Report on the 2016 Wilderness Risk Management Conference

The 2016 Wilderness Risk Management Conference was held October 12-14 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Over 420 participants from the US, Canada, and across the globe came for this annual gathering of outdoor professionals focusing on risk management. This is one of the very best conferences in our industry. What makes it such a great conference is that it is so focused. Bringing people from all aspects of outdoor education together to talk about one topic in detail - making programs safer - really expands the dialog.

Here are some of the impressive stats from this year's conference:

  • 462 participants
  • 76 presenters
  • 226 different organizations

Representing:

  • Camps
  • College/University
  • Conservation/Environmental Education
  • Government
  • International/Study Abroad Programs
  • Professional: medical, legal, insurance, consulting
  • Secondary School
  • Therapeutic
  • Volunteer Organizations
  • Wilderness Skills or Guide Service

There are numerous workshops covering everything from legal issues, to risk assessment, wilderness first aid, media relations, instructor judgment and more. I was pleased to be able to give a workshop on Incident Tracking Database: Improving Safety through Advanced Data Analytics. All of the workshops I attended were top notch. The ones that had the most impact on how I'll view my program were the ones on diversity and inclusion - The Inclusion Practicum and Rejecting the Binary: Managing Risk for The Queer and Trans Communities. Both of these addressed an often overlooked aspect of risk in our programs - supporting non-traditional and marginalized populations in an outdoor setting.

The keynote address at this year's conference was given by Grant Statham. This is one of the most inspirational keynotes of the WRMC conferences that I've attended. What made it so inspiring is the impact that one person's leadership has had on changing avalanche education and safety. Grant will humbly admit that he did not do this alone, but it's clear that without his perseverance and leadership, it wouldn't have happened. Here's the description of Grant's keynote.

"The Canadian backcountry has changed dramatically over the past 25 years, shaped by popular trends in recreation, the mainstream influence of high risk behavior, and a proliferation of internet and media exposure. Through the 1990’s, the skyrocketing backcountry use corresponded with a rising trend in avalanche fatalities that peaked in 2003 when two separate avalanche accidents killed 14 people within the span of two weeks, including seven tenth grade students on an outdoor education field trip. By the end of that winter, 29 people had been killed in avalanches.

What followed was an intense public scrutiny of the systems used for managing winter alpine recreation and outdoor education in Canada. Grant Statham tells his story of being thrust into the eye of this storm, sprung from a career in mountain guiding to the center of developing public warning systems and risk policy for the federal government. Today, 13 years later, Canada is regarded as a world leader in public avalanche safety and many of the systems developed following 2003 are now used worldwide."

If you missed the conference, you can still learn a lot from your desktop by visiting the WRMC Resources section. It's still not the same as being there and interacting with so many dedicated outdoor professionals. Mark your calendar now for next year's conference.

24th Annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference
November 1-3, 2017
Portland, Maine