Are you ready for a new adventure? Visit our Field Guide page to learn more about field guiding at Open Sky. Apply today for our upcoming orientations: March 30-April 11 and May 18-29. Read the Q&A below to hear from Assistant Field Director & Field Guide Recruiter, Alex Bond about the unique and rewarding experience of field guiding at Open Sky. Check it out!
A: Before coming to Open Sky, I worked as a high school science teacher. I really liked the human interactions with the students, supportive teachers, and a good community. However, I wasn’t passionate about it. I felt smothered by the curriculum. A great human interaction would come around and I would get excited, but ultimately, I was feeling empty and knew something was missing for me. I wanted the human interaction itself to be the curriculum. Wilderness therapy was a relatively new concept to me, but when I first heard of it, I was immediately drawn to it.
A: This was an easy decision for me. While I did apply to other places, Open Sky was the only place I was really interested in. Five years ago, I completed the training and immediately noticed that the human interaction was at the forefront of everything at Open Sky. We had so much time, space, and support to learn, grow, and make meaningful connections. Although the transition from my life as a teacher was challenging, I knew that guiding at Open Sky was the right move.
Additionally, I’m from Colorado and have family in the Front Range, so the location was ideal. I was drawn to Durango’s access to both mountains and deserts. I came for the landscape and I stayed for the Open Sky community. That is absolutely why I’m still here five years later. The Open Sky community has shifted and evolved as I’ve developed. Mancos, the town I live in outside of Durango, is also vibrant and innovative.
A: There’s a lot of science behind that. Personally, I don’t need to read about it in a book because I have observed in myself and in others that we inherently feel better as human beings when we see trees and water and natural views, rather than billboards and stoplights. There’s great scientific research to back this up.
Another reason the wilderness works is that nature is the great equalizer. We all get wet in the rain. We all get warm around the fire. We all feel uplifted watching a sunrise over the desert. We all feel refreshed by the mountain air. In this way, nature builds community, and that community is a crucial component of the healing process out here.
A: That’s easy: the students. Adolescent boys, girls, young adults…they each present unique challenges and can show up in a variety of ways. They are in such a rich period of their lives. I love watching them discover this wild amount of courage and bravery that lives within each of them. Our students often come here with little to no experience in the wilderness and out here, they spend each day hiking, having therapeutic sessions and experiences, working on their issues, making fire by bow drill, building shelters, and sleeping outside. It is inspiring to see their spirits and issues begin to lift by throughout their wilderness experience.
Field guides are seen as mentors, teachers, and support systems. I like to argue that in someways, our students are also teachers. As a guide, I’ve learned innumerable lessons from our students about life, myself, the wilderness, and my relationships.
A: Ultimately, we look for people who can take care of themselves and others in the wilderness. There are various aspects of this… The grit and tenacity needed to live and work in the outdoors and the compassion, tenderness, and empathy needed to work with young people who are struggling. Often in our society, it’s one or the other: grit or compassion, toughness or tenderness. We look for candidates who will succeed in demonstrating all of these characteristics.
A: First, we invite an applicant to complete an application and an interview with myself or someone else in field leadership. After this initial qualifications assessment, our field leadership team decides whether or not to invite that person to join our guide orientation. We generally host 8-16 individuals at five orientations each year. Each orientation lasts just under two weeks and includes a wilderness expedition. Orientation creates an intimate window for candidates to decide if they want to work at Open Sky and for Open Sky to evaluate if the candidate is qualified for the role. Positions are offered to appropriate candidates on the last day of orientation. The goal of the orientation process is to inspire, train, and assess individuals best-suited for the position.
A: The culture of feedback, coaching, and mentorship is what sets this role and field guiding team apart. These opportunities to receive feedback help us understand who we are as people and as field guides, and to discover what we have to offer our students and the world. Throughout each shift, guide mentors, field leadership, and co-guides honestly and assertively provide feedback, role modeling how we provide feedback for students as well. It takes courage to do that and is counter-cultural in our greater society. So to me, it’s a gift that this culture is built into the framework at Open Sky.
For some, field guiding is a career. For others, it may be more of a 2-3 year endeavor. Regardless, working as a field guide renews one’s sense of confidence and passion. After five years at Open Sky, I know who I am and what I have to offer this world. Some people live their whole life and never find the opportunity to discover that.