"On the surface it looks like the most fun job in the world - and it is - first tracks in the most beautiful ski mountains anywhere with a team of passionate powder skiers on your tail."
-Rob Rohn, CMH Director of Mountain Operations
To get the lowdown on how mountain guiding compares to other jobs, I talked to Rob Rohn, veteran guide, climber, and the Director of Mountain Operations for CMH. There are few people in the world with as wide of a scope of understanding of the guiding profession as Rob. He oversees:
• A hundred mountain guides.
• Eleven heli-ski areas.
• Technical climbing on the big spires of the Bugaboos.
• Via Ferrate in the Bobbie Burns and Bugaboos.
• Heli-assisted ski touring programs in the Monashees. Adamants, and Bugaboos.
• Hiking adventures in the Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns.
Here’s what Rob had to say about guiding relative to other careers:
TD: Compared to other jobs, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the challenge of ski guiding? Why?
RR: Ten-minus. As with all challenging jobs, when it's going well it appears to be effortless. On the surface it looks like the most fun job in the world - and it is - first tracks in the most beautiful ski mountains anywhere with a team of passionate powder skiers on your tail; evenings spent reliving the day's adventures over a fine meal and enjoying the unique camaraderie that you'll only find at a CMH lodge; next day do it all over again.
But behind the scenes it's serious business. The potential pitfalls are ever-present. The only reason we can operate as safely as we do is that CMH has the most highly skilled and experienced team of guides anywhere. Guides are able to lead the program and our guests safely through the maze we encounter in the mountains, and make it a fun-filled, exhilarating experience. A guide can only achieve this by remaining perpetually vigilant and situationally aware every moment of the day. When the conditions are really tricky we all get grey hairs and are consumed with the task at hand - ensuring everyone remains safe, and has an amazing experience at the same time.
TD: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the rewards (not specifically financial) of ski guiding? Why?
RR: Ten-plus. We all got into this game because it's our passion - passion for the mountains, passion for the skiing, passion for the lifestyle, passion for the people. We get to live the dream. After 25 years I still find myself awestruck that we get to do the things we do, and go where we go.
TD: For someone who has not yet begun guide training, but wants to get into the system, what advice would you give them?
RR: Don't under estimate the hard work and commitment involved. If you're just in it for the first tracks and the glamour - forget it! There aren't any short cuts to getting the experience you'll need to become a successful mountain guide, and to gain the wisdom that only comes after many, many miles in the mountains and a healthy dose of misadventure and misery that forms the foundation for good judgment. Be humble - the minute you think you've got this game figured out, you tend to get slapped and put in your place. If the little voice in your head says you shouldn't go there, don't. And never consider pursuing guiding unless you love people. The true and lasting reward of guiding is in creating and sharing life-altering experiences that people can't get anywhere else. That's what it's all about.
Getting the basic mountain guide certification requires a similar level of time, money and commitment as a college education. If you're interested in guiding, there are training programs in Canada, the USA, and in several European countries.
"Heli-assisted ski touring is really the best combination of exercise and skiing."
When CMH invented heli-skiing in the mid-60s in the remote peaks of the Bugaboos, the original idea was to extend the ski tours using the power of the helicopter. As it turned out, the helicopter was so effective for accessing downhill ski terrain that the potential for ski touring with daily helicopter support was all but forgotten for 45 years. Then, in the spring of 2009, two groups of skiers went ski touring from the comforts of the Bugaboo Lodge with a helicopter to place them on top of an idyllic ski run to begin each day. The skiers toured in a different, stunning, mountain valley every day, and dined and relaxed, were massaged and spoiled, at the Bugaboo Lodge every night. The result was such a hit that this season CMH is offering tours in the Monashees and Adamants as well as the Bugaboos with several weeks already sold out. Chantal Jennings, a skier from Maine with 35 years of skiing experience, and one of the skiers lucky enough to tour in the Bugaboos last spring, took the time to tell us about it:
TD: Have you been backcountry skiing before this year?
CJ: The only backcountry skiing we have done is out the back door of our home in Maine. We go out for only a few hours at a time. It certainly isn't rugged or mountainous, just hilly.
TD: Are you preparing any differently for your next trip to the Adamants in April?
CJ: Probably not much. We were in reasonably good physical shape to hold up to the physical exercise in April 2009. I believe we'll be as well-conditioned, if not a bit better, by April 2010.We'll take our time and definitely stay at the slow and steady pace set by the guides. Listening to the guides is all one needs. After one day on the mountains, one can be ready to handle the subsequent days. The guides are very perceptive to the needs of the skiers and share all their knowledge to make our experience the best.
TD: Do you have any tips for skiers booked this season?
CJ: Here’s what I learned:
- Wear layers.
- Have boots that will be comfortable all day.
- Bring a brimmed hat.
- Share with fellow skiers.
- Help fellow skiers.
- Take turns in different positions on the trail.
- Leave your egos at home.
TD: How did the helicopter enhance and/or detract from the experience of ski touring?
CJ: The helicopter enhanced, and certainly didn't detract from, the touring experience. The helicopter allowed us to access areas we would have never reached in a single day. We would have had to spend at least one night - or a week - on the mountain. (Not my idea of fun!) Once the helicopter dropped us off, it left, and we never saw or heard it until we were picked up at the end of the day for our return trip to the lodge. We skied areas far from those used by the heli-skiers so we didn't hear them or know what they were skiing except on the radio. We always had the best conditions, too!
TD: What was it like being in the lodge with heli-skiers while you were heli-ski touring?
CJ: Not much different from when all guests are heli-skiers. Except for Nostalgia Week where skiers interact a lot, skiers tend to stay with either their skiing group or the group of people they enjoy the company of. We were the first CMH touring group in recent history, so we stuck together even in the evenings. The heli-skiers didn't quite understand what our experiences were. A few heli-skiers did join our touring group for a day if we had an opening and they thoroughly enjoyed it - afterwards wanting to join us again.
TD: Other thoughts on heli-assisted ski touring?
CJ: It is both relaxing and exhilarating. The pace is slow, there is no mental stress, the quiet is deafening, the views fabulous with time to enjoy them, and the exercise is the best. It is perfect for those who love exploring, exercise, friends, quiet, and a slower pace. We access summits and couloirs the heli-skiers can't get to and don't have time for. There is never a deadline to catch a helicopter. The downhill runs are so appreciated. Every turn has to be a work of art since we know we have to work hard to get up the mountain again before heading down easy street. The bottom line is:
Heli-assisted ski touring is really the best combination of exercise and skiing.
There are still limited spaces available on our heli-assisted ski touring weeks in February, March and April in the Adamants and Monashees. If you are feeling lucky and creative, enter our What Inspires YOU to Ski Tour contest and you could win one of those few remaining spaces!