Director’s Corner: reflecting on guides and the guiding life

This editorial appears in the Spring/Summer GUIDE Bulletin, Issue #3. We have reprinted it here so that you know what’s shortly to come (we go to press later this week), and also so that you can comment on it and also share your stories. We want to hear from you! 

By Betsy Winter, AMGA Executive Director

Guides share a lot of commonalities: a higher-than-average level of athleticism, a love of the outdoors, a desire to educate, an obsession with climbing and/or skiing, and the list goes on. But we’re also a diverse group. We’ve come to guiding in different ways and with diverse perspectives. In this issue, we explore both these distinctions and our shared aims.

In our opening feature, A Beginner’s Mind, 55-year-old Steve Levin describes how his mindset changed exponentially when he decided to become a guide. He had to unlearn decades of climbing habits in order to hone his guiding skills: “To become a better guide, I needed to look at this intimately familiar universe with new eyes, to carefully recognize and re-evaluate all that I’d come to take for granted,” Levin writes. He came to guiding at a much later age than most guides.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 20-year-old Nina Hance was practically born into the lifestyle, as her parents were heli-ski guides in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska. In our closing article, Potholders, she takes us on a journey from her childhood to her first season as an Apprentice Ski Guide. “The sum of the skills and responsibilities that an aspiring guide needs to learn has always intimidated me,” she explains. “But… as the season progressed and I became more practiced, I also felt less intimidated by the extent of responsibilities and training that still lay ahead of me.” Both Levin and Hance share the vulnerabilities intrinsic to the guiding career, but also the strength derived from their love of the mountains.

The guiding life is not just unique in the mixed paths guides take to professionalism; it’s also diverse in guides’ perspectives. Adam Fisher opens his article, Making it Work, by writing, “Choosing guiding as a career can be both immensely rewarding and deeply frustrating… Unlike many other occupations, there isn’t a clear path laid out for aspiring professional guides.” His discussions with 10 guides at different stages in their AMGA training reveal innumerable perspectives on everything from making ends meet to finally finding one’s place and what that looks like. And in our photo feature, It’s Not All Black & White, Karsten Delap captures the many faces of guiding in shades of gray. GUIDE Bulletin Editor Lizzy Scully captions these photos with brief overviews of these individuals’ lives, along with answers to significant questions such as: Why guide? Why is certification important? What are hardships you’ve suffered in your guiding path?

We loved this issue for its variety. We think it illustrates the wide spectrum of personalities, styles, and paths in our community. We’d love to hear your stories and get your input on this topic. Please visit our blog——and comment on this editorial, which we are reprinting there. And, we invite you to share your stories with us. Please write Lizzy Scully at [email protected] if you have a piece to submit for the blog or the GUIDE Bulletin. Thanks, and see you at the crags this summer!