Vote Me Off ... Please!
by Lyndon Conrad Bell
Heated tents, Gore-Tex and freeze-dried gourmet food may be readily accessible at Camperz R Us, but what happens when you find your high-tech camp buried under a low-tech avalanche?
The true wilderness survival experience is one in which you live outdoors with little or no gear. That's when it's all about you and what's in that backpack you call a brain.
That's where survival school comes in. And survival schools are as varied as the survival situations you might confront.
One of the oldest, Outward Bound, traces its roots to 1941, when it was developed to help seamen survive the open sea. In World War II, German U-boats were sinking British merchant ships in the North Atlantic. The sailors waiting for rescue were fighting frigid waters. Surprisingly, the survival rate among younger, presumably more fit, sailors was much lower than among older seamen.
Kurt Hahn, a well-known researcher at the time, was brought in to find the reason for this alarming statistic. Hahn quickly analyzed the problem as a lack of confidence among the young sailors rather than any shortage of skills or equipment.
The researcher went on to establish a program of progressively rugged challenges to help young recruits develop the fortitude and confidence necessary to survive harsh physical challenges. Today's Outward Bound programs are the progeny of those early efforts.
"I was scared shitless," says Owen Chariton of Denver of his modern-day Outward Bound experience. "I was 35 feet up in a tree looking down during a rope training exercise."
That was when Chariton learned trust: "After a while, I realized the rest of my team, holding the ropes down below, wouldn't let me fall, so I relaxed and relied on them to do their jobs."
One of the most rigorous survival schools, Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS), got its start in the late 1960s with Larry Dean Olsen, author of Outdoor Survival Skills. Olsen felt society had lost its edge when it came to facing and overcoming the pressures of modern life; mental toughness and ability to adapt to harsh conditions were vanishing character traits. He created a wilderness program, with specific physical and mental obstacles, that would produce more adaptable and resourceful people.
"Sometimes the toughest thing for some of our students to learn is to accept help," says Church, "particularly executives who are used to being in control." In a survival situation, if people work together, odds are they will live. If they don't, the odds go down — so schools structure programs in which people work together as teams.
"Anyone seriously interested in camping, hiking or hunting really ought to consider some sort of wilderness survival course," says Ford Church of Basic Outdoor Survival Skills. Aside from teaching you field emergency behavior — how to stay alive until you can get help — survival schools also teach you to handle physical and mental challenges in situations that test your limits.
"After surviving for 14 days in the mountains of Utah living off the land," says Jen Fleisher of Chicago, "dealing with traffic, or even a crashing computer in the middle of a deadline, becomes simple. The survival school experience taught me that everything in life doesn't have to be as hard as I was making it."
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Four of the best survival schools in the country