war, the division was decommissioned and its members scattered all over the country to work at ski areas, for the Forest Service, and in outdoor education.

In 1963, Petzoldt helped establish the first American Outward Bound program in Colorado. While working at Outward Bound, he recognized the need to teach people how to enjoy and conserve the outdoors. His vision was to train leaders capable of conducting wilderness programs in a safe, rewarding manner, and the result was NOLS. Ernest “Tap” Tapley, also a 10th Mountain Division member and friend of Petzoldt, was a lead instructor for NOLS for the first decade of its existence. 

The heritage of the 10th Mountain is honored today by teaching youth to love the outdoors, as well as the technical skills necessary to travel in the backcountry. The scholarship support from the foundation will help the next generation of leaders learn and grow in the wilderness. It also honors all 10th Mountain Division soldiers killed in action, veterans, and the legacy they created.

Permalink | Posted by Larkin Flora on Jan 21, 2015 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership

Astronaut Reid Wiseman on Expedition Behavior

Astronaut and U.S. Navy Commander Reid Wiseman wrote the following missive about expeditionary behavior from low earth orbit to be read to the astronaut class of 2013 on their NOLS course. A highlight of that course was connecting with CDR Wiseman on the International Space Station via satellite phone from deep in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.

First, a little story. I was walking with five classmates, two astronauts, and two instructors. We were tired. We were dirty. We were in search of water and a campsite. We had just rapelled down a slot canyon and were now trudging along with heavy packs. Storm clouds approached and a few drops of rain started to hit my arm wiping away a thick layer of canyon dust. As I walked next to Rick Rochelle, I muttered: “Ah shit, just what we need now. Rain.” Without missing a beat, Rick turned to me and said “This rain feels AMAZING after a long hike, I love it!” He was dead on right. It did feel amazing. And I went from unhappy to loving it in one sentence.

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Reid enjoys the view from the Cupola on the International Space Station.

When I look back on the last five years from Navy pilot to Astronaut Candidate to living on the International Space Station, several events really stick out in my mind. Last landing on an aircraft carrier, NASA selection day, arriving in Houston, first run in the spacesuit at the NBL [Neutral Buoyancy Lab], and of course, launching on a rocket and living in low earth orbit. Most people only dream of craziness like this and yet here we are living it. How do you train for a journey such as this?

Clearly first and foremost, you need to learn the details of your trade: systems, payloads, and emergency procedures. But, you also need to learn to function well in a stressful environment. You need to learn to play well with others. You need to learn how to take care of yourself under abnormal circumstances.

Some of you already possess these less tangible skills. Others, like me, think you know these skills but don’t really have a firm grasp on them and that is why you are here now, at NOLS. I am not an outdoorsman. I was a fish out of water on my first NOLS course. My two weeks in the canyonlands of Utah taught me more about living and working in space than any other single activity at NASA. Here’s why.

Upon arrival at the ISS, you will be lost in a confusing multidimensional world with a feeling that 5+ years of training has done absolutely nothing to prepare you for this. Floating is amazing but it comes at a price. Confusion. Disorientation. Loss of situational awareness. I specifically remember feeling these same things on my first night in the desert at NOLS. I had no idea how to live. How to work. How to help. How to organize this gigantic pack of gear. I lost stuff. I got upset. I had moments of elation followed by moments of fear followed by moments of confusion.

These feelings perfectly sum up launch day and week one on the ISS. On arrival to the space station, within minutes, Swanny [Steve Swanson] (who is my commander and also was my instructor astronaut on NOLS) told me to treat this just like the canyonlands. He used those exact words and it was precisely what I needed to hear. He took over my life for about an hour as a father would. Priority #1: get your sleeping gear out of the Soyuz spacecraft and let’s set it up. Then he showed me very briefly how to use the toilet in case I needed it during the night. After that, he taught me how to find and prepare food as well as what to do with garbage. He knew I couldn’t process more than that at the time so he stopped there and left me alone. Exactly what I needed.

On day two he took it a bit further and helped me find my clothes and hygiene supplies so I could set up my crew quarters, get cleaned up, and get settled in. Sound familiar? It should. Once you start to compartmentalize the basics up here, just as you do in NOLS, life becomes manageable. Only then can you start to become an effective member of the team. I was lucky to have someone like Swanny here to help me compartmentalize the initial shock of arriving to an expeditionary outpost, which lacked gravity.

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Reid bathes in the Dirty Devil River on a 2010 NOLS expedition in Utah's canyonlands.

After I got settled in, it was time to start working. It takes a lot of effort and attention to be a good member of this massive NASA team. NOLS is going to give you the pieces to the puzzle. I would like to highlight what I believe is the most important piece for me: expedition behavior.

As you work through your NOLS course, watch how your friends lead. More importantly, watch how your friends live. We know if we are the designated leader we are under the spotlight. Watch your team when the spotlight is off. What annoys you? What makes you happy? What are you doing that could be annoying to others?

My two USOS crewmates, Swanny and Alex, are absolute pros at expedition behavior. Just watching them I have learned amazing amounts of what good behavior can do for the morale of an expedition. Alex is the quiet crewmate who never passes a full trash bag without emptying it. Swanny is quick with a joke to ease any tense situation. Neither of them ever excludes, rather they make a point to find us all when telling a funny story or sharing a little treat from their own bonus food containers. Those simple little acts seem meaningless, but up here they are golden.

I saw similar acts during both of my NOLS courses. On my second NOLS course, Mike Hopkins was the fire starter. He was the best at it and yet he would always let me give it a shot if I wanted. If I failed, he helped. If I succeeded he sat back, enjoyed the fire, and said “nice work buddy.” This is another small yet very effective example of good expedition behavior that has stuck with me.

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NASA astronaut candidates chat with Reid Wiseman via satellite phone during their NOLS expedition in September 2014.

NOLS is so much more than expedition behavior and I don’t mean to downplay the other six critical leadership skills. But as I close out month two onboard, there is no doubt NOLS taught me the value of good expedition behavior and that is the piece I personally needed for success up here.

I will close with this: It is lunch-time now on Saturday afternoon, July 26, 2014. I think I’ll float on over to Node 1 and warm up some bland, tough meat in a pouch which tastes like all the other bland tough meats in pouches. But I will open it, smile and say: “This meat in a pouch is AMAZING after a long morning. I love it!” And it will make me happy.

Reprinted with permission of Reid Wiseman. At the time of this post, Reid is in his sixth month on orbit, preparing to return to Earth.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Pikla on Nov 4, 2014 in the following categories: Leadership, Professional Training

Teton Valley Ranch Camp and the WRMC

The latest installment of the WRMC blog series profiles Teton Valley Ranch Camp (TVRC), a Western style youth camp that has been operating in Wyoming for 75 years, and stands as Wyoming's most historic residential summer camp. In this interview we caught up with TVRC Executive Director Carly Platt.

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The mission of Teton Valley Ranch Camp is to provide educational excellence in camp programming in an enriching western environment. 

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WRMC: What do your participants gain from the wilderness setting?

TVRC: An appreciation and love for the wild places of Wyoming and the planet. An understanding of the principles and practices of Leave No Trace. Knowledge about the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: wildlife, plant life, geology, ecology, and our role as stewards of the environment. Recognition that spending time in the outdoors can be FUN! The basic hard skills needed to plan and execute a backcountry expedition and an ability to identify hazards and manage risk proactively.

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

TVRC: Risk management is an important practice in all aspects of our organization's programming. The WRMC has been particularly helpful for us as we make policy and decisions to manage the risk of bringing young children on backpacking and horse packing trips in remote Wyoming wilderness areas. Especially helpful to us in recent years have been ideas for staff training, advice on legal considerations, and conversations about "hot topics" and other current industry trends. Another hugely beneficial aspect of the conference is networking and sharing ideas with other backcountry program directors. It is helpful to speak with others in the backcountry industry, even if their programs look very different from our summer camp setting.

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

TVRC: By regularly attending the WRMC, we are able to stay informed about current industry standards and best practices to ensure an objectively high quality, educational, and fun experience for our campers. At the conference, we are challenged annually to revisit our programmatic decisions and to incorporate exciting new ideas in the months leading up to our summer season. Through lessons and frameworks we have learned over the years, we have also been able to incorporate risk management into our curriculum as an important takeaway for our staff and campers alike!

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

TVRC: Attending the WRMC has provided our year-round staff with principles, resources, and connections to make risk management an institutional priority. More than anything, the opportunity to have conversations and share ideas with other leaders in the backcountry industry has made our program stronger and stronger with each year we attend.

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We feel lucky to have outstanding WRMC attendees like the staff from Teton Valley Ranch Camp joining the discussion each year. For the chance to network with knowledgeable and experienced folks from TVRC and other similar organizations please 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 Aug 28, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Professional Training, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

City Kids Wilderness Project and the WRMC

The Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) unites hundreds of the nation’s leading outdoor organizations, schools, and businesses annually in an effort to “offer an outstanding educational experience to help mitigate the risks inherent in exploring, working, teaching, and recreating in wild places.” WRMC attendees absorb and learn a lot from one another through workshops, exercises, structured networking sessions, and much more.

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. Recently, we interviewed Colleen McHugh, the program director of City Kids Wilderness Project (CKWP), an outstanding nonprofit youth organization that has been returning annually to the WRMC.

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City Kids Wilderness Project is founded on the belief that providing enriching life experiences for underserved and at-risk D.C. children can enhance their lives, the lives of their families, and the greater community. 

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

McHugh: Each youth experiences something different from their wilderness experiences at City Kids. The program is a multi-year commitment for each youth. They begin their experience at the end of sixth grade, and our goal is to continue working with each individual through high school graduation and beyond. In returning each summer to the Jackson Hole area as well as participating in outdoor activities throughout the school year, youth develop a long-term relationship with the wilderness. For some, it provides a sense of peace and reflection, and for others it provides challenge and an opportunity to push themselves. A few find a life-long love of the outdoors and continue to pursue it as a field of study or career choice. Most of our campers talk about their experience as empowering and significant in expanding their worldview and their understanding of their own personal strengths and capabilities. City Kids becomes a second home for participants, a break from stressors of their life in D.C., and a space for them to explore their potential.  

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

McHugh: As a small organization, the WRMC is a great opportunity for City Kids as an organization and individual staff members to connect with resources and other organizations. The WRMC allows us to learn from the experiences of larger programs and draw on resources from programs and experts who have developed great tools for their own programs. It has been extremely helpful in helping staff members calibrate our own practices with others in the industry and talk and compare with programs of a similar size. Sending multiple staff members has allowed us to spread out during the conference and make the most of the networking and workshops offered; additionally, the diversity in workshops allow both program staff and management staff to attend programs most relevant to their roles. It also provides a critical space and time in a busy program schedule for staff to step back and focus on risk management in the implementation of our programs.   

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

McHugh: On an organizational level, all staff and participants are more actively engaged in risk management. Clarity in our risk management practices have provided a more consistent experience for participants and translated to more clear program goals in the education of participants. This has been empowering for participants taking a more active role in managing risk within the group or as an individual. Youth in the program now play an active role in all trip activity briefings. Overall, the practices learned from the WRMC have helped us provide more structure and thoughtful programs for participants, which translates to a better experience on a daily level.  

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

McHugh: Over the last few years, attending the WRMC has significantly impacted how City Kids manages risk and operates as a program. The WRMC and NOLS Risk Management Training have provided a language, common framework, and structure for our management team in addressing risk. Broadly, the WRMC has stimulated conversation about organizational risk and program goals and again provided a common framework for staff members to discuss risk management. More specifically, attending the WRMC prompted some significant review of our risk management practices. Some of these projects include reviewing and updating our participant agreement, reviewing and updating our medical review system, writing a risk management plan, and thinking critically of our design of staff training. Risk management is now a part of the living culture of City Kids and ingrained in the ways we talk and implement our programs.

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We would like to extend a big thank you to City Kids Wilderness Project for their contributions to the WRMC every year. We look forward to having them share their knowledge and experiences again this year. Come take advantage of the opportunity to network with the great folks at City Kids Wilderness Project 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 Aug 14, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Professional Training, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

Montana Conservation Corps & the WRMC

In this installment of the Wilderness Risk Management Conference blog series, we are focusing our attention on the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC). This nonprofit development program for young adults has been following in the footsteps of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, using conservation projects to foster citizenship and personal growth in its members. WRMC staff caught up with Montana Conservation Corps Program Director Lee Gault, who represented MCC at the WRMC 10 years ago, and asked him about the dynamic relationship that has been evolving between MCC and the WRMC for over a decade.

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In the span of one year, the MCC, as a single branch, is able to train 300-400 participants of varying age groups and backgrounds. The different programs offered at MCC also vary greatly. One program in particular, the Veterans Green Corps, serves American military veterans who are “transitioning from military to civilian life” and “range in age from 24-35” said Gault. Using the training and exposure that the MCC program provides, many American veterans who are MCC alumni are able to transition into civilian positions and go on to work with the national parks service and the national forest service.

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In addition to the veterans program, roughly 80 percent of MCC members are young adults who work on projects ranging from bioresearch and watershed restoration to trail restoration, community service, and much more. While at MCC, participants go through a maturation process brought on through challenging projects and “usually return with a firm commitment to advocate for, protect, and defend wilderness and our public lands in general” said Gault.

The MCC curriculum is designed to help members foster a deep-seated passion for the great outdoors through leadership development, technical outdoor skills, and environmental stewardship. MCC field programs hire “about 250 young adults, 18-30 years old from all over the country and all education levels,” Gault said. “All of them are AmeriCorps national service participants, and they serve varying length terms of service from a three-month summer term to a full nine months. We also serve around 150 Montana high-school-age teens in our summer Youth Service Expeditions program. They do a month-long mini-MCC experience completing most of the same work as our field crews.”

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After such a longstanding commitment to attending the WRMC, we asked Gault to explain why MCC decides to send staff to the WRMC year after year. “We have found the WRMC to be the best professional development opportunity for risk management related to our field. There are topics relevant to every staff person at every level. It keeps us abreast of the state of the art in risk management, and it exposes our staff to the top thinkers and practitioners in the field,” Gault explained. “Every year we make changes and adaptations to our current practices, procedures and policies based on things we learned from the WRMC.”

Gault emphasized that the WRMC has provided a better experience for MCC participants: “[The WRMC] has helped in almost every area: screening and intake, hiring, training, leadership, field communication, in-field medical care, fostering positive crew dynamics, technical practices, emergency response, even office practices.”

As a community-empowering conservation organization, MCC stands as a great asset to the outdoor community and we are proud to have them as a contributing member of the WRMC family once again this year. If you are a community-based conservation organization, come take advantage of the opportunity to network with the knowledgeable staff from MCC and other similar organizations. Please join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.

To learn more about the WRMC or to register online, click on the following image:

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Written and Edited by Rahel Manna

Permalink | Posted by Rahel Manna on Aug 12, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Professional Training, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

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.

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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

Rocky Mountain Power Foundation Supports NOLS Scholarships

NOLS is delighted to receive a $3,500 grant from the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation to provide scholarships to students from Wyoming and Utah. The funds will support underserved youth living in Wyoming and Utah as they embark on the educational adventure of a lifetime this summer. 

Each year, NOLS offers $1.5 million in scholarships, enabling students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to benefit from the school’s unrivaled experiential outdoor skills and leadership training. The Rocky Mountain Power Foundation’s contribution to this initiative is of great importance to NOLS’ mission.

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Rocky Mountain Power's Craig Nelson and NOLS' Pip Coe commemorate the grant in front of NOLS' solar panels, another project made possible by Rocky Mountain Power.

“The Rocky Mountain Power Foundation is pleased to support this worthy organization and its efforts to teach students valuable lessons in communication, decision-making and teamwork,” said Craig Nelson, Rocky Mountain Power customer and community manager.

“We believe positive, ethical leaders change the world,” said Pip Coe, NOLS Alumni and Development Director. “The Rocky Mountain Power Foundation demonstrates the impact of ethical community leaders while also supporting the development of future leaders by helping them take NOLS courses.” 

Students interested in applying for a NOLS scholarship should submit the standard NOLS scholarship application. Find the form and learn more about scholarships at NOLS at http://www.nols.edu/financialaid/nols_scholarship.shtml.

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Jul 16, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, In The News, Leadership, On The Net

Colorado Mountain Club and the WRMC

The 21st annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) is only a few months away, and we are beyond excited to get our wonderful WRMC community together once again. We thought we’d highlight some of the organizations that continually attend the WRMC and ask them why they send staff to the conference year after year.

We caught up with Brenda Porter, director of member and volunteer engagement at Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) in Golden, Colorado, and asked her some questions about CMC and its participants and why they prioritize the WRMC each year.

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Colorado Mountain Club, said Porter, “is a community of people who love the challenge, thrill, and inspiration of exploring the mountains.” CMC has over 5,000 club members and teaches 7,000 K-12 school children through their Youth Education Program (YEP). Many CMC members are also volunteers who provide thousands of hikes and classes to other CMC members every year. Participants in CMC’s outdoor education activities and trips range from rank beginners to experienced high-altitude mountaineers.

According to Porter, CMC has more than 3,000 trips and over 25 educational courses for members and the public, all led by volunteers. She finds it challenging to provide ongoing training and support to outlying volunteers.

“The WRMC has been a good source of colleagues with whom to share ideas and experience with volunteer outdoor leaders,” Porter said.

One of CMC’s key volunteers, Uwe Sartori, attended the WRMC last year and commented afterward that his experience was, “both eye-opening and life-changing for [him] as a volunteer trip leader and instructor.”

Porter emphasized that, “the WRMC is a fantastic place to network, both with staff and volunteers from other mountain clubs, as well as with people from other outdoor organizations. The WRMC is also the best place to share ideas and learn about current topics in wilderness risk management. I have grown personally and professionally when presenting workshops at the WRMC on ‘risk management with volunteers’ to other volunteer organizations.”

When asked how the WRMC helped her provide a better experience for her participants, Porter shared the following story of CMC’s YEP program:

“When the first accident in the program’s 15-year history happened this summer, YEP staff responded according to our EAP, protocols, and training. I believe that CMC staff’s past experiences with the WRMC factored in a positive outcome with the child who needed emergency care, his family, as well as the other participants who continued their outdoor activities.”

We are honored to have CMC in attendance once again this year and look forward to having them share their knowledge and experiences. If you are volunteer-based organization, come take advantage of the opportunity to network with CMC and other similar organizations. Please join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.

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Permalink | Posted by Rahel Manna on Jul 15, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Professional Training, Wilderness Risk Management Conference, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus

Get to Know NOLS Southwest

NOLS Southwest Director Lindsay Nohl made her way back to the computer after a weekend of mountain biking just in time to share her favorite aspects of operating in the American Southwest. Read what she had to say about the region below.

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Our NOLS Southwest staff is a group of caring, smart, and creative individuals who thrive on going above and beyond to create the best experience possible for our students. 

How long have you been NOLS Southwest Branch Director?

​Four and a half years​ as branch director. I also spent two years as assistant director (2006–2008) and two years working in three different positions operations assistant, rations manager, and outfitting manager (2003–2005).

How did it all begin for you?

“I knew I wanted to become a NOLS instructor from the first week in the field,” recalls Lindsay. “And, at the end of my course, I knew I wanted to give others a similar life-changing experience.”

In 2004, Lindsay’s dream became a reality. Read more from this previous interview with Lindsay here.

What is your favorite aspect of running courses in your part of the world?

I think that the desert is a magical place and I love being able to send students out to discover the beauty in the places that we operate. It makes me smile to think of a student climbing up a huge granite dome at Cochise Stronghold or walking through patches of sunlight in a deep rocky canyon of the Gila Wilderness.  

What unique or particularly appealing aspect of this branch do you think potential students should know about?

Students often tell me that coming back to the NOLS Southwest base "feels like coming back home" after they have been out in the backcountry. We have a beautiful 10-acre campus with an open-air ramada complete with an outdoor "living room" where our students hang out while they are in town. Our small in-town staff all live on-site and really get to know our students throughout their course experience. Our students are part of the NOLS Southwest community the minute they show up for their course.

What would you say most surprises students when they arrive or during their course in that part of the world?

The desert environment and the huge amount of plant and animal diversity they will experience as they travel through the desert "life zones" at different elevations. NOLS Southwest sits at 2,500 feet and is littered with huge Saguaro cactus, mesquite trees, and creosote bushes. Students see coyotes, javelina, and roadrunners on our school property. When they get up into some of the various mountain ranges like the Gila National Forest in New Mexico (7,000–10,000 feet), they will be hiking through spruce-fir, aspen, or ponderosa pine forests and may encounter deer, black bear, bighorn sheep, or wild turkeys. Elevation creates such a stark contrast in the desert.

Anything else you'd like me to include when we brag about your branch, staff, or part of the world?

I know I'm a tad biased, but the Southwest is home to the best sunsets on the planet.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jun 23, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Southwest

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