Open Sky Wilderness Program

PO Box 2201 
Durango, CO 81302



Boys and Girls

Call admissions department for current tuition.

5 to 12 weeks, paced according to individual needs.

Open Sky’s holistic wilderness treatment program integrates the best of traditional clinical modalities, naturopathy, and wilderness therapy. We work with teenagers ages 13-17 and young adults ages 18-28 on a wide range of issues, including drug and alcohol abuse, depression, ADD and ADHD, anxiety, grief and loss, oppositional defiance, traumatic histories, family problems, school problems, and low self esteem. The Open Sky treatment approach is client-centered and evidence-based.

With over 70 years of collective experience in the fields of wilderness therapy and holistic medicine, the Open Sky leadership team presents students and families with a comprehensive treatment program that engages the transformational power of nature to strengthen relationships, foster growth, and develop overall health and wellness

After reviewing the general information provided on the website we suggest you call the Open Sky office and have a conversation with an admissions counselor. If at this point it seems your student is an appropriate candidate for Open Sky, the next step is to use the online submission system or if you prefer, download the Open Sky Student Application Package (Forms), fill it out, and fax it back to our office for clinical and medical review.

What is the typical profile of an Open Sky student?
Open Sky works with male and female teens, ages 13-17, and male and female young adults, ages 18-28. Prospective students must be medically and clinically approved to be an appropriate match for the Open Sky program. Typical student issues at Open Sky include low self-esteem, oppositional defiance, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, depression, ADD/Attention-Deficit Disorder, ADHD/Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, grief and loss, promiscuity, attachment issues, manipulation, entitlement, adjustment issues, anxiety, anger management, learning differences, social skills deficits, family problems, school problems, self-destructive behavior, and identity issues.

What are exclusionary student issues for Open Sky?
Issues that are not well served by the Open Sky program and are exclusionary for admissions include: psychosis, pattern of violent behavior, sexual perpetration, pattern of severe suicidal behavior, serious eating disorder, uncontrolled diabetes, severe conduct disorder/antisocial behavior, severe borderline personality traits, IQ below 90, other medical conditions deemed unsafe in a wilderness setting.

What are issues that are assessed on a case by case basis?
Issues that the Open Sky team assesses on a case by case basis include mild to moderate self destructive behavior, borderline personality traits, thought disorder symptoms, eating disorder symptoms and body image issues, a history of suicidal thoughts/gestures, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and medical detoxification issues.

High adventure in the wilderness

Every student at Open Sky receives a strengths-based bio-psychosocial assessment, a naturopathic assessment, a physical exam, a substance abuse assessment, and a strengths-based family assessment. When appropriate, students also receive comprehensive psychological testing. This information is integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan designed to support the students’ and their family’s growth and development.

Individualized Treatment Planning
The Open Sky treatment team is led by the student’s primary therapist. Other team members include the family, student, wellness director, field guides, and other support staff. Both family and student are vital, active members in the treatment planning process. The individualized treatment plan includes both short term objectives and long term goals, addressing both challenges and strengths.

On-going Clinical Services for Students
Students are matched with a primary therapist with whom they meet on a weekly basis for individual and group therapy sessions. Group sessions focus on a range of therapeutic topics and individual sessions focus on the student’s individualized treatment plan

Open Sky’s base camp is located an hour and a half from Durango in the high desert region of southeastern Utah. The expedition course area and base camp are on archeologically rich lands filled with pottery shards, hidden kivas, and petroglyphs

Open Sky’s administrative offices are located in the scenic town of Durango, Colorado. Durango is the home of excellent dining and hotel accommodations, old western architecture, and year-round sports and recreation. Access to Durango is made easy by daily flights from major cities to the Durango-La Plata County Airport

Weekly phone calls between the parents and the student’s primary therapist provide on-going support and updates on student progress. Phone calls also provide time to review the progress made on the family assignments from the Open Sky family workbook.

Education & Family Support
Open Sky provides optional weekly teleconference sessions for families on a variety of relevant educational topics, including aftercare planning, adolescent development, stress management, and drug/alcohol related issues.

Web Support
As the parent of an Open Sky student you will be assigned a password to a secure and confidential family web page. This individual family site provides photos, letters, and regularly updated information about your student’s experience at Open Sky.

Holistic at Open Sky means treating the whole person by offering viable alternatives to conventional treatment, providing the latest, most innovative healing methodologies while simultaneously integrating the well-accepted practices of contemporary medicine. Each student is assigned a therapist, works with a naturopathic doctor, and has the option for assessment by a psychiatrist and/or a clinical psychologist. This is the most comprehensive treatment team available in the country.

To a great degree, the sensitivity, skillfulness and effectiveness of an organization is an expression of the people involved. We are particularly proud of the staff at Open Sky.

Aaron Fernandes BA
Executive Director

In addition to holding a degree in psychology from Brown University, Aaron brings extensive leadership and management experience in outdoor education and wilderness therapy. Aaron founded Open Sky with a vision of excellence and sustainability on all fronts: delivering treatment services with long- term benefits for students and families, supporting the passions and growth of employees, and engaging in environmentally and socially responsible business practices. more...

Pam Parsons MA, LMFT
Clinical Director & Therapist

A veteran in the field of wilderness therapy, Pam has helped hundreds of young people and families address and heal from emotional and behavioral issues. The students and parents who work with Pam note her warmth, easygoing manner, authenticity, and candor. Pam earned a BA in English Literature from Tulane University and an MA in Transpersonal Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. more...

Joanna Bettmann PhD LCSW
Research Director

Dr. Bettmann has worked in the wilderness therapy field since 1994 as a director, researcher, therapist, and field instructor. Dr. Bettmann earned a BA from Dartmouth College and a PhD from Smith College School for Social Work. Her dissertation research focused on attachment relationships of adolescents in a leading wilderness therapy program. As Open Sky’s Research Director, Dr. Bettmann oversees student outcome studies and provides on-going feedback on evidence-based clinical treatments. more...

Emily Demong LCSW
Assistant Clinical Director

Emily has worked with adolescents and families in wilderness settings for over a decade as a therapist, field instructor, trainer, logistics coordinator, emergency responder, and field director. Emily earned a BA from Bates College and a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Utah. Emily’s diverse training includes yoga, psychodynamic theory, and adolescent development. more...

Nicola Kettle ND
Wellness Director

Dr. Kettle is a licensed naturopathic physician with a BA from Brown University and an ND from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. Dr. Kettle is dedicated to addressing each person as a whole, believing that the key to health is discovering the obstacles to wellness and learning how to overcome them. In her role as Wellness Director at Open Sky she combines her enthusiasm for introducing people to natural medicine, the benefits of whole foods, and the healing power of nature. more...

Lauren Lollini MA LPC
Admissions & Outreach Director

As a former wilderness field therapist, Lauren was inspired by the magic of the wilderness and the successes of her students. This love of working with teens evolved into a passion for working with the whole family system. As a sales and marketing professional, Lauren used her ability to listen to her customers and determine their specific needs to help them on several levels, with services, training, and inventive ideas. more...

Danny Frazer BA
Operations Director

Danny has over 10 years of experience and 700 field days in wilderness therapy and outdoor education. Danny is highly skilled in personnel management, program delivery, and emergency response, as well as staff selection, development, and training. more...

Wilderness Programs


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