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Episode 14

Winter Safety: Best Practices Promote Opportunities for Empowerment and Resilience in Wilderness Therapy

Episode 14

In this episode of SKYlights, the Open Sky Wilderness Therapy podcast, Program Director Danny Frazer discusses Open Sky’s winter course area in Utah. He describes what the winter climate is like, explains how our base camp infrastructure enhances the student and family experience, and talks about the training our field staff receive prior to and throughout the winter season.

Danny details the winter gear our students receive—including insulated boots, long underwear and down jackets—and how students’ diets are modified to account for colder weather. He also explains the physical, mental and psychological benefits inherent to a wilderness therapy experience during the winter.



Danny Frazer

Danny Frazer

Program Director

Danny graduated cum laude from Texas A&M University with a BBA in Management and Human Resources. He took his first wilderness therapy job as an intern while in college in 1996, working for a small, family-run wilderness program. This experience inspired him to pursue work in the field of wilderness therapy after graduating. In 1998, he began working as field guide for Aspen Achievement Academy, eventually becoming Field Director. For six consecutive summers, while guiding at Aspen, he worked for the Montana program of the Voyageur Outward Bound School, where he served as an instructor, course director, trainer, and logistics manager. In that early 8-year period, he accumulated over 700 field days working directly with adolescents and young adults.

Since Open Sky’s inception, Danny has served in multiple leadership roles, starting as the field and operations director and then as the first marketing and business development director. He eventually landed in admissions, where he served as the director. He brings a vast history of working in the field with special emphasis on risk management, safety, wilderness programming, and personnel development to Open Sky’s leadership team. In addition, he chairs the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council, the field’s leading organization representing over 20 wilderness programs throughout North America.

Danny’s passion for the wilderness was ignited at an early age, wandering the undeveloped hill country around Austin, Texas. His first foray into the mountains was as a boy in Colorado, with his father and brother. The connection he felt during this time in the wilderness became his life calling, and he is dedicated to facilitating wilderness experiences and connections for youth, adults, and families.

Danny spends most of his free time with his wife and two sons. He revels in the moments of getting home and playing roughhouse or hide-and-seek. He often gets out on weekends to enjoy the waters of the Animas River or the ski slopes and bike trails. He enjoys road as well as mountain biking, and when he isn’t out in nature, he is attending a CrossFit class in preparation for another active season outdoors.


I think one of the things that our staff do really well is they recognize with a lot of empathy and compassion, they probably don’t want to be here, they may be overwhelmed, and they don’t know what they’re doing initially. The priority through the program, specifically our student pathway, is giving them the skills to be able to become as comfortable and as competent in the wilderness as possible.

Winter is one of the best elements to helping dissolve the barriers that are preventing our students from being receptive to therapy.

We’ve taken someone who has low self-worth, perhaps, who’s been depressed or anxious, and we give them an opportunity with some challenging circumstances, but with tools to succeed, and they can thrive. That’s what’s so profound about winter.

Often, as students have settled down, there’s a sense of pride that’s unmatched. There’s a sense of accomplishment that, for many, they’ve never felt. There’s a sense of belonging that they’ve never felt and actually often a sense of gratitude and appreciation for their parents for this experience.


Emily Fernandes

Emily Fernandes

Executive Director & Co-Founder

On a wilderness trip in Alaska with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 1995, Emily discovered she could combine two of her passions: working with youth and being outdoors. Since then, she has worked for Aspen Achievement Academy, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, and Connecticut Wilderness School. She was part of the founding team at Open Sky.

Emily worked as the lead therapist for adolescent girls for her first 5 years at Open Sky. Her areas of clinical expertise include depression, anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, self-harm, disordered eating, and adoption and attachment issues. Her clinical approach is informed by cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, family systems, and attachment theories. Relationship building through letter writing is a major focus of her work with students and families.

As a founder and owner of Open Sky, as well as the Clinical and Executive Director, Emily brings a breadth of knowledge with her background as a therapist, field guide, trainer, logistics coordinator, emergency responder, and field director, Emily is known for her direct, caring leadership style, her ability to inspire excellence in others, and her team oriented approach. The student treatment plan is her compass for her decision-making regarding Open Sky’s students, families, and employees.

Emily loves reading, writing, yoga, mountain biking, telemark skiing, rock climbing, spending time with friends and family, and cooking with foods from the local farmers’ market.


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