Another alpine start! The approach is usually the hardest part – pushing through till the alpenglow and high peaks stoke the motivation back into play. Working as a guide certainly presents both challenges and rewards. Many micro-decisions are made for safety and fun factors throughout the course of a day in the hills. Choosing an appropriate line and trying to execute it to perfect efficiency, all the while, having the unassuming guest(s) following behind.
After 15 years of guiding, and having the pleasure of sharing the mountains with a variety of personalities from all over the world, I would say I still look forward to the adventure. But, now I look forward more to the characters that make the experience so rich. I find the idea of someone hiring another person to take them into sometimes loose or avalanche prone, exposed, and dangerous terrain (not always the case) interesting. Some thoughts I often have is, “how easily they trust me,” so it seems; “do I have the same faith and trust in them?” While climbing: leading up into a crux, peering down, not to look at the surroundings and feel the high exposure, but to watch the guests belaying, “how much slack? Are they daydreaming? Have I coached them enough?” And, most of all, “don’t fall!” Not because I don’t trust, but mostly because I don’t trust.
With ski touring, the concept and thoughts are much the same. You go through the crash course companion rescue scenario then head off – in some cases, into terrain which has high potential of a rescue. This is where a guide must truly analyze their decisions and make the best choices. I have had a specific discussion many times with colleagues. “Can our guests pull off a quick and efficient rescue?” Then, “do they have the skills to take care of you if there are injuries?” Much the same in glaciated terrain, nowadays I have a screw and leash ready to go. If I was to fall in and stay conscious, securing myself would be the first priority to avoid pulling the group any further.
Creating a formula of good decision making and trusting the guest’s abilities begins with which skills are taught, how they are taught, and overall communication with guests. We must prepare people in many ways for the worst case scenario – which rarely happens. These details may affect the guest’s experience; some of which have enhanced skills, whereas others are in need of more training. I have discovered many people have questions, but find it hard to elaborate their concerns or fears. But these questions, these moments, open the doors for conversation. As for the guides with guest health and/or strength concerns, communicating with guests can help us discover more about one another while tightening the bonds.
There is value in the hard-skill bonds (they literally tie us together), but also in the conversations. Through the guide to guest relationship, people can be themselves and put their regular life and work personality on hold in the mountains. The moment where guides become confidants is a refreshing experience for people. We listen to the stories coming from many countries and perspectives – and we love them.
The guide to guest relationship is a friendship; bonded through trusting and sharing life changing spiritual experiences. The guide acts as mentor, leader, confidant, and fearless ambassador of the hills; the guest acts as employer, enabler, trusted belayer, and friend. A mountain tradition for almost 200 years, the first professional guides association formed in 1821 in Chamonix, France. I am looking forward to many more beautiful mornings – shaking off the alpine start sloth-y feelings and experiencing more adventures with more guests in the high peaks.
Jeff Bullock owns and operates Alpine Air Adventures in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Alberta. He is a fully certified ACMG/IFMGA mountain guide and has been working and playing in the mountains for over 25 years. He looks forward to showing you an adventure you will not forget. Follow his Adventures on Instagram!
Avalanche Skills Training Level 1
Alpine Air Adventures in partnership with Avalanche Canada delivers AST training curriculum designed to enable people to travel in the back country safely, understanding where to obtain current information and understanding the onsite snow pack dynamics and terrain use.
Rock Climbing Experience
A program designed to introduce you to the sport of rock climbing! This is a 1 day program which will get you climbing safely and introduced to the vertical world with a safety oriented approach.