A FAMILY IS LOST in a mountain wilderness, and it's up to your group to save them. The Tall Timber Search and Rescue Program, a teambuilding experience based at the Tall Timber resort in the San Juan Mountains near Durango, Colo., uses the rigors of a wilderness rescue to teach corporate survival skills.

With actors portraying the lost family, participants organize searches, coordinate communications, develop life-saving strategies, and conduct high-country rescues. The program's tools range from two-way radios and rappelling rigs to medical equipment and jet helicopters. The instructors are professional first responders who train the participants in the same procedures and equipment that they use on actual life-saving missions.

“People were tired of the same old teambuilding meetings, rope courses, and playing games,” says Tall Timber owner Denny Beggrow. “This can be as real as you want it to be.”

Companies such as Mattel, Pfizer, and Diaggio have used the program. Tom Debrowski, vice president worldwide operations at Mattel, has participated twice. “It builds trust, faith, relationships,” he says. “You develop your own language, a shorthand you bring back to the office with you. The skills you learn last for years — it's not something you forget in three months.”

The program usually takes one day; works best with 20 to 24 people (30 at most); and can be customized to the needs of any group. One option involves letting the team believe they are on an actual rescue mission, rather than a simulation, but, Beggrow cautions, “That gets intense. You have to remind [the participants] to eat and sleep.” The cost varies with the duration and scope of the program.