The Mountaineers Leadership Conference - 2015

Outdoor Leadership Course

The Mountaineers Leadership Conference

A day reserved for current and aspiring leaders to foster new ideas and skills. Esteemed outdoor community speakers and interactive sessions punctuate a program designed to enhance your leadership and personal growth. Please come and participate in this fun and exciting event spotlighting what The Mountaineers have been best at for over 100 years: Leadership Development.

COVID-19: Learn about our most up-to-date guidance for participants and leaders on our COVID-19 Response page. All participants and leaders must agree to the COVID-19 Code of Conduct before participating in this Mountaineers course.

On Saturday December 5th at our Program Center in Seattle, The Mountaineers will hold a one-day conference on leadership skill development with engaging and dynamic speakers that will help you enhance your own leadership abilities within our programs (and the outdoor industry at large). Registration will start at  7:30 AM and our opening keynote will begin the program at 9:00 AM.

Just like last year, there will be a light breakfast, lunch, and hors d'oeuvres with beer/wine at the end of the day! 



Saul is executive director and co-founder of North Cascades Institute (NCI). He is an ecologist, naturalist and writer who has explored the mountains and rivers of the Pacific Northwest for more than 30 years. Saul worked throughout the Northwest as a field biologist, fire lookout, commercial fisherman and National Park Service climbing ranger before starting the Institute in 1986. He authored "From the Mountains to the Sea, North Cascades: The Story behind the Scenery, Teaching for Wilderness, and Living with Mountains." Saul serves on the board of directors of the Association of Nature Center Administrators, the Natural History Network, and the Environmental Education Association of Washington. He is adjunct faculty at Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University. Saul will discuss how the North Cascades Institute uses a variety of strategies to engage and inspire diverse audiences of youth, adults and families to further a place-based conservation agenda in the Pacific Northwest. NCI’s programs take adults, young children, and groups of teenagers from both urban and rural areas and teach them a variety of skills, all of which contribute to a greater appreciation of nature and a sense of “home” for whatever environment you find yourself in. As this sense of appreciation for your surroundings grows, so does the motivation to protect and conserve it. Hear how your work at The Mountaineers parallels the efforts of those at the NCI . 


John Graham is the author of the widely-used Mountaineers Book Outdoor Leadership, used in almost all of our Outdoor Leadership seminars and courses. His climbing credentials include the first direct ascent of Denali’s Wickersham Wall, a climb Jon Krakauer called, “an act so bold or foolish that.. it still hasn’t been repeated.”

But his background is more than mountains. John shipped out on a freighter when he was seventeen and hitchhiked around the world at twenty-two. A Foreign Service Officer for fifteen years, he was in the middle of the revolution in Libya and the war in Vietnam. For three years in the mid-seventies, he was a member of NATO’s top-secret Nuclear Planning Group, then served as a foreign policy advisor to Senator John Glenn. At the United Nations, he was deeply involved in U.S. initiatives in Southern Africa, South Asia and Cuba.

Outside government, John’s been part of major peace-building efforts in the Middle East and Africa. Since 1983 he’s been a leader of the Giraffe Heroes Project, an international organization moving people to stick their necks out for the common good and giving them the tools to succeed. His focus now is on inspiring and training political activists in places like Nigeria, Nepal, India, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Egypt. Ukraine is next.

A familiar keynote speaker, Graham has done TV and radio all over the world.  He has a degree in geology from Harvard and one in engineering from Stanford, neither of which he ever expects to use. Come hear John speak from a lifetime of experience in leadership, risk-taking and service. 

Updated 2015 Leadership Conference Schedule

Breakout sessions

John Abel - NOLS

Rejecting phrases such as "born leader" or "natural leader," NOLS believes all individuals can expand and improve their leadership capacity in the outdoors and beyond. Join John Abel for a presentation on how NOLS, a leader in the outdoor industry and trainer of college students, NASA astronauts, and MBA candidates, frames leadership. John has been a NOLS instructor since 1991. He also has a master’s in leadership and organizational development from the Leadership Institute of Seattle. Since 2010, John has worked primarily for NOLS Professional Training, teaching leadership seminars for NOLS Instructors, and facilitating various leadership training programs for NOLS' organizational clients. This seminar picks up on themes discussed in last year’s NOLS presentation, and develops them further by examining some of the potentially challenging conversations that outdoor leaders face.  We will begin by reviewing the NOLS 4-7-1 leadership model, and then see what help it might offer for situations such as giving giving constructive feedback to participants or co-leaders, working with people of substantially different ages or backgrounds, or letting people know they have not yet met the skill requirements for leading a specific kind of trip. Whether or not you attended last year’s presentation, this seminar will offer tools that will help you navigate these interactions more effectively. 

Alexis Alloway - Everett Mountain Rescue

Alexis has worked for NOLS as a mountaineering and backcountry ski instructor for over 10 years and she also serves on the board of Everett Mountain Rescue. Based on her experience in Search and Rescue and leading remote wilderness expeditions around the world, Alexis will discuss the importance of emergency communication devices as a wilderness risk management tool. She will share stories of the role of emergency communications devices in recent rescues in western Washington. Her workshop will explore the various communication devices available for today’s outdoor leader and provide suggestions for how to incorporate new technology into existing outdoor programs. 

Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme - Body, boat, blade

Learn how to coach “coaching” and train future trainers. In this session, Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme will discuss their experiences training other people to serve as successful leaders of groups who are under-taking multi-day kayaking trips. Shawna and Leon co-created Body Boat Blade International, a two time award winning paddle sports school based on Orcas Island and teach classes for all levels of kayaker. Shawna is the first woman in the United States to gain the BCU 5 Star Sea Award, a test of skills and leadership in advanced sea conditions. Putting these hard earned skills to test in 2003, she was the first woman to successfully circumnavigate Iceland with famed solo paddler Chris Duff and Leon Sommé, a trip of over 1600 nautical miles in 81 days. In 2007 Shawna circumnavigated the Islands of Haida Gwaii, B.C., with award winning film maker Justine Curgenven and partner Leon Sommé. And in 2012 she circumnavigated Vancouver Island, B.C. with her partner Leon Sommé. Shawna's passionate involvement in paddlesport has kept her paddling and teaching for over 20 years. She has a natural, fun, and adventurous style to her coaching that instills confidence and a passion in her students, helping them to become lifelong paddlers. Each year, Shawna is sought by many national and international symposiums as paddlesport coach and coach educator.

Leon works as both a coach and a coach educator and has been involved in paddlesports for over two decades. Leon was the first BCU Region Coaching Officer on the west coast and has served as a board member for the Trade Association of Paddle Sports and BCUNA. Every year Leon attends symposiums across the country and internationally as a featured coach. In this session, Shawna and Leon will discuss the basic skills and techniques for managing a group and training other leaders while peppering in examples of the pitfalls and scenarios that inform their training programs. Learn how these expert trainers pass on their experience to others!  Leon and Shawna believe that if they could get other people to have positive experiences from the cockpit of a kayak it would change how they cared for and appreciated the natural world. 

Erika Halm - Outward Bound

Erika is the Washington Program Director for Northwest Outward Bound School (NWOBS). Erika has been working enthusiastically  for NWOBS since her first days as a new instructor in 2009. She is proud to have worked full summer seasons in both Mazama and Odin Falls as an instructor, course director, and trainer ever since.  Erika was excited to step into the role of Washington Program Director in 2014.  When she isn't working, she loves to paddle, fish, climb, drink coffee, read books, and tell jokes.  She will share some of the teaching strategies, tips, and outcomes that Outward Bound uses in their programs so that we can help the many students in our courses. 

Katherine Hollis - The Mountaineers

Taking a leadership role in Mountaineers Conservation work

Learn how our conservation work is having a real impact and how you can get involved. Our leaders have a unique and powerful voice in the protection of our public lands: we are an authentic, boots-on-the-ground perspective because we live it every day. Learn how to take leadership in our Conservation and Recreation program. As the Conservation and Recreation Manager, Katherine leads The Mountaineers’ initiatives to protect natural and recreational resources on  public lands and to educate and engage our members, and Washington's recreating public, on responsible recreation and conservation issues. From learning to climb as a college student in Vermont, to over a decade as an instructor and program manager with Outward Bound in Colorado, North Carolina and Patagonia, Katherine has pursued her love of the outdoors her entire life, including obtaining a master's degree in Sustainable International Development in mountainous Kyrgyzstan.

Andy Leider - Un|Fenced

Andy Leider has worked in the organizational development and outdoor education fields for over 25 years. He was a program manager and staff trainer for Outward Bound and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and is a founder of Montana Yellowstone Expeditions. He is currently a Principal with Un|fenced, a strategic consulting firm that specializes in working with organizations and individuals in transition; as well as a Senior Consultant for Outdoor Safety Institute, where he focuses on the link between risk and organizational management. Join him for an interactive discussion about your leadership challenges and learn practices to bring your best self to your work in the field and beyond.

Meet the Mountaineers Managing Committee

The Mountaineers is a collection of branches with a presence in 7 different Western Washington geographic locations – each with their own unique cultures and practices. The Managing Committee is the body that provides coordination and leadership for the  programs run by the branches and the volunteers that operate those programs, under the direction of the organization's Board of Directors. It is comprised of each of the Branch Chairs, a member of the Board, and a staff member. This session will include a panel discussion of members of the Managing Committee. They will discuss the ways in which organization-wide efforts can be addressed or supported through its work and how volunteers can support that. A question-and-answer session will attempt to focus on the process by which Mountaineers governance is conducted rather than the merits of any specific proposal. This is a great way to have your voice heard as a leader and to meet some of the people responsible for supporting and representing your needs as a volunteer!

Ruth Nielsen - Counsel

Back by popular demand! Ruth is Counsel for The Mountaineers and a seasoned and widely-respected attorney who is an expert in representing ski areas and outdoor recreation providers. Ruth provided an overview of the legal issues facing Leaders as well as best practices and emerging issues in the legal arena that can impact our activities. 


Matty P (Matt Palubinskas) is a high school science educator and Mountaineers volunteer and climb leader.  He has been recognized as Volunteer of the Year and the Seattle Branch Climb Leader of the Year for his service within the Mountaineers community.  He is an avid mountaineer, skier, backpacker, hiker, and ice and rock climber who is active with Seattle Mountain Rescue, is a certified EMT and ski patroller at Snoqualmie Pass. He is  widely praised for the lectures he provides in our climbing courses. Join Matt in a meaningful and engaging educational presentation and experience the best practices for creating engaging lectures.  He will discuss tips and tricks for keeping students engaged in the learning process, for even with the most mundane topics.  He will discuss the methods he uses to design and deliver creative and compelling seminars and lectures that (1) keep students engaged, (2) convey the necessary factual information in a way they retain, and (3) excites them to engage with what is being taught! When students are engaged in meaningful activities, they retain and recall the information and skills more effectively, and ultimately are better prepared for the outdoors. 

Becca Polglase - The Mountaineers

From Books to Blogs:  How the age of information shapes the way our students learn

Becca Polglase is the Director of Education at The Mountaineers and established our youth programs after working as an outdoor educator for her entire professional life. As Outdoor Educators, we know the incredible social, emotional and spiritual value of experiential learning.  The lessons learned through trial and error, the relationships built while problem-solving the unexpected, and the health benefits of time outside are unmatched in any other educational venue.  This was as true when The Mountaineers was founded in 1906, as well as when the first Outward Bound school was founded in 1941, and as it still is today.  But there are many things about the world today that are very different from the way they were a century ago, a half century ago, and even a decade ago.  Our lives are busier, we are exposed to more information than we can handle mentally or emotionally, and our urban areas have grown up and out at rates our grandparents might not have expected.  We know that our students have access to everything they want online, whether good or bad.  Our younger generations are master multitaskers and have shorter attention spans as a result.  All of our students are coming to us seeking experience, community or both, much like the students of 1906 or 1941.  Today’s students are working with different realities, however, and our industry has an obligation to adjust our methods to meet the needs of today’s students.  In this session, we’ll look at ways technology can help or hinder outdoor education, and discuss things we can do in our own programs to meet the needs of today’s students.


"Outdoor Leadership Training – Empowering community leaders to inspire new outdoor enthusiasts"

Nothing is more important than helping young people in our communities to reach their full potential. That’s why so many of us are concerned with the well-documented trend of young people spending increasingly less time outdoors, which is correlated with negative effects on wellness and behavior. We find hope in related studies, which have shown that increased access to outdoor experiences can have dramatic positive effects. However, we know that access to these opportunities is not equitable, and several recent articles have highlighted the the lack of diversity in our National Parks and in the outdoors in general. Most of us feel a deep commitment to expanding access to the outdoors so that more people benefit from the experiences that lead us to value our wild places. Washington Trails Association has made that commitment to making the outdoors more accessible to more people through its Outdoor Leadership Training program and Gear Library. The program gets school-age youth outside by empowering educators and youth group leaders with the skills and resources they need to plan safe and fun outings. Graduates of the program’s hiking, camping, backpacking and snowshoeing workshops get access to free gear lending, funding assistance and a supportive community to help them in their efforts to inspire new outdoor enthusiasts.

Andrew grew up hiking with his adventurous parents around the Skagit Valley and developed a love for the area that prompted him to embark on a nine year career with the National Park Service, most of which he spent working in the North Cascades. He worked with various education partners, like North Cascades Institute, and in the Everglades, he helped to run two environmental education centers that introduced Miami’s urban students to their backyard wilderness. He’s an avid climber, mountain biker, and skier, but he also spends plenty of time hiking and backpacking with his wife and their dog. He joined the staff of WTA in 2013 to lead their efforts in getting new communities of youth outside by training their adult leaders. Join Andrew as he shares the trials and successes of this program.

Scott Schell - Northwest AvalancHe  Center (NWAC)

Not all avalanche risks are created equally and there are strategies for making more informed decisions about any trip into avalanche terrain. What’s the difference between high and considerable avalanche ratings, and how do I choose the best (and safest) terrain for my day out in the backcountry? These, along with a host of others, are critical questions; yet, providing answers often leaves the average backcountry trip leader with further questions about what precautions and decisions should be made based on the information provided by an avalanche forecast. Keeping your avalanche skills up-to-date is the foundation for your safety and the safety of your group in this world of ever changing forecast products.

Scott Schell is the Northwest Avalanche Center’s Program Director in charge of education programs, technology development, and its observer’s network. He will present an overview of the current state of avalanche products in the Northwest and how to make the most out of your day in the backcountry. He is a certified AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guide who has guided throughout the US, Alaska, Canada, and Europe.  He is also a former AMGA ski discipline instructor and currently serves on the AMGA Board of Directors.  An avid ski mountaineer, Scott has been involved in avalanche and guiding education for over 15 years.  He is an Instructor and Instructor Trainer for AIARE and a member of AIARE’s Education Committee. Scott is also the co-author of "Backcountry Skiing, Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering." People who will benefit the most from this session will have had formal avalanche training or a few years of experience leading trips into the backcountry (or else some topics may touch on unfamiliar concepts).

Laura Schildkraut - Onboarding gen y

Improving and making the most of inter-generational differences: Mountaineers instructors and leaders have a wide variety of expertise across an extremely broad range of ages in its membership. Some long-time members were here before there ever was a “” and many newcomers cannot imagine a world before the personal computer; sometimes this contributes to differences in opinion or approach to a problem. Laura Schildkraut is a faculty member at the University of Washington as well as the founder of “Onboarding Gen Y,” which has the mission of preparing younger employees who are new to a field to successfully enter the workplace and help guide organizations to effectively hire, welcome, retain and enable these employees to exceed expectations. Before joining the UW faculty Laura spent fourteen years in business working for Microsoft, Ogilvy & Mather, the N.A.S.D and Chemical Bank. She holds an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, with concentrations in Information Systems and Marketing. One of her courses, using the television show “The Apprentice” as a base of discussion, earned her the highest student evaluations in the business school twice and received national recognition from CNN and Dateline for its ability to spark the interests of younger business students. Come hear her discuss how you can address, learn from, and more successfully negotiate some of the inter-generational differences that are a unique strength available in The Mountaineers community - from both sides of any generational divide.

Student Conservation Association: AMberleigh Hammond and Josiah Downey

Incident Reporting: Informing more than Policy

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is a national nonprofit with the mission of, “building the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong stewardship of the environment and communities by engaging young people in hands-on service to the land.” SCA was started in 1957  with one of the 2 original youth based volunteer programs based in Olympic National Park. Since then, SCA annually engages roughly 4,000 individuals from all over the country in meaningful conservation service projects to help youth realize individual growth within a team based setting.

Amberleigh Hammond is a Program Quality Manager and functions as the national medical screener for SCA. Her primary focus is screening, leader training, incident response, and compliance with field standards. Prior to joining the SCA, Amberleigh was at Outward Bound for six years as the national senior medical screener for OBUSA. Amberleigh teaches wilderness medicine courses and is an EMT and ski patroller. She also serves as a Wilderness Risk Management Conference Steering Committee member. Josiah Downey also works as a Program Quality Manager at SCA and his focus is leader and participant training, curriculum and program design. He started his career with SCA in 2007  in the Adirondacks building and maintaining trails. A New England native he has worked with several small volunteer groups (AVEO, Pitcher Mtn. CSA, MSGW)  to design, implement and manage educational programing and assess their effectiveness. In collaboration with Aerie Backcountry Medicine, he recently presented at the Wilderness Risk Management Conference on the value of training field leaders to teach basic medical practices to participants.

They will present on SCA’s risk management philosophy and the critical role incident reporting plays in creating an informed community of program practitioners. They will discuss how incident data can be collected and analyzed to help guide an organization's programming and culture, as well as its risk tolerance. 

Saul Weisberg - North Cascades Institute

Executive Director Saul Weisberg will discuss how North Cascades Institute uses a variety of strategies to engage and inspire diverse audiences of youth, adults and families to further a place-based conservation agenda in the Pacific Northwest. NCI’s programs take adults, young children, and groups of teenagers from both urban and rural areas and teach them a variety of skills, all of which contribute to a greater appreciation of nature and a sense of “home” for whatever environment you find yourself in. As this sense of appreciation for your surroundings grows, so does the motivation to protect and conserve it. Hear how your work at The Mountaineers parallels the efforts of those at the NCI and see what “tools of the trade” can be shared that might help you with the programs you run! Saul is also holding a breakout session to discuss working with diverse youth to develop a new generation of conservation leaders! 

Lara Whitely Binder - University of Washington

Lara Whitely Binder is a climate outreach and adaptation support specialist at the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group (CIG). Lara assists the CIG with its efforts to inform decision makers about the impacts of climate variability and climate change on the Pacific Northwest and is responsible for providing technical support on planning for climate variability and change to communities, organizations, and individuals across the region. Recent adaptation publications include The Sound Transit Climate Risk Reduction Project (2014), Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation in Washington State: Technical Summaries for Decision Makers (2013 - coauthor), “Preparing for Climate Change in Washington State (Climatic Change Journal, 2010; lead author) and Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments (2007; co-author). Lara earned her Master’s Degree in Public Affairs at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs in 2002. Lara can provide empirically-proven insights on what impacts we can accurately say are part of "climate change," which impacts we still cannot determine are a part of climate change, and how to discuss the entire concept in a way that promotes understanding and productive discussion rather than politically-charged arguments (ever had one of those break out on a trip you've led?). 

Light breakfast, lunch, and an end-of-the-day hors d'ouvres and beer/wine/soda will be provided along with the conference! This is a day of professional development and fun meant to inspire our Mountaineers volunteers! 

Note: activity-based "summits" are being organized around the conference, either the night before or early in the morning the day of.

Contact your committee chair if you are interested in attending, organizing, or even hosting these events, which serve as an opportunity for our volunteer-lead activities to discuss programmatic issues and innovations! Seattle Branch Chair, Peter Hendrickson, is taking tremendous initiative in supporting these summits, if your committee is interested. 

Course Requirements

This course has no scheduled activities.

Required Equipment

Bring your enthusiasm, desire to learn, and your experience to share and learn with other leaders from a variety of backgrounds. Lunch will be provided, along with light snacks and coffee for breakfast. In the evening there will be a social hour with food and drink as well.

Course Materials

You must register for this course to see course materials.