Ready for Your Next Adventure? Learn About Guiding at Open Sky!
FEATURED AUTHOR: The Open Sky Team
Field guiding at Open Sky is a unique and special job, one that requires compassion, confidence, strength, and creativity. It can be difficult to accurately describe just what being a field guide is like, as the position encompasses so many different duties and functions, all of which are essential to the work we do at Open Sky. Below is a snapshot of some of the most crucial roles our field guides fulfill.
Guides are in the field 24/7, and their main priority is the safety and security of Open Sky’s students. They are always assessing and managing the physical needs of students and supervising everything from basic hygiene to setting up shelters. Guides see that everyone is warm and dry before holding a ceremony. Hydration and nutrition take priority before facilitating a therapeutic group. They teach students how to layer clothing effectively prior to perfecting a communication skill. They supervise handwashing before focusing on a yoga session.
In other words, guides support students in learning how to physically take care of themselves before moving on to other skills. This alone is therapeutic for students in that it encourages self-care and self-reliance. It builds a healthy foundation that is paramount to success in all areas of life, both during and after wilderness therapy.
Guides teach students fundamental wilderness skills to be competent and comfortable in the outdoors. They make sure students learn how to build shelters, tie knots, bow-drill fires, cook healthy meals, navigate challenging terrain while hiking, keep warm in winter, cool in summer, and dry when wet. By teaching these crucial skills, they guide students in working through limitations and discovering their strengths. Guides also teach a variety of soft skills. They lead yoga and meditation sessions and support students when encountering challenging emotions or situations. They validate and reflect, utilize coping skills, and ask questions to support students in their growth and healing.
Guides are often in their mid to late twenties, so they’re not that far removed from adolescence. Therefore, they represent a healthy expression of the next developmental phase for our students. Many students who arrive at Open Sky are struggling and feeling lost, so it’s powerful for them to meet someone who is a mature, healthy example of where they can end up. Our guides also happen to be energetic, idealistic, passionate, educated, kind, magnetic people. Some of them have had struggles like our students, and on occasion, some of them are former students!
Guides uphold expectations and create an emotionally safe atmosphere so that students can open up and move into the deeper work with their peers and therapist. Each field guide is assigned a student mentee at the beginning of each shift, supporting them in completing individual goal plans (IGPs) assigned by the student’s primary therapist. Guides also complete multiple check-ins to see how students’ weeks are going and to help them make progress through the Student Pathway. Guides also lead various groups during the week, based on the needs of the team and suggestions of the team therapist.
Prior to entering the field with students, each guide undergoes a rigorous orientation and training process, where they learn about Open Sky’s core values and receive hands-on education that takes place in both the backcountry and “front country.” Guides learn how to handle the physical rigors of the job, regulate emotions, and employ therapeutic skills. They are supported with a Guide Pathway, which provides a framework to keep individuals on track to meet goals and creates a consistent foundation from which to grow. Additionally, guides acquire a variety of trainings and certifications during their time at Open Sky. These trainings include de-escalation and crisis prevention techniques, wilderness first aid, CPR, and how to administer medication safely in the field.
Many guides are drawn to this line of work for the natural beauty the Four Corners region offers. Guides get to explore, camp, live, work, and learn against the backdrop of the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado and the canyon country of southeast Utah. They sleep under the stars, wake up in the mountain and desert air, and instill an appreciation of nature in the students they work with. While many guides come to Open Sky for the chance to work outdoors, they stay for the strong community and culture.
Field guiding at Open Sky is a dynamic, challenging, and rewarding job. Guides teach, enforce, observe, and supervise. They promote warmth, hydration, nutrition, health, and risk-mitigation. They are mentors, coaches, reflective listeners, conflict mediators, boundary holders, and leaders. They facilitate ceremonies and rites of passage. They provide basic first aid and wilderness first response. They teach students how to prepare food and cook healthy meals. They encourage attunement to emotions and role model how to express them. They guide students through healthy conflict resolution and facilitate process groups for the team. They lead yoga and meditations sessions and navigate hikes through the wilderness. They’re truly unique individuals and our work wouldn’t be possible without them!