I’ve only been here a few days and Monday was my first extended stay in town (other than dinner Thursday night and picking up groceries on Saturday). I must say the people here are extremely friendly! The question above is invariably asked and is best answered in one word, or more accurately – an acronym: NOLS, which all the locals understand.
NOLS is the National Outdoor Leadership School, founded in 1965. It’s International Headquarters is here in Lander.
And I should really say that what brings me to Lander is my family, two members of which work for NOLS.
My older-younger brother (a term which other people struggle with but which makes perfect sense to me. I have two younger brothers and Steve is the older of the two), I am very proud to say, is the new CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of NOLS!! He started his new job in March of last year after a 25-year career at Vassar College in New York. He retired from that job in January of last year and while looking for his next position (he was open to ideas as to what it might be) he saw a listing with NOLS, a company he was familiar with because my niece, his daughter, had taken one of their wilderness survival course a few years ago.
Steve’s arrival at NOLS was bittersweet. While he was excited about his new position and could tell he would enjoy the people he works with, he faced the unpleasant task of recommending the temporary furlough of a large part of NOLS staff, not only here in Lander but elsewhere. March of 2020, of course, was when the true impact of the COVID pandemic really started to sink into people’s minds, and had a major impact on the company’s operations with global travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders.
NOLS teaches courses in wilderness survival skills, including medical implications which I will explain later. According to a local news article from a few years ago, NOLS is the largest employer in Lander and occupies four large buildings in town.
Before the pandemic, NOLS employed a large number of people locally, full time, and over 1,000 seasonal workers in the summer months, worldwide. It is truly an international company with campuses or facilities in the western US (Rocky Mountain region, desert southwest, Pacific northwest and Alaska), Canada (Yukon), Mexico, Patagonia in South America, Australia and New Zealand. Now, more than a year later, NOLS is feverishly working on it’s plan to reopen facilities as the COVID threat lessens and their facilities can resume hosting students at the various locations. It is estimated that NOLS is responsible for 20% of the passenger traffic at Riverton Regional Airport, about 25 miles from Lander, as people fly in and out of here for training.
In addition to the NOLS offices and facilities downtown there is the large Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus located about 12 miles south of town. That is where my nephew, Sam, works. He is giving me a tour of that facility Thursday morning so I will have photos of it and more details about what they do there this weekend.
As part of Sam’s 18-month position in facilities management at Wyss (pronounced Weese [rhymes with geese]), he was asked to take one of NOLS training courses. NOLS likes all of it’s employees to fully relate to what it is they do, regardless of what they do for the company. When I had dinner with Sam Thursday evening after I arrived, he told me he will be taking a course in layman’s medical training – to assess injuries, stabilize a patient and assist with transport to a proper medical facility. He said one of the highlights of that course is when the Med Evac helicopter arrives for real-life in-person training of what to do at that stage of evacuation. NOLS trains park rangers, skyjumpers and other fire-fighters, camp supervisors, and other first responders.
I will have more details about NOLS, and hope to get a tour of their downtown Lander facilities when my brother gets back to town next week. Details and photos will appear in future posts.