Monday, May 5, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part 3

Well, we are down to the final stretch, only 3 more days left of the ski guide course. For the last 3 days we were on a point to point traverse, that started off quite spectacularly with a heli-drop. Our friends at Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides lined us up with a drop on top of the 7,000' foot peak known as 'Ice Palace'. This run was only guided once this season, and has some pretty interesting positions to say the least. Crevasses and ice falls border almost every turn on the top of the run, and everyone's adrenaline was high, when we were left by the bird perched on top of the line with packs full of 3 days worth of gear. Joey and I led the group down to demo some guiding techniques, and 3,200' later we were all stoked with the unbelievable amount of boot top powder we just skied in the first week of May.

Ice Palace

So we then traveled up and over a glaciated col, skied down another huge shot to the massive Tonsina glacier. We skied about 8km up that glacier to go over another col, and dropped down to the Tsina glacier and camped amidst the never ending peaks and glaciers.

Small skiers head down to the massive Tonsina Glacier
This was a big day, and we have been driving the candidates pretty hard. 12 hours out on the snow has been pretty standard, and none of us have averaged more than 5 hours sleep for the last week. Every certified guide I know has been put through the wringer, and it is important to know that your guide can keep going no matter what. Call it a rite of passage, or what ever you like, it is a hard process and you have to be able to keep up for days on end.

So of course we kept going the next day. We woke up at our beautiful camp, and trekked up another 2500' feet to another col that led us to the Hoodoo glacier, winding our way through more ice falls and crevasses.

Mark finds a path up to the Hoodoo Col

As instructors, we were almost hoping for some bad weather, so we could see how the candidates navigate up the big white glaciers in fog and whiteout conditions, we got a little bit of fowl weather, but it cleared out in time for our descent onto the Hoodoo.

Whiteout clears for us at the col.

We dropped onto the Hoodoo, made camp and busted up Girls Mountain for a sweet 3,000' of later afternoon skiing.

The Hoodoo Glacier and Girls Mountain

Time to camp again, and we actually got 6 hours of sleep, and took it easy on the candidates the next day, with only one short 3,000' climb and ski out the backside of Girls Mountain down to the Worthington Glacier and the cars. Athlete Julia Niles takes us down 4,200' feet to the cars

Sound like a lot? Well it has been, and like I said, we still have 3 more days of skiing left!

On another note, it is always interesting to see what gear all of the guides are hammering on...especially when there are a few items that are in almost every single guides pack. First of course are Dynafit bindings. Light and bomber, there is no other choice for ski guides. The other items would be for camping. Jetboil stoves are universal as well; light, small and super efficient. The Black Diamond Firstlight (and other BD hyperlight tents) are the ONLY tents I see people with for winter camping - not amazing in the rain, but perfect in the cold and snow. Finally would be a plug for a new piece of gear I am using, the Outdoor Research Exped sleeping mats. I can't believe how well I slept on the Downmat 7 DLX, best night of sleep in the backcountry ever for me. Period.

Okay, enough of a post for now...hope this inspires you to check out some new places, and if you hire a guide, to consider hiring an AMGA certified guide. We still have a few more days left, so check back to see what else we come up with for these aspiring certified guides!


lois said...

Is this how a mom keeps track of her son!! Quite a bit different from any of my friends!

marty said...

Your talent for writting is obvious. Your skills as a teacher are also pretty good. Keep safe and warm and dry, hope to see you soon.

snorider14 said...

I am wondering if you have any suggestions for a light overnight/winter camping/ski touring pack? Something that can pack all the gear back to set up camp, but packs small for lightwieght summits away from camp during the day. What pack do you use?