Tom and Catherine Holland might arguably have some of the coolest jobs in Jackson Hole. Running Wilderness Adventures, a local business celebrating 50 years of offering youth exception outdoor experiences, is a lot of work, but the vibrant couple make it look effortless and above all fun. We spent a morning in the great outdoors with Tom, Catherine and pile of teenagers from across the country to truly understand this impactful business, and to learn how it has grown over the years, while keeping true to its roots. Bank of Jackson Hole has been along for the journey with Wilderness Adventures.
Tell us a bit about Wilderness Adventures.
Since 1973, Wilderness Adventures (WA) has been a leader in experiential education for youth in the United States. Our programming is based on giving children and young adults unbelievable outdoors experiences in wilderness destinations around the globe. All of our programs are based on three distinct core values: community, leadership and the natural world. Simply, we are an intentional community where everyone is welcome. We seek to inspire the best leadership capabilities in all of our participants. And finally, we believe that the best setting for this sort of leadership education is in the world’s most amazing outdoor locations.
For most of our students, these experiences come by way of our wilderness trips. These trips last from 5 days to 70 days on 6 of 7 continents, in wilderness areas, national parks and pristine ecosystems around the planet. A child can begin overnight experiences with us in the 4th grade and we offer Gap Semester programs for college-aged students.
In recent years, Wilderness Adventures has grown to include a day camp: Wilderness Adventures’ Base Camp which serves kindergarten through 8th graders. Additionally, WA offers custom programming for schools, churches and other organizations so that their students can experience the fun and learning experience that WA programs have to offer.
What made you interested in buying the business from the Cottinghams?
I (Tom) was a student on a Wilderness Ventures Grand Teton trip in 90s. I remember meeting Mike and Helen Cottingham then and thinking they had the coolest jobs in the world. It was their program that first inspired me to get involved with summer camp and youth development. Early in our careers we ran Teton Valley Ranch Camp, and later the American Camp Association, and in those years, we kept up with Mike and Helen. And we always let them know that our passion for experiential education began with their trips. So, when we heard that they were looking to pass the torch, we were excited about being the next stewards of this amazing company.
What’s the best part about your job?
Our favorite part of the job is when we get to visit our trip groups or camps and see kids in action having a great time. Kids need carefree experiences where they are guided by superb role models. It is awesome to help plan those adventures, but it is even more exciting to see it happening in real time. To see a child at the top of a peak having challenged themselves in new and exciting ways is incredibly fulfilling.
You have creatively grown the business while remaining true to the original mission. How have you accomplished that, and how has BoJH helped along the way?
I think our business growth has always been centered around what kids need in the moment. With four kids of our own, we are constantly thinking about what they need to grow, the need for great role models and their need for fun. As parents, we also want to create experiences that parents can know and trust. We never take a parent’s trust lightly because we too know what it’s like to send our children to Wilderness Adventures. We know that kids, now maybe more than ever, need opportunities to disconnect from their devices, to get outside, to not worry and to have fun. The growth at WA has been all about providing more experiences like this for children and young adults. That is what Wilderness Adventures has always been about and we are proud to continue this legacy.
Bank of Jackson Hole has been a true partner for us since we assumed ownership of WA in 2016. They have helped us to grow our offerings and provided thoughtful advice on our business decisions. Most importantly, they stood by us and supported us through the pandemic. We are so immensely grateful for their support and all they have done to help Wilderness Adventures over the years.
If you could go one trip this summer, which one would you choose?
Aww, that’s a loaded question. They all are great! I (Tom) will always have a special place in my heart for the Grand Teton trip. That said, I would love to do our Great Northwest program which is the longest offering we have (at 5 weeks!) for high school students. I (Catherine) would head to Costa Rica. We run amazing trips down there and Pacuare River is magical. Or we would just head over to Base Camp to see all our kids in action! That never gets old.