Thursday, June 5, 2008

Guide Training in the Alps

I want to give some props to Mammut for helping support working professionals. It was great to read about Doug and Clint’s guiding accomplishments this spring. Proud work gentlemen, keep it up! This spring, I received a scholarship from Mammut, which allowed me to take a ski guides course in Chamonix. This course was the second of three courses en route to becoming an AMGA certified ski guide. The AMGA provides training and certification in three disciplines - rock, alpine and skiing - for Guides in the US. Since it’s inclusion into the IFMGA over 10 years ago, once a candidate has passed exams in all three disciplines they obtain an internationally recognized certification and become eligible to guide throughout the world.

All right! enough acronyms, and let’s get back to my ski course. This year the Alps saw some long dry spells. This was great for alpine climbing, but made me a bit nervous, as I was heading over there to spend a few weeks skiing. It seemed however, that the endless powder I skied in the Wasatch this winter followed me across the Atlantic. Almost immediately upon clearing customs, the snow came. In four weeks there, I really enjoyed sunshine for a total of only 8 days. This made for some great skiing, some dangerous skiing and, at times, no skiing⎯due to lift closures. Needless to say, that the lack of sun did very little for my tan.

The first day of our 10-day course started with skills testing. The other three candidates and myself were examined on our skiing ability, a timed rescue sled construction, a lowering exercise with a knot pass, a timed emergency shelter construction, and finally, maybe the most stressful, a beacon drill exercise. This beacon exercise consisted of finding and digging up three burials, up to 1.5 meters deep, in under 7 minutes, and to add to the whole, the drill was located on a steep hillside and we had to do this drill on our skis. I have to say, the new Pulse by Mammut is the ticket! These beacons work wonders and really take the edge off of multiple burial scenarios.

After all the skills testing, we spent the next few days doing some classic tours in the Chamonix valley. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t always on our side, and, on days when we were able to make it up high, it made for some challenging navigation and terrain assessment. The highlight of the course came about two-thirds through the course. An overnight storm had delayed the opening of the Aiguille Du Midi. We held our morning guides meeting in a nearby café and anxiously awaited an update on the lift status. While most of the local guides went home for the day, we hung around, eating pastry after pastry, optimistic of getting some fresh turns in. Out of the blue, a woman at the café began yelling at us in French and waving her arms. What we understood was, “the lift’s open, hurry up!”

That day, we rode the only cable car that went to the summit station. We were rewarded with an untracked run in boot top powder through one of the most beautiful mountainous landscapes in the world. When we reached the lower reaches of the glacier, we quickly put our skins on and, despite deteriorating weather, tried to sneak in another tour. Three hours later, we were navigating in a whiteout, with gale force winds, making our way down to the train that would take us back to town. So, while we got some of the best skiing in on this day, we also battled some of the worst weather and did the most difficult navigation of the course. I guess to get good turns you need to earn them one way or another. Needless to say, when we got back to town the beers, despite ringing it at around $10 with our almighty dollar, tasted good.

To wrap this up, the course was great. I got a lot out of it and upon passing it, earned my AMGA/IFMGA Aspirant guide status. Thank you Mammut!

Adam George