Nina Hance took her Ski Guide Course January 6 – 17, 2014, in Jackson, Wyoming. Check out her piece, “Potholders,” in Issue #3 of the GUIDE Bulletin.
By Nina Hance
Since 17, it has been an ambition of mine to pursue AMGA certification. Last summer, after fulfilling all of the course prerequisites, I applied for my first AMGA course. On the day of my 21st birthday I received an email announcing that I had been accepted for the Ski Guide Course in Jackson, Wyoming.
On January 5th, I packed up my Subaru and left my house in Bozeman, Montana, for the four-hour drive to Jackson. Dave Miller, a good friend of my dad’s and fellow guide, was also taking the course and invited me to stay with him at his beautiful, log cabin tucked back in the woods a half hour drive from Jackson. It was nice to stay with someone who was on the same schedule as me for the next 12 days that the course would be taking place. He was also great company. On our morning drives to the ski hill, Dave shared stories and adventures about the early days in Valdez, Alaska, working at Valdez Heli-Ski Guides with my dad, Jerry, and Dougy, as he liked to call Doug Coombs. With great humor, Dave told me about my dad’s unique ski style, the “Jerry Turn,” and how Doug would tie a piece of red flagging to a guest’s backpack if he or she was deemed to be a “red flag.”
As the youngest participant and only woman, I was slightly nervous about the upcoming 12-day course. On the other hand, I was eager to spend the next two weeks skiing in Jackson and the surrounding area. The Teton Range is one of my favorite mountain ranges, in both summer and winter, for skiing and climbing. I try to visit the Tetons at least once a year to do a classic ski or climb.
The first five days of the course were held at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. During morning classroom sessions we covered a wide range of skills including ski technique, client management, navigation, risk mitigation, down guiding, knots, anchors, and rope systems. Afterwards we spent the remainder of the day in and out of bounds practicing and applying those skills. Coming from a racing background and having a mother as a ski instructor, I’m very interested in the technique of skiing. I was excited to see the emphasis the course placed on this aspect of guiding. Our instructors, Rob Hess and Jeff Ward, were ripping skiers and inspirational mentors of proper, solid skiing ability.
The remaining seven days were spent in the backcountry. We applied navigation and tracking setting skills during a day of touring in Grand Teton National Park. We spent a half-day assembling different styles of rescue sleds, followed by an afternoon of beacon training on Teton Pass.
As the days passed, the atmosphere amongst the students and instructors turned from quiet and reserved to friendly and outgoing. Rob and Jeff are very knowledgeable and skilled instructors. They made the course a fun, learning experience for all of us.
My favorite part of the course was the three-day yurt trip we took at the Baldy Yurt on the west side of the Teton Range. The terrain and access this area had to offer was absolutely stunning. We took advantage of the cooperative weather and great powder skiing to get a lot of vertical in and apply all the skills we had learned in the past week, plus gain new ones.
I’m so excited to have begun my guide training. Taking the ski guide course in Jackson not only taught me several valuable skills and gave me a solid base to build upon, but it was also a fun, memorable time with many shared smiles and laughs. My family has been very supportive of my goal to become a professional guide. I’ve also had many inspiring mentors to guide and help me along the way. A special thanks goes to Arc’teryx for sponsoring my tuition for the course. I’m extremely grateful for their generous support. Receiving moral as well as financial support means a tremendous amount to me. An incredible amount of learning and training still lies ahead of me before I am a full-fledged guide. I look forward to continuing my education with the AMGA, the places it will take me, the people I will meet, and the experiences and knowledge I will gain.