Saturday, 19 March 2011

Guide to live, live to guide

"What I enjoy most about backcountry guiding is allowing clients to feel hardcore without actually having to drink their pee" - Ryan Jordan on Twitter
While Ryan's tweet made me smile it also got me thinking. What do I enjoy most about guiding? Is it working in the mountains instead of an office? Is it passing on wilderness stewardship to another generation? Is it watching kids from different cultural backgrounds develop from absolute beginners to novice skiers in just a few days? Maybe it's working with a diverse yet like-minded group of guides? The truth is it's an element of each of these facets. Due to work and trip commitments my availability to guide this year has been severely restricted compared to last year but I have just spent a sublime week based at Mjølfjell, helping to guide a couple of groups of school kids from the city of Bergen.
These guiding assignments consist of much more than skiing instruction. Indeed, who am I to instruct some of these children how to ski when they have already been skiing twice as long as I have?! Our job is more about teaching them to stay safe, care for each other and enjoy the mountains that sit enticingly on their doorstep.

The first day is spent in the lower valley, assessing skills and instructing some of the lesser able skiers in basic cross-country skiing. The following day we head out on a longer tour, up the valley towards Upsette. Here we help foster some team spirit with a 'build the biggest snowman' contest.

Lukas brings a different skill set to the group of guides I work with. A wagging tail and soft tactile fur can have a surprisingly reassuring effect on a youngster who is outside their comfort zone.

Nothing a bit of duct tape won't sort out! In fact, this was the easier of the two broken skis I fixed this week. The next day someone managed to snap one completely in half. Splints made from biro pens, branches and a fair application of duct tape got the kids back on the trail.

Slalom races after lunch on the 'big' day keeps the kids warm and smiling, important considerations for some of them who have never spent a day in the mountains. We carry some brass sheep bells for that Ski Sunday alpine racing vibe. Maybe we could carry full size cow bells if we can find some made of titanium...

The avalanche awareness and rescue exercises were undertaken by the kids with fascination and a surprising degree of seriousness. Recent tragedies in near-by mountains this season have brought the risks sharply into focus for many Norwegian youngsters.
The week came to a close far too soon. As the guides dispersed for the weekend I couldn't but help but feel jealous that many of them will be returning next week for more. It's a job I love despite the long hours and deep levels of concentration, empathy and patience required. Whilst the guiding season is short for me and there seems to be no such thing as a 'job for life' anymore I think I'll spend the rest of my life looking for ways to guide others in the mountains that have enriched my life so much.


Hendrik Morkel said...

Nice one, Joe. I have the same feelings about guiding, though my clients were very different. And teaching novices to ski langlauf was the highlight for me - and I too am far from a pro!

I reckon we should talk ;)

Ewa said...

What a fantastic program. OK I am far from being a kid but I would love to participate and learn. I bet those kids will never forget.

Joe Newton said...

Hendrik - you're right, we should compare notes on the different client demographics.

Ewa - I hope the kids remember the pertinent points of our programme and look back on the entire experience favourably. It's not just the kids that have a good time, the teachers that accompany them are often seen smiling and laughing as they join in the activities!

Maz said...

It's the perfect job for you, Joe. It's hard to find something that you love, which fits in with every other aspect of your life and will pay you a stipend. Nice to see you've found it.

Mark Roberts said...

Thanks Joe - I've been wondering about your guiding activities too. Helping get kids into the outdoors is something I'd love to do. I'd be interested to hear sometime how you got into it.

David Lintern said...

Lovely work sir, and a heartening read

Anonymous said...

Your passion for guiding really shines through and is so encouraging for those of us who have not found our niche! Beautiful!

Joe Newton said...

Maz - I just wish the season was longer!

Mark - basically we took our International school on the same programme last year. At the end of the week the head guide, Mads, asked me how I was set for work, when he found out I was only subbing at the time he offered me a job. This year I have more committments at the school so I'll be guiding less.

David - thank you

Helen - thanks. I wish I could do more of it. I do really enjoy my work at the international school as well though.

Nielsen Brown said...

Excellent post Joe, working with young people is always a rewarding experience in my view and helping them to discover the wild is important if we are to maintain the "wild places". As always your photographs are excellent. Enjoy your coming trip.