Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part IV

The fourth and final installment from Karhu ambassador Evan Stevens, wrapping up the AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guide Exam in Valdez, AK.

Today was the last day of the course/exam, and things are all wrapped up. I made a flight back to Anchorage, and have a few hours to kill before my 1am red eye back to the lower 48, allowing me to decompress and chill out for the first time in 10 days. Can you feel the weight lifting off of my shoulders?This is not an easy process - either for the aspiring guide or the instructor/examiner. The long days, lack of sleep and continuing challenges of touring and guiding day after day had taken their toll on everyone with a touch of fatigue setting in... but that can tell you a lot about a guide, as they process these issues, and still manage to guide and have some energy in the reserves for the anticipation of whatever issues may come out of the blue. Granted these courses tend to push people a little hard at times, as the candidates aren't used to juggling so many things day after day, but anything can happen in the mountains, and we need to know that these candidates can handle and manage all of these things before we can allow them to pass the examination component of this course. As a result, a 50% failure rate in guide programs throughout the world is not uncommon. Most aspiring guides usually fail at least one exam in their path to full certification as a rock, ski and alpine guide. This is for sure one of the toughest parts of the examining job, as you have 'journeyed' with these candidates through the last 10 days, helping them to achieve their goals and they don't always make it. But so it goes... if everyone passed just for signing and showing up, then being a certified guide wouldn't mean a thing.

At least for the last 3 days we got to hammer out a few more quality ski lines, possibly some of my last few turns of the season, as I will be diving head first into climbing season this week. In fact my last few turns were on one of my favorite runs on the planet, the Cherry Couloir on Python Peak. This dog leg chute drops right off the small summit down about 1,500' vertical, lined by cliffs holding an angle in the mid 40's. After that, another 3 grand of cruiser turns take you back to the car - you gotta love the big vertical of Alaska!

I already have a potential trip guiding in Valdez for next April, and I can't wait to come back! This place continues to blow my mind, and my last turns (possibly?!!?) of the season will carry me through to next fall...

(Marc leads Julia up the Python for some practice guiding. Photos courtesy of Evan Stevens.)

(Rapping down into the top of the Cherry Couloir right off of Python's Summit.)

(Julia Niles rips down the gut of the Cherry.)

(Joey Vallone showing us how its down on the lower part of the Cherry.)

(Yours truly getting in some amazing final turns of the season.)

For more on Evan’s experience during the AMGA Ski Guide exam in Valdez, see Part I, Part II and Part III.

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