Cold temps above treeline and in the shade kept the snow cold, chalky to powdery, lower down slope conditions varied from corny to crusty. Views sprawled across the deep glaciated mountains of the Chugach Range from the maritime zone surrounding the small port town of Valdez Alaska. Including the mighty Meteorite, the expansive Wortman’s and Deserted glaciers, all the way to the continental mountains of the Wrangell St Elias. In the week prior to and throughout the AMGA Advanced Ski Guide Course & Aspirant Exam we were treated to generally clear visibility and stable snow conditions. These great conditions allowed us to stake claim on a variety of classic Thompson Pass descents such as Tones Temple, Berlin Wall, Cherry Couloir, and many others while developing as professionals in one of the greatest freeride zones on earth.
After a full season of shred a diverse group of well-prepared guides converged upon the Chugach Range. Traveling from renowned ski zones in Iceland, Japan, Tetons, Sierra, Rockies, and the Cascades. These men and women brought an amalgamation of skills and insights gained through years of dedicated experience. Tossing bombs and ski cutting in ski area snow programs, fast pace turn and burn mechanized ski guiding, self-reliant human powered touring, and rugged steep ski mountaineering experiences led quickly to engaged discussions. Climatological snowpack metamorphism, targeted snowpack observations, and weather patterns, were factored to create our daily avalanche hazard assessment, danger ratings, and subsequent run lists. Not only were the course candidates well versed in all things snow sliding but so were our instructor/ examiners. Forest, Amos, and Mike delivered direct feedback on technical skills and application but also on a variety of perspectives of client care, the soft side of guiding. Even with ultra-diverse personalities, goals, and experiences all of the candidates and instructors created a supportive learning environment that fostered an opportunity to progress and succeed.
During the advanced ski guide course, the art of track setting and transitions were improved. Once that art was hard-wired, we focused on a mountain sense that enabled safe ascent lines and rad fall line descents. To practice mountain sense, we went and booted up the Stairway and Karat Chutes on Mount Dimond. While increasing our vulnerability to avalanche and overhead cornice and rockfall hazards we made accurate assessments on slope stability, wind loading, and rise in temperatures to maintain a suitable margin of safety. When practical we busted out the rope and added a complimentary element to the ski discipline. The rope provided security and granted us access to challenging and complex terrain on the Worthington Glacier. Another technical skill we applied was the short rope. While scrambling along Berlin Walls 4thclass mixed rock and steep snow we moved together prepared to brace a slip or short pitch when needed. Lowering and belayed skiing techniques opened up more terrain options. On the firm summit slopes of the Python high client rewards were achieved. Not only were client rewards achieved but guide security and perhaps as important, guide rewards were achieved. Throughout the course, we were given immediate feedback on our movement skills. Skiing mellow glacial pow, steep settled buff, and refrozen below treeline schmoo requires a diverse shred technique, mainly shred to inspire! Technical skill application, risk management, and client reward go hand in hand in hand. As a result, we climbed cool summits, enjoyed soft turns across the glaciers, over snow-covered moraines, and down glacial tongues into the valley.
Since we received and applied quality feedback, spent a week improving, the candidates understood our instructor’s expectations, so we moved confidently forward with the assigned guiding objectives. Socked in milky clouds and moderate snowfall rates met us for a day of guided assignments and to our surprise the instructor team proposed the option to start the aspirant exam a day early. The initial shock was quickly overcome and the candidates deliberated then accepted the proposal. A quick mental shift and the team prepared to perform at their best and at least, comparable to the level of a certified ski guide. Risk management, client care, technical systems, application of those systems, terrain assessment, mountain sense, professionalism, movement, and instructional technique were practically applied to achieve our daily shred objectives and achieve our aspirations to become Assistant Splitboard/Ski Guides. Through the aspirant exam process we demonstrated and were assessed at a standard to which employers and clients can be assured. Every candidate demonstrated the skills necessary to guide on complex glaciated objectives thus opening up additional opportunities. Most definitely the advanced ski guide course and aspirant exam was 10 days of turning it on.
Thinking back to when I decided to pursue snowboard guiding it wasn’t even really a thing. Splitboards were a gimmick, people didn’t have them, avalanche education was in its infancy. I remember the laughs of old schoolers who would scoff at the thought of a snowboard guide. Asking, “What are you going to do? Snowshoe?” At the same time a few snowboarders were carving the path. After persevering through the early days of splitboarding and mastering the split magic the only laughs I hear now are from the colleagues I’m ripping turns next to. I love being surprised by having 5 splitters on the course. Every one of these guides have contributed to the art of split guiding during a time of rapid snowboard guide development. Numerous times throughout the course I smiled while thinking how grateful I am for receiving the F.O.R.G.E. Scholarship, how much snowboard guides have progressed, about the people who laid the foundation for all splitboard guides, and how proud Rick Gaukel would be of all the AMGA apprentice, assistant, and certified Splitboard Guides.