For this interview, we caught up with her in Talkeetna, AK between a WMI WFR course in San Francisco and a WAFA course in Costa Rica.
What excites you about being a WMI instructor?
I get to teach all over the country (and in other countries) to people who are excited to learn Wilderness Medicine. I feel very lucky to work for an organization that strives for excellence in the way we teach our curriculum and the accuracy of the information being presented. I enjoy seeing so many students feeling empowered with the skills they learn and practice on our courses.
What are some challenges?
Our courses pack a lot of information into a short amount of time, but not every student is ready for such an intense learning experience. We teach and practice decision-making strategies throughout our courses in numerous scenarios. Some students want a formula to follow, or think instructors should have all the answers to questions that are situation specific. It can be challenging to convey that wilderness medicine is full of "complex decision making matrices" and there is no such thing as one correct answer.
When do you feel most proud of your students?
I enjoy seeing students excel in the night rescue scenario. It's a grand finale moment that shows students they have the knowledge and skills it takes to deal with injuries/illnesses in any wilderness context. I really enjoy when students come up with improvised splints that meet all the principles with materials and ideas that we haven't mentioned in class.
What are other passions in your life?
When I lived in Yosemite I was able to get some experience with Yosemite SAR. Being one of the most popular National Parks they see a couple hundred incidents every year. Because of the resources YOSAR has and the unique incidents that occur, there is a definite blending of wilderness and urban skills. It was great to see the other end of the spectrum of large-scale operations as well as efficiency in response to incidents.
This year is my fifth season working for Talkeetna Air Taxi. It's an incredibly fun, dynamic place to work. I'm not a pilot, but I still get to enjoy the excitement people feel after landing on a glacier next to North America's highest peak. I also get to interact with the hundreds of climbing expeditions each season. Sometimes I wish I could tell people to go take a Wilderness Medicine class before their expedition, but by the time they are in our office it's too late!
I'm currently directing Denali Rescue Volunteers, a charitable nonprofit organization that I started in 2011. The mission is to provide ancillary support to the volunteers that go on month-long patrols with the Denali Mountaineering Rangers. Each year there are close to 50 volunteers giving about 12,000 hrs in volunteer time. Without this support the Rangers would not be able to respond to incidents as efficiently and effectively as they do. Our main goal right now is to be able to help out with gear needs and travel costs.
Melis Coady has been teaching wilderness medicine courses for 11 years and works as a year round guide for the Alaska Mountaineering School, including guided ascents of Denali. From Tanzania to Patagonia, no location is too remote for her to teach safety and survival skills to diverse audiences.