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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 the wilderness/ 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.


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

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.


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.

Register today at   Small banner

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.

Brad_christensen_20121013_3646If you had one sentence to describe your staff, you would say:

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

NOLS Amazon Personal Experience, Part 2

It goes without saying that NOLS Amazon has an incredible wilderness to run courses.  The Amazon is naturally inspiring, difficult, and rewarding.  What is often overlooked is the cultural element, which starts with the Brazilian NOLS instructors.  They bring a whole element with them to the courses.  One of those instructors is Fabio Raimo Oliveira.  Fabio earned the NOLS Instructor of the Year award for his 16 years and counting of inspiring both students and co-instructors.  He instructs hiking, mountaineering, climbing, sea kayaking, whitewater courses and has instructored at nearly all of the NOLS branches.  

Fabio has played a big role in starting NOLS Amazon and keeping her running.  Below is a short piece he wrote to complete the second part of NOLS Amazon 3 piece series.  

In 2003 I went into the Amazon in an expedition for the first time. And had my socks blown off! Epic scenery, life everywhere, great whitewater and overwhelming nature. 

We were a bunch of NOLS instructors, old timers, and after years talking about how 'the leading source of outdoor education (ie NOLS) needed to go canoeing in the Amazon.  We decided to go scouting with the purpose to start-up NOLS Amazon.Needless to say, the program launched and it is one of the most incredible NOLS programs - beautiful, alive, hard, extremely unique cultural interactions. 


Expeditioning in the Amazon is quite different than in temperate places. One has to stay on task 100% of the time, not only when dealing with the technical aspects of the course, but also because 'the tropics never sleep'.   It is also different because people live far out in the wilderness.  They have a lifestyle that their culture has sustained for centuries and we have the honor to meet and interact with these people, learn from them, and exchange experiences. We learn and experience how touching it is to see how happiness is not associated with possessions (as they have practically none) but with peace and well being.


The NOLS Amazon program is not for everyone - it is for those who welcome harsh living conditions (warm, sun, moist), believe the key to success in wilderness is adapting (as opposed to 'conquering') and are inspired by a occasionally meeting simple people who live of the land in a sustainable and down to earth way. If your idea of wildness is where beauty is static and people never been then it's not for you.

Permalink | Posted by Brooke Retherford on May 21, 2014 in the following categories: Amazon, Leadership

‘Invest Everything in the Quality of Your Teaching’

By Alexa Rosenthall, Faculty Summit Intern

Despite snow flurries and muddy roads in the Red Canyon, the 2014 NOLS Faculty Summit was a great success! Over 200 participants came to the Wyss Campus for three days of presentations, workshops, networking, and high spirits.

The fourth annual NOLS Faculty Summit was kicked off with a welcome from NOLS Executive Director John Gans and Chair of the NOLS Board of Trustees Kate Williams.

Williams encouraged instructors to “invest everything in the quality of your teaching in the moment and, at the same time, believe and be changed by your belief that the impacts and rewards of this investment with your students and yourselves must be realized in places and times far beyond these fabulous classrooms we get to move in.”

The Summit hosted inspiring speakers such as Shawn Benjamin, former NOLS instructor and principal of Leadership Public Schools (LPS) Richmond. LPS Richmond sponsors students to pursue summer opportunities, such as NOLS, to encourage character development. Benjamin presented on how non-cognitive factors like self-control, gratitude, and leadership profoundly influence the likelihood of college graduation and life achievement.

Scott Briscoe, Expedition Denali member, spoke on Wednesday morning about the journey of the first African American team to attempt the Denali summit. He highlighted how the project has sparked an interest in the outdoors in diverse populations and those who may otherwise never have been exposed to the wilderness. 

Other excellent morning plenaries included Jim Halfpenny, Jeff Jackson, Drew Leemon David Chrislip, and Richard Adams.

For the afternoon workshops, 21 NOLS instructors and five guests presented various topics ranging from “Sappy Natural History: Making Environmental Studies Stick” by Jeff Wohl and “Beyond the Five Senses: Opening Your Perceptual Fields” by Suza Bedient to “Tribal History is Part of Wilderness: Making the Connection Through Indigenous Perspectives” by Lynette St. Clair.

Tuesday evening brought the presentation of the Instructors Awards. Jared Spaulding and Fabio Oliveira won the Instructor of the Year award, Briana Mackay won the combo In-Town/Field Staff Award, and Ariel Greene won the Thomas Plotkin Memorial Award. The audience was filled with supportive peers and roaring cheers.  

The keynote address was delivered by Caroline Byrd, a former NOLS Instructor and the current executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. She spoke on how outdoor leaders make great conservation leaders. Byrd linked common character traits and habits of NOLS instructors to the skills necessary to make gains in conservation of wilderness. 

If you missed the Summit, check out the videos of the presentations and workshops here

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on May 20, 2014 in the following categories: Instructor News, Leadership, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus

Get to Know NOLS New Zealand

You may remember meeting Mark Jordan, NOLS Australasia director, a few weeks ago. His passion and expertise extend from Australia to New Zealand. Read what he has to say about NOLS New Zealand below.

6a00d83451b4f069e201a5119398a9970cIf you had one sentence to describe your staff, you would say:

Like the staff at every NOLS location: driven, enthusiastic, and skilled. 

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

New Zealand has some of the most varied and unique ecosystems in the world. The cultural interactions are fantastic as well. 

I firmly believe a NOLS course, at any location, will be a watershed event in a person’s life. Australia and New Zealand are great places to experience NOLS as well as a fascinating part of the world to explore. 

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

New Zealand’s forests, called the “bush,” contain ancient remnants of Gondwana Land, the prehistoric continent, so the flora here has developed in isolation from other continents. Here you’ll find unique birds and plants found nowhere else in the world, like the mischievous Kea, the world’s only mountain parrot. Bird life includes tui, bellbird, kaka, parakeets, bush robins, mountain falcons, and morepork owls, whose haunting call can be heard most nights in the bush.

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

In New Zealand students are often surprised how friendly New Zealander’s can be. Kiwis will really go out of their way to help strangers. 

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on May 12, 2014 in the following categories: Amazon, Leadership, New Zealand

Are you Ready to Lead in the Outdoors?

By Leif Andreassen, Bruce Kaufman, Dorothy Voorhees, Eva Tsang, Anderson Baptista, Jared Barnett, and Reid Tileston


BoothLogoOver Spring Break, six Booth students took a trip to Canyon Country in Southern Utah with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). We were blazing our own trail through the canyons, navigating 50 foot drops, avoiding fights with cactuses, and managing our own competing personality types. A common theme on the trip was ex-Swiss Special Forces first year Konrad Marti directing the group to, “less talk, more walk” with an emphatic “YOLO” from Chris Panagiotopoulos. In spite of the brisk pace we found time to scramble up canyon walls and explore Native American ruins from the 12th century. “The trip was a great investment of time and money” said trip co-planner Reid Tileston. Key to the experience was that after a day of hiking and exploring we spent time at night in front of the campfire reflecting on how we navigated the challenges that we encountered and how effectively we performed as leaders; this feedback allowed the group members to grow as leaders.

Booth Group Picture
Back left to right Jared Barnett ‘15, Konrad Marti ‘15, instructor Jaime Musnicki, Reid Tileston ‘15, and Chris Panagiotopoulos ‘15. Front left to right Kingston Wong ‘14, Leif Andreassen ‘15, and instructor Dan Verbeten


At the Leadership In Action Group this is what we are all about. The Leadership In Action Group, previously the Leadership & Influence Group, motivates the Booth community to exercise leadership skills outside of the confines of Harper Center. The outdoors are a great place to forge relationships, hone leadership skills, and have a good time. We believe there is no better way to practice leadership than to be put in stressful situations, with incomplete information, and be forced to make decisions that have consequences for your whole team. These are the types of situations we will face as business leaders on a daily basis. At Booth we value staying ahead of the competition; however, in spite of our vigilance, outdoors leadership is one area where Booth has fallen behind. When classes started in the fall we were the only top MBA program that did not have an outdoors club. Luckily those dark days are behind us.

We are creating a group where we can explore the outdoors and put our leadership skills into action in extremely fun and challenging environments. We are planning day long and weekend trips culminating with Outdoor Leadership Trek during Spring Break 2015. While getting outdoors is the end game of the club’s vision, there is an equally important classroom component as well. We have some lunch time leadership role playing sessions planned that will help members better confront real life leadership situations. [...] There are a lot of exciting developments at the Leadership In Action Group, we look forward to integrating the outdoors into the Booth community.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Pikla on May 9, 2014 in the following categories: Leadership, Professional Training

Get to Know NOLS Rocky Mountain

At the helm of NOLS Rocky Mountain is Gary Cukjati. Learn about why he loves all he can offer students from just one location:

Christensen_20120516_img_7254If you had one sentence to describe your staff, you would say:

NOLS Rocky Mountain staff are dedicated to helping each student have to opportunity for a life-changing experience in the backcountry.

How long have you been NOLS Rocky Mountain Branch Director?

7 years.

What is your background with NOLS? Or how did it all begin for you? 

I was a Fall Semester in the Rockies student in 1982. I realized that being in the Wilderness was simply a wonderful experience and came back to work for NOLS in 1986. 

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

I know the landscape of the Rocky Mountains and the Canyons of Utah are simply stunning classrooms, which affords each student to have the opportunity of a positive, life-changing experience.


Dave Anderson/NOLS

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

There was a reason that Paul Petzoldt chose the Wind River Mountains to start NOLS. He had traveled the world and settled here in Wyoming because he knew how special of a place it truly was. 

What would you say most surprises students when they arrive or during their course in the Rockies? 

I believe most are surprised by the open spaces both in and around the mountains and hence the overall scarcity of people. 

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Apr 11, 2014 in the following categories: Leadership, Rocky Mountain

Get to Know NOLS Pacific Northwest

Curious about the Pacific Northwest? Chris Agnew, NOLS Pacific Northwest director, has a great deal of insight to offer. Read our recent Q&A session with him to learn more about the region and NOLS courses there.

State of the School_044If you had one sentence to describe your staff, you would say:

Our staff are smart, multi-talented, and passionately focused on creating positive and challenging learning experiences for our students in wild and remote places. 

How long have you been Branch Director at NOLS Pacific Northwest?

Three and a half years—it correlates almost perfectly with the age of my oldest child!

What is your background with NOLS? Or how did it all begin for you?

As I was growing up, my father would always mention this organization in Wyoming suggesting I should take a course with them at some point. In college I was considering different study abroad opportunities and considered an international semester with NOLS as well. Having grown up backpacking and climbing with my family in the western U.S., I was attracted to a NOLS course that would take me far from my experience and have a strong cultural emphasis. 

I ultimately chose a Semester in Kenya. The extended time in the wilderness, authentic leadership opportunities, and immersive cultural experiences I gained on my course were life changing. It gave me and two friends I made on the course the confidence and skills to travel across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda following our semester. It also lit a spark for me in the field of education.

Three years later, I finished undergraduate and took my Instructor Course.

What is your favorite aspect of running courses in the Pacific Northwest?

Courses in the Pacific Northwest are unique in so many ways: The proximity of high, rugged alpine to ocean. Large, urban areas being so close to wild, remote, and rarely visited wilderness. Challenging weather, engaging terrain, countless glaciers, and deep lush vegetation. The Pacific Northwest is special.

The powerful ocean, steep mountains, and challenging weather can be intimidating to students at first. Through time in these wild places and excellent coaching by our faculty, by the end of a course our students return feeling at home and comfortable in this formidable landscape.

Where else would you want to be?

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

Access to our campus and our stunning classrooms is unparalleled. With our campus only a little over one hour from Sea-Tac airport and only having to travel as little as 90 minutes from our campus before they start hiking, we can maximize learning and time in the field rather than getting from here to there.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Mar 17, 2014 in the following categories: Leadership, Pacific Northwest

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