There are many great outdoor education schools in the United States, but a few details that set us apart include: our commitment to providing scholarship opportunities, the fact that our school is more locally-based and is highly committed to Montana conservation, our goal of providing students with opportunities to receive a Wilderness First Aid Certification, and a small team that can work closely together to provide your student with the best experience possible.
MWS course expeditions are open to all students who are 14-18 years of age. Our program is intended for Montana youth, but we have had students enroll from out of state, or internationally, as well. MWS is not a wilderness therapy program. MWS does not enroll students with chronic substance abuse problems or serious mental health issues that require on-going one-on-one supervision.
MWS values the health and safety of our students and staff. We recognize that
outdoor activities, especially those in the backcountry, contain inherent risks. As
such, it is our goal to provide meaningful opportunities for students to learn about
and participate in risk assessment and risk management on their MWS expedition as
guided by and overseen by staff. An MWS expedition is not designed nor intended
to be completely free of risk, whether physical, emotional, or social.
Accordingly, MWS promotes effective assessment and management of hazards. MWS provides all field staff members with training regarding techniques, processes and tools to mitigate and manage risk. In addition, part of MWS’ mission is to teach students that increased risk in the backcountry demands thoughtful preparation, heightened awareness and, in some circumstances, the suspension of activities.
MWS instructors have, at a minimum, medical certification of Wilderness First Responder. MWS provides staff with field communication devices (such as a satellite phone) and emergency response and crisis management plans in the event of a backcountry injury or illness. To fulfill our mission and achieve our educational goals, we must take necessary, relevant and realistic risks. MWS stresses prevention and ongoing risk management striving to maintain a reasonable balance of risk in our program activities.
Students do not need previous experience in backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, pack rafting, or canoeing.We look for students who are motivated and excited for their course. All students should be able to carry a 50-pound backpack and walk moderate distances over uneven terrain.
Due to permitting and instructor/student rations, our group size is typically 8-10 students with 2-3 instructors. Courses range from 10-21 days in length. Students will focus on one or two technical aspects during course (such as paddling, mountaineering or climbing), in addition to learning about decision-making, land conservation, leadership styles and Montana-based ecology. For information about the different stages of an expedition please visit our Expedition Life page under our Resources tab.
MWS will send you a gear and clothing list prior to expedition. We have all technical and camping gear that students will need for their expedition. Our packing list will go into detail about clothing and boots, and we are often able to provide these items if you are unable to find or purchase them.
Yes, we encourage mail, but no food please (due to bears). As part of immersing students in the wilderness, they will be disconnected and will not have access to their phones/electronics until after the course. While this can be difficult, we believe that students benefit from this unique opportunity to be closer to nature and more in tune with their community. Our staff will have access to communication devices in case of an emergency while in the field. Feel free to contact MWS staff if you have questions or want to check in while your child is on course.
We suggest your child arrives a day early as most of our courses start early in the morning. We have local partnerships with hotels and shuttles and can work with your family to help make local arrangements. Please give us a call to set up a plan for your participant at least one month before the start date of their expedition.
At MWS, we believe you can eat creative and interesting meals in the backcountry. Students will have healthy, calorie-filled meals and will learn how to cook (for the first time, or improve as chefs!), a great skill they can bring back home.
MWS does not use freeze dried or premade meals on our expeditions. Instead, students will learn to combine a variety of items (such as rice, dried beans, oats, etc) with cheese, summer sausage and/or dried vegetables to create healthy and satisfying meals. Field instructors will coach students on the appropriate quantities and combinations to ensure that your participant feels satisfied with their meals while on an MWS expedition.
If you have any type of food restriction, you will have the opportunity to note that before the course begins and alternative foods will be provided. If you have a severe nut allergy, please discuss this with us before you apply.
This is often a subject that makes students nervous. In the wilderness, we must give up some of the luxuries we have at home, such as hot showers, and learn new ways to bathe and use the bathroom. While students won’t shower, they will have ways to bathe using Leave No Trace principles, similar to a solar shower. Instructors consider hygiene a priority and will teach students how to use appropriate self-care to stay clean.
MWS provides a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and shelters customized to each course. Students will sleep in lightweight tents with several other participants.
Any prescribed medication can be taken in the field as long as we can accommodate the storage guidelines and it does not need to be refrigerated. For the safety of all our students, all medication will be kept by instructors and administered by MWS staff as prescribed. Please bring your prescription medications in their original containers and bring back up medication in case the medication is lost, damaged or otherwise unusable.
Many MWS courses operate in grizzly bear habitat. We take the necessary precautions to minimize interactions with bears, and it is important to note that bear and human interactions are extremely rare. MWS follows the National Park and Forest Service guidelines for camping and traveling in bear habitat. Our field staff have extensive training with bear spray, and each student will carry a personal bear spray canister (provided by MWS) at all times in the field.