This spring I had the opportunity to take the Advanced Ski Guides Course and Aspirant Exam in Valdez, Alaska. As a career mountain guide, each step in the AMGA Mountain Guide program provides me with increasing guiding acumen and greater benefit for my clientele. I am grateful to be the recipient of the 2017 Adidas Scholarship, which provided support to continue on through the certification process.
In the weeks counting down to the course, there was some trepidation amongst the students concerning the conditions. The Valdez area in the Chugach had low seasonal snow totals and Thompson Pass had experienced some very high wind events. The heli operators had temporarily shut down operations in the month prior. The conditions were described as “Colorado Front Range” – not inspiring for Valdez. Luckily, the snow started falling again, leaving us with enough snow to allow for our course to run. The late season reset meant that we were skiing on a marginal snowpack with some early season concerns like questionable snow bridges and thin snowcover on rocky terrain.
While we didn’t have the ski conditions Valdez is famous for, the challenging conditions provided a greater learning opportunity – how to deliver a rewarding product with unanticipated conditions. The instructor team did a great job facilitating discussion and getting us started in our operational mindset. From our conservative beginning the continual gathering of information allowed us to progress into bigger terrain towards the end of the course.
We scheduled our objectives around current weather conditions, prioritizing larger tours for clear weather days and focusing on technical skills during flat light conditions. We still had opportunities to navigate in poor visibility and complex, committed terrain. For many of us typically operating below the alpine, the nearly treeless Chugach provided important practice route finding in big terrain. We also had some great opportunities to ski with thin snow coverage on larger glaciers. Typically benign glaciers were much more broken up, so standard tours demanded a fresh set of eyes and an open mind.
The instructors presented navigation and tour planning from both traditional and contemporary perspectives. We discussed the benefits and liabilities of each, focusing on applying the best method situationally. I appreciated the instructors exploring creative and practical use of all the tools available.
The instructor team was great. They brought a ton of valuable experience from a variety of settings. Their stylistic differences allowed us to compare viable approaches to guiding challenges. The environment was fun, collaborative, and supportive. Most of the students had strong rock and alpine backgrounds, so our technical systems modules could focus more on the “when” and “where,” instead of the “how”.
We had a great group of students with really varied backgrounds. Everyone on the course had accrued professional or academic experience in different settings. There was a lot of thought-provoking discussion on the skin track about different operations, snowpacks, and guiding styles.
The ASGC/AE was a valuable stepping stone in the Mountain Guide certification track. The commitment to this process takes time and financial resources. I was extremely grateful to have received support from Adidas. I look forward to the final few AMGA Mountain Guide programs.