SOME AMERican corporations send their executives to whoop it up at the annual convention in the casinos of Las Vegas. But other executives are just as likely to wind up in search of a different sort of wild life.

Vince Kikugawa, an executive vice president of the Host-International Division of the Marriott Corp., wanted to encourage an exchange of information, ideas, and human talent within his upper management crew. He asked Outward Bound to set up a program, for which Host paid OB $15,000. The company spent another $15,000 on expenses to send its executives into the wilderness.

This year 30 upper-level management employes--12 from the Washington area-- were flown to Colorado. They scaled the 14,500-foot Mount Elbert and were rewarded upon their return with a steak dinner cooked on bed springs. For a week, they slept in sleeping bags on plywood, awoke at 6 in the morning and took a short run, followed by a brief swim in a stream covered with ice. They climbed and rappelled a 90-foot cliff, scaled a 13- foot wall, then dined on vegetarian meals. They were left stranded in the woods with just a compass.

The goal of the course, said Reola McLeod, OB's director of corporate development, is to "give feedback to teammates while maintaining self- esteem, approaching challenges and problems creatively both as individuals and as a group."

"It created a respect factor with the people you work with," said Bill Allen, a Host district manager. "A lot of people you work with, you never get a chance to know them."

But wary bewilderment reigned for some. Said Bob Haggerty, 50, a vice-president in the restaurant division, "Football and the Army were not as tough as this."

Did he think he was crazy for being out there? "Oh yeah, all the time."

Thirty Host employes, many self-admitted wilderness virgins, are part of the 425 corporate adventurers who will participate this year. In 1979, its first year, the course attracted 29 students. In 1981, 270 ventured and in 1982, 306 joined.

"Participation reflects a need in the marketplace," said OB's McLeod. "Business managers are willing to take more risks, and recognize the need to adapt to change."

The National Outdoor Leadership School plans to institute a corporate program in 1984.