I am lucky to live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of the birthplaces of multi-day ski traverses in the United States. And though I did not come from an alpine-skiing background growing up, I quickly realized upon moving here that learning to ski, namely learning how to ski in the backcountry, was going to give me the opportunity for incredible adventures in the mountains throughout the year. So I dedicated myself to building a foundation for skiing, and over the course of several seasons, felt that I had built up the requisite skills and résumé to apply for the Ski Guide Course (SGC).
I was excited to see old friends and meet new ones during the course; there was a good mix of other certified rock guides and assistant alpine guides, and the few folks who were taking their first AMGA programs were coming in with an impressive skill set and background. I came to the SGC ready and willing to learn as much as possible from everyone as I could, listen to the feedback given, and in the words of another participant, Kel Rossiter, “really suck the marrow out of this program.”
The SGC is demanding physically and mentally, as it is a 12-day program, and I had just come off of a back-to-back AIARE course and AMGA Ice Instructor Course. However, the SGC is structured so that there aren’t too many huge days in a row without a “rest day” in the form of a skills day or shorter tour. Still, the days start adding up: tour plan, a.m. meeting, tour, debrief, p.m. meeting, repeat. I am thankful for having friends in town to stay with, making the month spent in Ouray taking courses much easier to handle. The OurAyle House Brewery sure helped, too!
As a ski venue, Red Mountain Pass blew my socks off. What a location! The skiing terrain and access are world class, and although that distinction comes with an asterisk, being the extremely dynamic snowpack of the San Juan Mountains, we were able to sample some amazing skiing. During the week prior to the SGC, the snowpack in the San Juans was roughly doubled, providing us with some very real decisions to make regarding terrain selection and how to manage it. The course structure allowed for lots of time up front, getting to guide big blocks and really get into a personal rhythm. For me, the biggest learning moments happened in the down guiding. Learning how to develop the “invisible rope,” which is a crucial tool in ski guiding, was one of the skills I was most interested in coming into the course, so finding a way to put the concepts into the context of rock or alpine guiding really helped.
And much like the instructors of my first rock course, who really set the stage for professionalism and high standards as I moved through that discipline, the Mikes (Soucy and Poborsky) delivered a great course, forced some good decision-making and skill development, and most of all, kept it fun. Ski guiding does seem like it requires the most work, especially in the preparation department, but also offers the opportunity for the biggest ear-to-ear grins when you find the good snow for your clients. I feel like given the conditions we were given, client rewards were maximized, opportunities for growth were taken advantage of, and that I can successfully plan out how to arrive fully prepared and confident to the Advanced Ski Guide Course.
Thanks are due to Mammut, who provided me with a full-tuition scholarship for the SGC, and who have shown consistent support of guides and of guide education.