The AMGA is excited to announce a new blog series, to run for the rest of 2015, featuring Q & As with AMGA guides, instructors, and members who are integral members of our corporate sponsors’ athlete teams—men and women who are delivering both in the guiding world and as ambassadors for their brands and chosen outdoor sport(s). There is and always has been much overlap between mountain guides and top mountain athletes: guiding and teaching are a natural fit for those who excel in skiing, rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering, as the activities pull from the same passion, wisdom, and skill set.
How did you get into skiing, and then guiding?
My parents were climbers and took us all over the world with them to climb. For the longest time, I fought it, I didn’t want to climb and was reluctant to go hiking, running or anything outdoors related. But they planted the seed and those family values got the better of me. Just being exposed to it was enough for me to develop a really strong passion for the mountains. In 1997, I had a serious accident in the mountains. Instead of turning me off of the mountains, it made me want to learn how to be safe in the mountains and suddenly, the mountains became my life. As it wasn’t always easy to find partners to take me, I decided to take people in the mountains and soon realized that well, I could get paid to do that. I had also grown up in a town where there was a guiding center and lots of my parents’ friends were guides. In Europe, guiding is a very charismatic and well-respected profession. All these factors made me want to become a guide.
Why do you love guiding?
I think guiding is one of these professions that define who you are. It’s not just a job. It’s a way of life. I know, this may sound cliché, but it’s true. You really have to live it, to breathe it, to embody this profession. It is so intense, multi-faceted, compelling, diverse, beautiful, challenging that you need to be really present to figure out each challenge that is presented to you. No one climb or one day is ever the same: conditions on a route change on a daily basis, the weather is something you always to have to adapt to, people have different level that you always have to be on your toes and ready to adapt to the situation at hand, whether at home when planning the climb or on the route. It’s rare that you can just show up at work and know exactly how the day is going to unfold. I like how it forces me to be adaptable and how I need to be in shape to be on top of my game in such a wide range of activities: skiing, climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, orienteering, rope work techniques, people skills, etc. To sum it up, I like the diversity and challenges that it throws my way. But I chose this profession because I love to be in the mountains for myself and so it is important for me to keep go up high and do climbs or ski descents that challenge me as well. It’s important to keep the fire going. This year, I went to Norway to guide and it was so amazing that my job could take me to some places I have always dreamt of going skiing. With a child now, I can only justify doing such trips if it’s for work and I am so lucky to be able to do that. Back in the days when I was pondering becoming a guide, I thought it would be the ideal job to have as a parent because I would get to do what I love to do during the day and get exercise while at work and come home and be present for my child. A win-win situation. And though that combination offers other challenges, it is mostly true.
Why is standardized guide education important, especially now?
Lawyers have a standardized education, so do doctors, accountants, and really any other professions. So it is mind-blowing to me that a profession that deals with life and death situations isn’t standardized in the US. So I think it will take time, but people will come to understand the importance of education in this field, just like in any other profession. In Europe, it has been a part of the culture for a long time and it has slowly evolved to be a well-respected profession. Standardized education is important for safety reasons, it is important for the profession to evolve, and for the overall respect of the profession.
What is in your pack on a typical day of guiding?
It depends on what I am guiding but I always have a first aid kit, a thermos of tea, some Clif Bar shot blocks and bars, a knife, some cordelette, a spare pair of sunglasses, sunscreen, some really strong chap stick, a visor, gloves and a hat, and a warm jacket. That’s the basic but I always adapt the content of my backpack to what I am guiding.
What has been your best day out guiding, and why?
Probably guiding the Frendo Spur in Chamonix. It’s a 1200m long mixed route. I guided it in the Fall, when it was already covered in snow, making it pretty challenging as it involved breaking trail and cleaning snow from the rock to progress and find gear placement. I had climbed a lot of longer routes with my client that summer and this was our last climb of the season. Days were short and the lifts weren’t running early in the morning or late at night. I had just climbed the north face of the Drus the day before but I was excited to guide this route. We took the first lift up at a 8.30am and didn’t start climbing until 10.30am. The route requires lots of route finding and some 5.10 climbing in big boots with crampons when conditions are as they were that day. This was the hardest route my client had done. We climbed the last 3 pitches in the dark and it was mentally challenging for my client to go into darkness. When you leave in the dark in the morning on a climb, you know you’re headed for daylight, and somehow, that is not as scary and going into darkness at the end of the day. So I was able to help my client push through her fears, help her climb in the dark and successfully summit this world-class route. A friend of mine had carried a duffle with bivy gear to the top of the lift, so we had a comfortable bivouac in the toilet of the Aiguille du Midi station with good food to celebrate!
What has been your worst/funniest/most comedy-of-errors day out guiding, and why?
I was meant to meet clients the night before the start of a trip in the Bernina area, in eastern Switzerland. I had driven a long ways to get there on time but no one showed up at our meeting point. I waited until 11pm and still no one. I left them a note at the hotel front desk for them to meet me at the latest by 7am at breakfast the following day. But when I got there, no one was there. I had called them all night without success, and no one was picking up that morning either. When the front desk opened at 9am, I asked if they had arrived. And they said that they had, super late and to go knock on their door. Which I did, only to find them in boxer shorts, still under the influence and not ready in the least. At the moment, I was a little frustrated, but they proved to be the most fun, life loving, seize the moment people I’ve ever had and this story always makes me laugh!
What is the one, most essential trick you’ve learned to make you a more efficient guide or climber?
Plan and prepare. Reaching out to people for beta. Being adaptable.
What is the one item you can’t live without?My Julbo sunglasses and my chap stick… but really, my phone!
How do you let loose/relax when you’re not working?
Spending time with my daughter and husband, watching TV shows, listening to audiobook. But to be fair, when I am not working, I go in the mountains for myself to push my own limits, ice climbing, skiing, ski touring, rock climbing or alpine climbing.
What are the top three songs on your playlist?
Just Breathe by Pearl Jam
Ella, Elle l’a by Jenifer
Drifting Away by Faithless