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Phong Duong ’00: Tripping the Life Fantastic

Story by Sarah Schewe

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Phong Duong (‘00), RMI’s general counsel and a wilderness instructor, teaches members of the 501st Infantry Regiment the principles of high-angle rescue. | Photo by
In addition to his duties as the company's general counsel, Phong Duong is also a wilderness instructor. | Photo by Jarod Trow/RMI
In addition to his duties as the company's general counsel, Phong Duong is also a wilderness instructor. | Photo by Jarod Trow/RMI

Many would-be students are attracted to Western because of the access to wilderness recreation. For Phong Duong (’00, Communication), becoming a Viking continued a dream of life centered on wilderness sports and travel.

Born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, Phong’s family immigrated to Spokane when he was a baby. He grew up living the original American dream as his parents learned English and slowly moved up to better, higher paying jobs from a start cleaning houses.

As a boy, Duong wanted to be a zoologist. He devoured the fantasies of Greek mythology, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Eventually, Duong’s love of reading about adventure branched out into real adventuring when his friends introduced him to rock climbing.

“I was hooked from day one,” Duong says. “We started climbing everything we could. I was even arrested at 14 for climbing and rappelling off a water tower.”

Step by step, Duong got more interested in sports that took him into the back country. He got into mountain biking to reach climbs he couldn’t get to on his street bike. Duong started mountaineering and backcountry skiing after he got tired of waiting in lines at ski resorts. When he began thinking about college, access to mountain adventure was key.

“I loved the people Western attracted,” recalled Duong. “They were low-key, loved the outdoors, and, most importantly, prioritized their lives like me: pleasure first, everything else second. My dorm brothers and I had group mountain bike rides a couple times a week, rain or snow be damned. We skied nearly every day at Baker during the record snow year. We played poker from one evening into the next morning and only stopped because we had to go to class. Most of my friends today are the guys I met freshman year on the third floor of Nash Hall.”

One of those guys was Andrew Cull, who went on to found Remote Medical International and combine his own love of the outdoors with an interest in helping people prepare for and respond to emergencies. The two kept in touch.

But for Duong, graduation at first posed a challenge: how to keep his outdoors life rolling while making a living?

Duong moved to Maui to surf for a year before starting law school at Gonzaga University. After graduation, Duong took a job at a law firm, but he quickly found it wasn’t for him. He left to guide kayak trips in the San Juan Islands; when it got too cold for kayaking, Duong moved to Park City, Utah to join the ski patrol at Deer Valley.

Then one day Cull called Duong for legal advice for his fledgling company. Soon, Cull hired him as general counsel – and a wilderness medicine instructor.

Duong finally found his fit. He happily splits his time between the slopes and RMI’s offices, combining his passions for the outdoors and the law. When he’s not wrangling with the legal issues associated with the company’s far-flung operations, he’s in the field leading training on wilderness rescue techniques.

“Working at RMI is amazing,” he says. “Everyone is motivated, passionate, and energetic. Stepping into the office is like stepping onto the 3rd floor of Nash Hall all over again. Dogs run around, people play dodge ball at lunch, Rainier trips get planned, and we solve the world's remote medical emergencies.”