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Wilderness Risk Management Conference


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

EPI and the WRMC

In our third installment of the WRMC blog series we’re highlighting Ecology Project International (EPI), an environmental education organization established in 2000 by co-founders Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn. In celebration of EPI attending the WRMC for the past six years, we decided to engage Executive Director/Co-founder Scott Pankratz on the history behind EPI as an organization, as well as the ongoing relationship EPI has maintained with the WRMC.   

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EPI, said Pankratz, “has programs in Baja, Belize, Costa Rica, Galapagos, and Yellowstone, and 60 percent of our participants are locals who live within or adjacent to the ecosystem where we operate. The other 40 percent of our participants come from the U.S. Our courses include opportunities for students to work on field-based scientific research, conservation service work, and a cultural exchange day between the visiting U.S. students and their local program counterparts. Since EPI was established in 2000, over 15,000 students have participated in our field programs. Most of these participants are high school students between the ages of 15 and 18.”

EPI operates in a wide array of wilderness settings with most students starting out as backcountry novices who have “never camped, never snorkeled, never been closer to wildlife bigger than themselves,” according to Pankratz. But when asked what EPI participants gain from the wilderness experience, Pankratz said, “they return home with a sense of pride in their newfound knowledge and skill sets. Our hands-on approach to science education also means that participants don’t just learn science—they apply it. They work with professional scientists who need people on the ground, in the wilderness, gathering essential data. The data they collect contributes to real-time research and conservation projects that must be carried out in the wild.”

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As an active member of the WRMC community, EPI strives to keep risk management as a vital part of the organization’s core values.

“Our participants’ health and safety is our top priority on course. Without healthy, happy participants, no learning can take place,” Pankratz noted. “The WRMC helps keep risk management at the forefront of our planning for each new field season, allowing us to bring new ideas and techniques to our own internal risk management systems, such as our Emergency Response System. Our experience with the WRMC also helps our employees gain a valuable big picture perspective on risk management.”

When asked how attending the WRMC has influenced EPI, Pankratz said, “The WRMC has helped us maintain a systematic approach to our emergency response system and our medical review system and protocols. We've been fortunate to be able to use the WRMC experience and materials to keep these same systems current as they go through an annual update process. We have also benefited greatly from the relationships we've created with the experts at the WRMC. These relationships have transferred into top quality advice during critical moments in our program.”

 After seven consecutive years of attending the WRMC and being able to apply that shared expert knowledge in the field, EPI, in turn, stands as an excellent resource for other environmental education organizations to learn valuable advice from. We would like to thank EPI’s Executive Directors/Co-Founders, Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn for all that they have contributed to the WRMC over the years. Come take advantage of the opportunity to network with EPI at the 21st annual WRMC. 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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Permalink | Posted by Rahel Manna on Jul 28, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Professional Training, 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

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

Leemon receives Wilderness Risk Management Award

NOLS Director of Risk Management Drew Leemon has been awarded the Charles (Reb) Gregg Wilderness Risk Management Award at the 20th annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC).

The Charles (Reb) Gregg Award for exceptional leadership, service, and innovation in wilderness risk management recognizes extraordinary contributions to the outdoor education community, to adventure and service organizations, and to programs and businesses that utilize wild places for their activities. Recipients of the Reb Gregg award have contributed significantly to the practice of wilderness risk management by raising standards of practice, providing valued service to an industry committed to connecting people to wilderness, and supporting the stewardship of wilderness.

DrewLeemonLeemon has been in wilderness education for 34 years, including as the NOLS risk management director for 18 years. He has also committed 18 years to the WRMC steering committee and six years as its chair. During his tenure with NOLS, he designed and implemented the NOLS accepted field practices, a tool for communicating NOLS' best field practices, supervises training and continuing education opportunities for field instructors and led initiatives such as NOLS' incorporation of satellite phones and personal locator beacons on field courses.

Leemon’s colleague, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute Curriculum Director Tod Schimelpfenig introduced him at the WRMC award ceremony.

“[Leemon] has created an atmosphere of openness in risk management and incident response, a culture where it's acceptable to investigate, report, and learn from our experience. In a world that can be secretive, suspicious, closed, and defensive when problems arise, field staff trust that field incidents will be handled thoughtfully, carefully, thoroughly, and respectfully. NOLS—and Drew—plays a large role in this process: sets a standard for communicating lessons learned.”

Upon accepting the award, Leemon noted the passion that brings together the WRMC, himself included:

“We’re all here because we know that adventure, experiential education, and being in nature exposes us to physical and emotional risk, but that this risk is what allows us and our students to grow and become better people. This duality of risk means that while we risk loss, we also gain by taking risks,” he said.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 21, 2013 in the following categories: In The News, Leadership, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

WRMC to Host the Acclaimed Author, Laurence Gonzales

Join us at the Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) as we celebrate our 20th anniversary. The conference seeks to provide practical solutions for challenging issues that face organizations that explore, work, and teach in wild places. This year the conference will be held at Jackson Lake Lodge in the Grand Teton National Park, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. The event is co-sponsored by NOLS, the Student Conservation Association, and Outward Bound—three organizations that understand the complexity of running a quality outdoor educational program and provide workshops that meet the needs of industry professionals.

The WRMC provides a professional setting for outdoor educators to share and learn from one another.  Our quality workshops are led by some of the most seasoned veterans in the outdoor education community. They will teach you all about risk management skills, administrative practices, pertinent research, and up-to-date field techniques.  All the while, through our open forum, you can voice your comments, concerns, and questions to help improve the quality of the conference. Among this year’s array of qualified presenters is award-winning author Laurence Gonzales.

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Gonzales was born in St. Louis and grew up in Houston and San Antonio. Drawing from the experiences of his father, a World War II pilot who survived against all odds, Gonzales has pursued a career in understanding who survives, who does not, and why. He has authored several books including Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why and its sequel Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. Gonzales has won several awards, including two National Magazine Awards and the Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

During his keynote address, Gonzales will address intelligent mistakes: why smart people do stupid things, based on his work for his books Deep Survival and Everyday Survival. His talk will explore the natural functioning of the brain and how, even when we are performing basic tasks, it can lead us in to systematic errors. 

Don’t miss out on this year's opportunity to witness the culmination of twenty years of collaboration between some of the most respected names in Wilderness Risk Management! Come and join the conversation!

Permalink | Posted by Max McQuarrie on Jul 26, 2013 in the following categories: Professional Training, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

Thomas Hornbein, M.D. Announced as WRMC Keynote Speaker

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The annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) in Portland, Ore. is nearing, and the opportunity to get a discounted early registration is waning. Register
on or before Aug. 10 to save $100 off the $660 registration fee. The conference, co-sponsored by NOLS, the Student Conservation Association, and Outward Bound, is a three-day (Oct. 24-26) packed value for industry professionals.

In addition to gaining practical risk management skills, networking with other outdoor industry professionals, sharing field and administrative techniques, and helping develop risk management standards for the adventure and education industries, attendees are treated to some awe-inspiring speakers like this year’s keynote speaker Thomas Hornbein, M.D.

Hornbein’s expertise in altitude research and the physiology of breathing was borne of a passion for mountaineering. His experience with mountain rescue and teaching first aid prompted a change in career course. He went back to school at the Washington University School of Medicine. His growing curiosity about how humans adapt to high altitude led to an interest in the physiology of breathing.

After medical school and an internship in Seattle, he returned to his hometown of St. Louis for anesthesiology residency training and two years as a National Institute of Health (NIH) supported research fellow. Following a brief stint in the U.S. Navy, Hornbein joined the faculty of the Departments of Anesthesiology and Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Throughout his career, his research has focused on the stimuli that prompt an animal to breathe, particularly carotid body and central chemosensors and the related regulation of brain acid/base balance. These studies have yielded over 100 journal articles and book chapters, as well as many years of NIH funding.Hornbein has served on numerous editorial boards and NIH committees. He continues to teach and maintain active involvement in high altitude and related research. Hornbein also continued his mountaineering, including trips to Alaska and the Himalayas.

He and Willi Unsoeld, in May of 1963, became the first climbers to ascend Mount Everest via the West Ridge as part of the first American expedition to Everest. In his ninth decade, he remains active in exploring, climbing and caring for mountain environments.

Learn more about the various workshops and seminars the WRMC will offer this fall at www.nols.edu/wrmc/schedule.sthml. Pre-conference events, including a WFR recertification, begin Oct. 22.

Permalink | Posted by Brian Fabel on Jul 27, 2012 in the following categories: Wilderness Risk Management Conference

Final forms emerging at one locale, structure taking form elsewhere.

The Caretaker Residence is really coming along-

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-while the central building is beginning to get the framning for the main floors:

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Permalink | Posted by jstoddard on Mar 29, 2012 in the following categories: Wilderness Risk Management Conference, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus

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