From panoramic mountain views to verdant aspen groves, summer is a particularly vibrant season to experience wilderness therapy at Open Sky. Living in the vast wilderness allows Open Sky students to challenge themselves and build skills to foster resilience and competence.
At Open Sky, we take the utmost care to attend to students’ physical needs so they can remain healthy and comfortable as they engage in deep, therapeutic work during the summer months. We maintain the highest risk management standards in all aspect of our operations and implement specific season-related protocols which encompass all elements of programming and personnel. These include staff training and risk management, state-of-the-art equipment and gear, course area management, and program accreditation.
Open Sky field staff are highly qualified and experienced outdoor professionals, committed to students’ physical and emotional well-being. All field staff are trained in CPR and are certified Wilderness First Responders (WFR). The WFR certification is the nationally recognized standard in wilderness medicine education and equips guides to provide emergency medical care in a wilderness setting. A typical WFR certification requires 72–80 hours of classroom and practical training, along with successful completion of both a written and practical exam. Guides who work during summer months are also required to complete a comprehensive seasonal skills training, which provides the necessary tools to mitigate risks unique to summer operations. Once hired, guides continue to receive extensive, ongoing training in Open Sky’s risk management policies and procedures.
Open Sky has an around-the-clock Field Manager and Field Medic who live in base camp 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The field medic is a certified wilderness EMT or registered nurse, available to rapidly respond to any illness, injury, or emergency.
Open Sky also has a dedicated risk management team comprised of members representing each of the company’s departments, as well as external experts. The risk management team meets quarterly to address seasonal needs and prepare for any potential response scenarios. These meetings are required for program management, field guides, operations staff, and field managers. Additionally, we hold a weekly 90-minute field staff training to address safety, wilderness skills, course curriculum, and other risk-management topics.
With their WFR backgrounds, field guides are well-versed in the ways in which our bodies can react to changing weather conditions. Guides are trained to identify various signs and symptoms of heat-related conditions and to treat accordingly. They supervise students drinking adequate amounts of water each day to support staying properly hydrated. Fun hydration games and other lighthearted interventions are utilized by field guides to make staying hydrated easier and more enjoyable for students. Groups also always have electrolyte replacement supplements available during the warmer months.
All Open Sky’s students and staff are provided with exceptional gear designed specifically for summer conditions, including (but not limited to):
Field guides are provided with state-of-the-art equipment to allow consistent communication between groups and the Field Director. Each team carries:
Open Sky the high-quality technology to maintain communications with our field operations. Each morning and afternoon, guides are required to check in with support personnel via handheld radio, satellite phone, or cell phone. Each non-scheduled call from the field has a defined response sequence appropriate to the need. At any given time, there are at least three people on call in the field—the Field Director, Field Manager, and Field Medic—who are available as first responders for any emergent need in the field. Calls for medical or clinical response are attended to quickly and efficiently.
Situated at 7,600 feet elevation, our Colorado base camp lies adjacent to beautiful mountain landscapes in all directions. The natural environment features extensive wooded areas and tree cover, which help provide shade and keep students cool during warm summer days. In addition, the high elevation means our course area is typically mild and cooler. Crisp mountain air greets our students and guides every morning while cool evening breezes help to refresh and facilitate sleep at the end of the day. Summer course area temperatures average in the range of 70–80° F during the day and 40–50° F at night.
Even when temperatures feel comfortable, Open Sky keeps a close eye on weather during the summer months. Forecasts are monitored around the clock and are provided by phone or radio to field guides in each group when changes are anticipated. Students do not hike or leave base camp if temperatures are above 90° F. If inclement weather is forecasted, field guides are informed and adjustments to each team’s itineraries are made accordingly.
Each team’s base campsite is furnished with large rainproof tarps. Industrial style tarps that offer shade and weather protection, these structures also provide a central location in which daily therapeutic activities such as cooking, meals, and groups can continue regardless of weather. In addition, each Open Sky student receives a personal tarp and thorough instruction to construct individual shelters for use during journaling and personal reflection time. Finally, individual shower and toilet stalls have been installed at all base campsites to allow each student additional privacy and access to personal hygiene without compromising supervision.
In November 2014, Open Sky was the first wilderness therapy program to receive the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH) accreditation, co-developed by the Association of Experiential Education (AEE) and the OBH Council and independently managed by the AEE. This accreditation, granted by an independent, third-party group of professionals, ensures that we not only meet the minimum state regulations but also meet or exceed the industry’s standards of preferred practices. OBH accreditation required achieving an independent, comprehensive accreditation standard including protocols that address risk management.