For Parents

Caring for your child

We know that you want your child to have fun, expand their horizons, and learn new skills. At the same time, you are seeking quality, and want to ensure your child is taken care of. Every company answers, “safety is our number one priority”. That’s true, but it’s not an answer. Please consider our response, and feel free to call us with any questions you may have.

Deer Hill has an outstanding safety record. In 28 years of outdoor adventures, not one participant has had an injury requiring an overnight hospital stay. Despite this fact, you and your child should understand that Deer Hill’s expeditions, like all outdoor recreation programs, involve inherent risks. These risks cannot necessarily be controlled or predicted. Moreover, removal of these risks would alter the nature and the benefits of our programs. Despite our absolute commitment to minimizing risks, we cannot guarantee safety. More importantly, here is what we do to manage risk.

Small groups and 1:4 staff-to participant ratio

Typically, we staff each program with three skilled leaders to work with 12 participants, an industry-leading 1:4 ratio. (Our absolute maximum group size is 16 participants with 4 leaders). This means your child will receive more individualized attention, whether it’s to keep an eye out for them on a peak ascent, giving a few pointers on how to hold a paddle, or just a non-judgemental ear to listen.

Quality leaders

The average age of our field staff is 28, and we build long-term relationships with them. We enjoy, and you benefit from, our staff return rate, which is over 70%. Previous experience in leading young people in the wilderness is a prerequisite for employment, and many of our staff are educators.

Our leaders maintain current Wilderness First Responder and CPR credentials which require a minimum of 80 hours of training and biannual re-certification. Many are even EMT-certified. Unlike many other companies, we review and reinforce their backcountry, leadership, first aid, and group dynamics skills each year with a rigorous 12-day field training program.

Safety not outsourced

This is huge. At Deer Hill, our field staff are both the group leaders and the actual guides. “Of course,” you might say, but this is not typical. We do not shuffle our groups from one outfitter to another for each activity. We do not rely on another company’s equipment, staff, or notions of safety. This can make all the difference, ultimately.

Our leaders pick up your child at the airport and stay with them throughout the program. They are the river guides, mountaineering leaders, and rock climbing instructors. Each has the skills and the maturity, as well as the knowledge of your child’s needs in relation to the group’s dynamic, to help them do the best they can in each activity and environment. Moreover, our staff hiring and training procedures have been thoroughly examined by our accrediting body, the Association of Experiential Education (AEE).

Please note: while in the backcountry, each Program Leader carries a powerful satellite phone, linked to a 24-hour emergency phone at Basecamp.

Keeping in touch

We deliver your letters, cards and e-mail messages to our participants when we resupply their group in the field, and it is always an exciting time. Our leaders also send updates and photographs back to Basecamp when possible, letting us know what their groups have achieved so far, and how the group is doing. Parents always appreciate receiving these updates by email. Parents can count on at least one update while their child is here.

Thanks Richard! We love the photos and hearing all about the great trip. Gavin absolutely adored the program – thank you to all the Deer Hill staff for your thoughtfulness, caring and professionalism! Lesley, parent of Gavin, Park City, UT

Your child will telephone you when they arrive at Durango airport, or Basecamp, to let you know they have arrived safely. The backcountry nature of our expeditions, and our shared goal of independence and growth for your child and their group, mean that it is not practical, or desirable, for you to be in telephone contact during their program. The exception to this is, of course, if there is an emergency at home, in which case we will get in touch with your child’s group just as soon as we can. Each participant is encouraged to write at least one postcard or letter to their family during their program. This is the best way for them to communicate their experience to you while it is in progress.

Thanks for the photos and your updates over the course of the Southwest Journey program.  Gillian had a wonderful time – her leaders, her group members and the activities made for an exciting and emotionally rich experience.  I’m so glad she had the chance to go! Many thanks to you and the staff for your care of our kids and thoughtful responses to us parents, too!” Karin, parent of Gillian, New York City, NY

Is my child right for Deer Hill?

Deer Hill has a thorough admissions process to ensure that every participant is right for our program. This is vital to building groups that have fun and work well together. We require two non-family references with each application. We also ask each applicant to provide three short pieces of writing, detailing a). backcountry, athletic and swimming experience; b) what they hope to get out of this expedition, and c) telling us a little more about themselves, so that we can get to know our prospective participants.

Challenge Level

We design our programs for any reasonably fit and motivated teenager. All Deer Hill programs involve physical, mental, and emotional challenges. This is part of what makes them such powerful opportunities for growth. We believe that young people are seeking challenges to test themselves and thus realize their true physical capabilities and inner strength. The rewards are great. On the other hand, this is far from a “survival” program. After safety, fun is our primary goal. We go to great lengths to ensure that the challenges we offer are appropriate to the group, and to each individual. Some of our programs involve more physically challenging activities – mountain backpacking, for example – and we will gladly advise you on the specific challenges of each program. We urge you to give us a call to discuss your child’s personality, fitness levels, interests, and goals. We will find the right program to suit them.

Voluntary Participation

We are seeking motivated applicants. Despite our responsible admissions policy, only you can truly ensure this. Your child must voluntarily and enthusiastically participate in our program. Of course, we expect teenagers to have “off-days”, or to feel tired sometimes. This is normal. However, wholly unmotivated students will hold an entire group back, and can pose risks to others. Our leaders work hard with each participant to optimize their experience and work through difficulties. However, if a group member consistently does not fulfill this most basic requirement, we will send them home. We do not give refunds under any circumstances in which a participant leaves a program early.

Deer Hill may be an excellent place for teenager to mature and learn about themselves, but this is NOT a therapeutic program. We will not admit anyone with a history of violent or disruptive behaviour, or other psychological difficulties that are not well controlled – as certified by a family physician. We will gladly discuss these issues with you on the telephone.