Summit Achievement during the Holidays

For 21 years Summit Achievement, a hybrid wilderness therapy and residential treatment program located in Maine, has operated during the holidays.  Those outside of the field may think it is a difficult time to be enrolled or working at a treatment program, but that is not the case, as we have honed our model through years of experience in all areas including the holidays!  Summit, being a relationally driven program, focuses on family inclusion no matter what time of year.  Families, students, staff and faculty report that the holidays at Summit have been especially meaningful to them over the years.

For Thanksgiving, students at Summit Achievement celebrate at the main lodge by having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with families invited to attend for the day.  The students and staff will head out on an abbreviated expedition on Saturday and return to campus on Sunday.  For the Summit Traverse team, some students may go on a home visit (with clinician/educational consultant/parent approval).

Hanukkah is celebrated with a daily lighting of the menorah.  Over the years Summit has also had a rabbi come to campus. Families may also have a visit (with approval as above) with their child to celebrate the holiday.

Christmas is celebrated on campus at the main lodge with a special late day dinner and each student being given gifts from their families.   Much of the day is spent sledding, building snow people, or watching appropriate holiday movies.   Some students may go to a local church to celebrate the holiday.  Families are also invited to attend the dinner, and celebration, or take their child off campus for an overnight visit to stay at one of the local inns in the beautiful Mount Washington Valley.  The Summit Traverse team students may go home for a visit during Christmas or have a visit in town.

Summit has found that celebrating a simple holiday filled with love and support is one of the ways to foster healing for families and young people.    

Wilderness Therapy in the Winter

Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves, it can be scary making the choice to send your child to wilderness therapy.  Now add in the fact that you may need to make this decision during the winter months and you can get overwhelmed. Yet there are tremendous benefits and opportunities that your child can gain from these experiences, and it’s important to try to look past the fear that can be associated with cold weather.  Here at Summit Achievement we fully understand your concern.  We have been operating continuously in New England for over 21 years and have honed the skills necessary to manage this climate safely.

To make your child’s experience one in which they will be challenged but ultimately find success, we take several steps to address the winter elements.  First, we are not a traditional primitive-skills based, full-wilderness program; rather we are a hybrid model with a mountaineering style emphasis.   We train our staff to make safe, conservative judgments when it comes to managing the winter environment.  Our youth are outfitted in the most up-to-date wilderness equipment designed specifically for the conditions your child will find themselves in.  Our staff will teach your child the best way to use their gear (suppliers include Marmot and Outdoor Research) to stay safe and comfortable in the woods. Along with this equipment, we plan our outings on a weekly basis allowing us to get accurate weather forecasts for the coming trip and plan the itinerary accordingly.  One aspect of winter camping we actively manage is frostbite.  We do this safely through a handful of redundant systems like proper education on how to prevent it, using equipment designed for the environment, making hot chocolate or tea, and staff checking each student’s fingers and toes every day to make sure that their extremities are warm and dry.  When the weather is at its worst, we have three wood-stove heated shelters strategically placed around our main campus in Stow, Maine.  The shelters provide protection from the elements and the wood-burning stoves help everyone keep warm and dry.

The woods during the winter months are often some of the most beautiful and serene settings you can find.  As we enter our 22nd winter, we are ready to provide a safe, impactful wilderness experience for your child like we have for so many others.

Who can come to Summit Achievement by transportation service

 Throughout most of Summit’s history we have required that all students enroll willingly, or at least reluctantly.  This has meant that they arrive with their parents and are willing to get out of the car and participate in the enrollment process, despite maybe not being thrilled about the prospect of 6-8 weeks in a wilderness therapy program.   This position of ours regarding transported students is in stark contrast to the rest of the field of wilderness therapy that routinely takes kids by professional transport.  We are now changing our position and will accept certain students (see below) through assisted enrollment.


Most wilderness therapy programs have many of their students enroll via youth transportation services.  What this looks like is skilled professionals who will show up at the student’s home, usually early in the morning, and take them, either willingly or unwillingly, to begin treatment.  The reputable transport companies are skilled at minimizing the potential traumatic effects of this process, and this service helps families that feel their child will benefit greatly from a wilderness program but cannot get them to agree to get on a plane or in the car.


In turning to the research that exists, outcomes of students enrolling in wilderness programs resistant to treatment has been studied, and the results caused us as a program to reconsider our stance(OBH Research Findings: Engaging Resistant Clients | Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council).   Over the last few years we have allowed a few students to enroll by transport when they meet the following specific criteria:

  •         Their primary treatment issue is depression and/or anxiety
  •         They are only oppositional and defiant in the home
  •         They have a track record of being compliant and respectful outside of the home

In these instances, we have allowed students to come via transport, and in tracking outcomes of these enrollments we have realized that they often are very favorable.  Thus, we have decided as an organization that we will allow students that meet the above criteria to arrive at Summit Achievement by a professional transportation service.