This month, we talked to Ryan Carlson, Executive Director of the Wilderness Education Association.

1. The Wilderness Education Association (WEA) has some iconic roots within the Outdoor Industry. How did the WEA find itself headquartered in Black Mountain, NC?

The WEA’s origins started in Wyoming back in 1977. Paul Petzold and three other influential outdoor leaders realized the need to create well trained outdoor leaders who were masters of their craft and stewards of the wilderness areas they were working and recreating in. The need for qualified outdoor leaders has only grown since the WEA’s inception.

In 2020 I was fortunate to be hired as the WEA’s Executive Director and continue to further the organization’s mission of: “advancing professionalism of outdoor leaders through standards, training and credentialing.” My background has been primarily in the field as a climber and twelve years of running Black Mountain Expeditions here in Black Mountain, NC. We decided as an organization to move the headquarters to the Asheville area since it is an epicenter for the outdoor industry in the southeast. There’s a lot of talented businesses, organizations and governmental agencies all intentionally working together on this unified purpose and we wanted to be a part of it.

2. What drew WEA to be a part of the Outdoor Business Alliance Network? 

The Outdoor Business Alliance network is a great way to expand mutually beneficial collaborations and partnerships while also expanding the footprint of the WEA. Additionally, we want to support the local/regional workforce with the best outdoor leadership standards and practices.

3. How can other Outdoor Gear Builder Members benefit from working directly with the Wilderness Education Association?

Working with WEA will afford organizations and individuals access to a national and international platform for products and services. It will also allow access to standards, training, high quality trained staff, and a forward thinking organization eager to collaborate.

4. You’re getting ready to host the 2023 version of your International Conference on Outdoor Leadership (ICOL). It looks like you have some big names and amazing organizations joining the event. Tell us more about ICOL and how OBA Members can get involved.  

The WEA ICOL is not just a trade show or conference, but a gathering bringing together a cross section of industry leaders, thought leaders and practitioners. The aim is to gather and connect with current and next generation leaders to address the most pressing issues of the industry. One of the most valuable aspects of the conference is coming together as a community and building a deeper, stronger and more inclusive community as a result.

A few conference highlights include: Basecamp Outdoors Women’s Networking event, Luis Benitez, Katie Ives, Alex Bailey, 5 Point Film showing and much more! We welcome the OBA community to be a part of this event as vendors, conference attendees or sponsors. We’d love to have you join in the conversation on the future of the outdoor leadership industry! Find us at for more information about the WEA, our ICOL 2023 conference and ways to get engaged with our organization.