By Chris Lundy, GORE-TEX® Scholarship recipient
I’ve been a professional skier for nearly 15 years now. Heck, I’ve even been in two films that aired on major television. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sending some Alaskan face. You probably never saw “NOVA Avalanche!” or “Extreme Maintenance: Glacier National Park.” Even if you did (and I actually hope you didn’t), it would have been easy to miss the snow nerd with the bit part. That was me.
You see, being a professional skier means something different to me. Okay, maybe I’m jealous of those talented enough to actually get paid purely for their skiing prowess, but being a pro skier in the usual sense seems just a teensy-weensy bit selfish. I’ve been earning my living on skis for quite some time now, but I’d like to think that a large part of my work has served something greater than myself. As a ski patrol it was keeping the mountain safe and picking up the pieces of those whose day didn’t go as planned. Working as a public avalanche forecaster, I provided the information skiers and riders needed to support their decision making in the backcountry. Recently I have made the shift towards my third (and likely final) career on skis: guiding. Like many other current or aspiring AMGA Ski Guides, I’m sharing my passion and using my skills in an effort to enhance someone else’s life, or at the very least, their mountain experience.
It’s difficult to be a professional skier without professionalism. Professionalism is defined as having “the skills, judgment, and behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” Of course this can be as simple as not having duct-taped, tattered ski clothes, but in a deeper sense it entails seeking the training we need to do our jobs well and safely. Mentorship and experience are key to building guiding skills, but so is formal education. The desire for professionalism is what led me to the AMGA Ski Guides Course in the Wasatch this past January, and I feel extremely fortunate and grateful to have participated in this program with the generous assistance of the GORE-TEX® Scholarship.
Under the patient, thoughtful, and experienced tutelage of Amos Whiting, Peter Leh, and Keith Garvey, we learned the skills, judgment, and behavior expected from a professional ski guide. Or started learning I should say, as it is a long and challenging road to become a certified AMGA Ski Guide – even more so for full certification. But you have to begin somewhere, and I was very excited to get started!
I think most folks know the general flow of the Ski Guides Course, so I’ll only touch on the salient points rather than give a blow-by-blow. Snow conditions in the Wasatch weren’t good but they were good enough, and we traded coverage and quality for stability – which in my mind is preferable for this sort of thing. Memorable moments include: (somewhat painfully) watching ourselves ski on the big screen using Peter’s “Coaches Eye” iPad app, a mass assault on the chutes of Wolverine Cirque during our tech skills day, wandering around dry rocks in $1000 ski boots for short rope practice, learning the hard way how to feed rope at lightspeed while doing belayed skiing, sniffing out low angle powder during high hazard in the Bear River Range, and last but not least, debriefing the day over 3.2 beers.
The instructors did a fantastic job of setting us up to learn. Among the participants in our course we had rock guides, alpine guides, ski instructors, patrollers, and real-deal extreme-type skiers, not to mention financial advisors and iPhone app programmers. Climber-types hounded me until I could tie munter-mules with expedition mitts on and eyes closed. The ski instructors were always quick with a useful tip or technique to make the descent easier, more fun, or both. We all shared tricks for using technology for tour planning and not getting lost, as well as traditional navigation skills for when things go analog. I totally re-invested my portfolio after talking to Dave. Hopefully someone, somewhere during the course was able to pick up a tidbit about avalanche and snow science from me.
The biggest thing I learned is that being a professional ski guide doesn’t mean never making mistakes. The learning environment at the SGC offered feedback and constructive criticism, but also the opportunity to self-evaluate and try again. Of course we are defined as guides by how we act, but just as important is how we react – to the inevitable mistakes and errors that humans are bound to make. A critical component of the skills, judgment, and behavior expected from a professional ski guide is to do the best we can, and recognize when we can do better, and adjust accordingly. The SGC taught me that it is absolutely critical as new guides to be self-aware, and for god sakes, let go of our egos.
A corollary of being self-aware and letting go of our ego is realizing that, especially as a new guide, we can’t expect to guide clients at the same level as we engage our sport personally. The SGC was especially humbling in this regard – being comfortable skiing a 50 degree couloir is very different than being ready to guide it. With this in mind, I look forward to the challenges and learning opportunities ahead as I prepare for the Advanced Ski Guides Course, and eventually the Exam.
Finally, a word on GORE-TEX®. They’ve been in it for the long haul, having been first used in clothing in 1978. Other fabrics have come and gone, but they’ve weathered the storm so to speak. They’ve stuck with tried-and-true technology, but have been open to continual improvement and evolution. There’s plenty of new fabrics on the market – “e”this and “tech” that – but when the going gets really tough and there’s no more messin’ around, it’s time to grab GORE-TEX® (and an AMGA-trained professional guide!). What do GORE-TEX® and a good guide have in common? They’re more appreciated the tougher conditions get, they stick with what works but don’t resist change, and they both do their jobs better with a good washing.
A huge THANK YOU to GORE-TEX® for supporting the AMGA, aspiring guides, and professionalism in our industry! This scholarship made a tremendous difference to me, as it has and will for past and future recipients. And of course thanks to the AMGA for redefining what it means to be a professional skier!