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Our Story

In 2006, Open Sky Wilderness Therapy opened its doors in Durango, Colorado, with the mission of inspiring individuals to live in a way that honors values and strengthens relationships. Since the beginning we have been driven by our core values of courage, community, and excellence. After more than a decade of operations, Open Sky has worked with thousands of students and family members, inspired by the belief that all people have the capacity to thrive.

We chose Durango as home because of its proximity to the spectacular beauty of the San Juan Mountains and the canyon country of Southeast Utah where we conduct our field operations. With white-capped mountain peaks in the summer and warm desert sun in the winter, there is no better place to experience the power of nature to heal and reestablish one’s sense of purpose.

Before starting Open Sky, founder and CEO Aaron Fernandes worked in outdoor education and wilderness therapy. He witnessed incredible transformations resulting from spending time in nature and even suggested wilderness therapy to his brother, who was struggling. That experience had a profound impact, giving Aaron a unique perspective on the critical role of family involvement in the treatment process. At the time, however, the typical wilderness model involved sending the child to a program where he or she would be “fixed” and returned to the parents. Aaron realized that parent involvement was crucial to effective treatment and long-term success.

Mother and Daughter Hug at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy

Born from this inspiration, Open Sky transcends traditional wilderness therapy by emphasizing treatment for the whole family—not just the adolescent or young adult. We are committed to continue our leadership in family-centered treatment by providing unparalleled family programming.

Open Sky further innovated on traditional wilderness therapy by incorporating a holistic treatment model focused on the body, mind, heart, and soul. Our students experience physical health through hiking and outdoor living while eating a balanced menu of the highest quality whole foods and organic fruits and vegetables. On a deeper level, we guide our students through daily practices of yoga and mindfulness meditation, teaching them to separate the mind, body, and soul and to work at transforming the individual as a whole.

We have employed empirically-validated research to measure the success of our program since our inception. Unlike any other wilderness program, Open Sky collects research on every student to ensure that our service is quantitatively proven effective. When enrolled, students are experiencing a level of distress on par with their peers who are being hospitalized. After Open Sky, their level of distress is similar to that of a typical early adolescent, adolescent, or young adult.

As the first Accredited Wilderness Therapy Program through a partnership of the Association of Experiential Education and the Outdoor Behavioral Council, Open Sky is at the forefront of wilderness therapy. We are dedicated to advancing the field and adhering to the highest standards, ethics, and risk-management practices.

Our success is directly related to staying true to our vision by providing the most innovative, holistic, clinically sophisticated, and family-centered wilderness therapy experience available. In our second decade, we remain inspired by that vision. Our staff and organization are driven by why we do what we do: to activate the potential of the human spirit, knowing that all people have the capacity to thrive. Through Open Sky, our students and their families develop skills for lasting success.

We are called Open Sky because we believe in the potential of human beings. We believe we are all like the open sky: beautiful, infinite, and ever changing.  No matter what may enter the sky, be it the sun or the stars, rain or clouds, everything passes. There is always a new day for infinite possibilities.

The Open Sky model is built upon the theoretical frameworks of Humanistic psychology, a pan-cultural approach to rites of passage, the teachings of the Four Directions, and holistic health practices that tend to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.