Wilderness Adventures

‘Why WA?’: Pandemic Edition

By Tom Holland September 16, 2020

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive throughout the year from students and parents is ‘why should we choose WA?’ or ‘what differentiates you from other similar companies?’. In response, we often speak of our history, our family run organization, how we live our mission and our leadership within the industry.

This year, however, we suspect the question might change a bit to ‘why should we choose WA this year?’. In a world with so much uncertainty, all of us are looking for clarity. Moreover, as we look for opportunities for our children, we want to make sure that we are making wise choices for their well-being. We all want to be back to normal…but if that normal does not come soon, how can we make sure that we have done the research to make the very best choices for our children.

Well, here I seek to address just that.

When we cancelled all of our trips for the 2020 summer, it was a devastating moment for our organization. However, that decision was easy when we considered our role as risk managers for our participants and staff. Additionally, we knew we would not be completely idle all summer. We wanted to find a way to run our day camp, Base Camp, in Jackson Hole. Additionally, we knew we had to do our research to fully understand what a WA season would look like in the months and years to come. For us, that came in the way of running small overnight trips in and around Jackson Hole throughout the summer. It was in these months of learning, understanding and committing ourselves to our families that the true differentiators of WA came out…amazingly, while the story of operating during a pandemic year highlighted these qualities, they are core to WA during the pandemic, or any other year.

We are committed to the details (and to a solid plan). As we approached running Base Camp this summer, we knew we had to have our plan dialed. We studied all pertinent information from the Centers for Disease Control, the American Camp Association and our health department. In fact, when it came to our day camp programs, we assisted other local camp programs in their efforts to open and were a key contact for the local health department when it came to summer camp operations. No detail was too small, and our plan was constantly adapted to adhere to the current state of the world.

We are creative problem solvers. I have talked before about hitting the curveball. Well, a COVID-19 season is one curveball after the next. You must be flexible, adaptable and smart with your planning and execution. Thinking on your feet is critical. Back up plans are essential. As is constant and effective communication with families.

Importantly when it comes to why us, we have the experience to know how to operate in a world where risks exist. This summer it was COVID-19. And while this was clearly a whole new animal, the history of WA points to the fact that we are superb at managing the risks that can and do exist. This is what we do. Yes, we have operated, and continue to operate during COVID-19, but we do so with the safety of our students in mind, and the thoughtfulness of 48 years of risk management guiding us.

It’s true, this summer was not what we thought it would be. But, we did end up running small local overnight programs through July and August where students had fantastic WA experiences even during a pandemic. It is also true that we ran 10 weeks of day camp in Jackson with over 700 campers experiencing our programming. The fact that we were COVID-19 free that entire time, while important, is maybe not as important as the virtues of this organization that shined through this summer.

That is the WA difference.