Adventures are the best way to learn about ourselves and the world around us. They help us stretch our minds, cultivate curiosity, build resilience, overcome adversity, and promote personal reflection. Plus, they’re fun!
Each week at Open Sky, teams depart from base camp to go on an adventure. We call this expo, short for expedition. Supported by their field guides and peers, students hike, camp, explore the great outdoors, experiment with news skills, and begin to discover their truest selves.
Schedule and Logistics
Open Sky utilizes a hybrid base camp-wilderness model, meaning students spend part of the week at a familiar base camp and the other part exploring one of our two beautiful course areas. Expo begins each Thursday and lasts through the following Monday.
Teams begin and end expo in the same place, either hiking directly from base camp or driving to a location from which they embark. While on expo, teams typically move camp every day.
Open Sky maintains two course areas: one in the mountains of Southwest Colorado and one in the canyon country of Southeast Utah. Students in our mountain course area enjoy alpine ascents, wildflower-filled meadows, ponderosa and lodgepole pines, crisp mornings, and pleasant evenings. Our desert course area offers red-rock canyons, vibrant sunsets, sagebrush and cacti, plentiful sunshine, and mild temperatures. Each landscape is uniquely beautiful and provides a dynamic and inspiring wilderness experience.
Expedition hikes vary in distance from day to day and group to group. Throughout the hike, teams take regular breaks for snacks, views, lunch, therapeutic groups, and wellness checks. Hiking is an ideal time for students to engage in meaningful conversation, challenge themselves, support one another, move their bodies, enjoy nature, and gain a sense of accomplishment.
Once the team reaches their campsite, they work together to set up shelters, gather wood and water, and begin bow drilling a fire on which to cook the evening meal. As they eat, the team might share stories, laughter, highs and lows from the day, gratitudes, or songs. It is a time to connect and share before heading to bed.
After a restful night of sleep under the stars, students and guides break down their individual shelters and the team campsite to enjoy another day of adventure and exploration. As teams prepare to depart their campsites, they take care to follow leave no trace practices to help protect the natural spaces we enjoy.
Living simply under the open sky provides unparalleled opportunities to increase competence, build resilience, and promote self-efficacy. At Open Sky, we teach students an array of tangible skills to help them not only stay comfortable but thrive while exploring the great outdoors.
Click each of the squares below to learn more about the specific skills students learn and practice as well as how these skills relate to their therapeutic work.
Prior to coming to Open Sky, many of our students struggled to care for themselves and were stuck in unhealthy habits that negatively impacted their moods and self-esteem. During expo, students move their bodies daily through hiking and yoga sessions. They practice mindfulness, breathing, and coping skills to become more grounded, calm, and regulated. They consume nourishing meals and prioritize ample rest.
As students build healthy routines around eating, sleep, exercise, and emotional regulation, they begin to understand how simple shifts in their lifestyle can deeply impact their physical, emotional, and mental health. The active practice of these skills helps students set the foundation for integrating them into their daily lives, both during and after Open Sky.
Spending extended time outdoors is a powerful way to challenge old beliefs and establish new ways of thinking, feeling, and approaching life. Expo creates space for students to embrace appropriate challenges while also receiving support, care, and encouragement. While in nature, students begin to understand that they are capable and resilient. From the moment they enter the field to the day they leave, they have opportunity after opportunity to learn the skills they need to succeed and thrive in life. They prove to themselves they are stronger than they know and more capable than they believe.
Group living requires communication and social learning. Students discover the value of connection, community, and being part of something bigger than themselves. As they work together to reach camp, provide fire and food for the group, and create a unique and welcoming team culture, they see they are not alone in their struggles and that their challenges do not define them.
Students also learn how to work through conflict in a healthy and productive manner. They are guided in practicing “I feel” statements, assertive language, and reflective listening to share emotions and how each other’s choices and actions affect the team environment. They increase their tolerance for uncomfortable or complex emotions and learn to articulate feelings in a way others can hear.
Base camp is where students address some of the more intensive therapeutic work, including meeting with their primary therapist, receiving family letters, engaging in group therapy, and participating in family phone calls. It is therefore valuable for them to be able to temporarily leave that space and spend several days processing everything that came and happened while there. Nature provides room for students to look around, be vulnerable, and try new things. The trees, flowers, and mountains do not judge. After taking time to pause, reflect, and explore, students can return the following week feeling grounded with fresh insight.
Nature offers a multitude of opportunities to slow down and connect to the present moment. No matter how challenging or chaotic life may feel, there is nothing like watching a rainbow break through a summer storm or seeing a meteor streak across a sparkling night sky to tune into the here and now. These moments offer lessons that students can carry with them into their lives beyond Open Sky. Connecting to nature encourages learning, healing, and growth.
Open Sky understands that exploring the outdoors might be a new experience for many students. We therefore implement several strategies to help students learn to thrive outside. For example, students do not carry group gear on their first expedition. They are taught how to pack their backpacks so that they fit comfortably to their bodies, how to organize their personal food so they are carrying enough to keep them nourished but not more than they need, as well as hiking, stretching, and yoga techniques to help them grow stronger and recovery quickly.
Field guides act as role models, using an “I do, we do, you do” philosophy to teach necessary skills. First, they model the skills for students and generate excitement for the process. Then, they invite the student into the process and complete tasks together. Eventually, students are empowered to use their newfound skills all on their own, inspiring self-efficacy and confidence.
Students are also paired with a peer mentor, who serves as a bridge to the rest of the team and offers support and understanding. Every student also receives a Student Pathway, a collection of written resources to help guide them on their Open Sky journey. Through role models, mentors, and written resources, students receive several layers of support as they find their footing and orient to our program.
At Open Sky, creating a supportive environment for our students is our greatest priority. To learn more about our risk-management practices, including staff training, state-of-the-art equipment, course area management, communications systems, and professional support personnel, please click here.
Once a student leaves Open Sky, they may not go backpacking, build a shelter, or bow drill again, but they will remember using coping skills when they doubted themselves, seeking support when they needed it, bouncing back in the face of failure, and building confidence by completing a difficult task. There is no better place to heal and reestablish one’s sense of purpose than in nature.