Becoming a Canadian Wilderness Adventures Tour Guide

Summer is over and it’s time to draw this chapter to a close. After Winter 2017/2018 at the Tube Park I needed to progress into a job that would enable me to grow, something more than just to get by. I considered trail building at the WB Bike Park, I considered being a WB Bike Park Instructor. However I was after somewhere where I could learn, improve my skill set and engage more on multiple levels. I bounced the idea off close friends, one in particular said “Kyle – have you considered becoming a guide at Canadian Wilderness Adventures“.

Looking through all these photos it is all too easy to think, hey man that’s the best job ever! But let me tell you this gig is no easy ride. There is always more to the story than what first presents itself. Hopefully this post will help potential or aspiring new guides a little along the way, that is the intention or for the rest of you at least with a little curious bed time reading.

We started off with so many and ended with so few. You could say only the strongest survive. Maybe that was half the point. Maybe that was half the appeal. Maybe when you read past all the dazzling marketing spiel, that’s just Whistler.

In Ernst. Do you like a challenge? Can you commit?

Training – First Aid

Requirements:

  • Canoe (min 40 hr first aid)
  • SnowShoe (min 40 hr first aid & mandatory BC Class 4 License)
  • Jeeps (min 40 hr first aid & mandatory BC Class 4 License)
  • ATV/mechanized machines guide (min 80 hr first aid & asap BC Class 4 License)

Level 3 certification is required for the first aid element: either the 110 hr Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) (only really needed if you are also considering ski patrol) or the 80 hr Wilderness First Responder (WFR).

Whistler can be a struggle enough, especially with transport so keep life simple, keep it local. I went for the Wilderness First Responder 80 hr course with Sirius, André led the way, top guy! I felt this was the best fit to me, present and future.

Training companies operating in Whistler:

Training – BC Class 4 Drivers License aka the holy grail

A Class 4 License is not officially required to be a guide, although really, well it is. Get it.

Top Tip: get your BC Class 4 drivers license as soon as you can. The admin and work it will take will surprise you so get on it asap!

Why? Apart from Canoe guides where there is always a canoe shuttle driver present you will need your Class 4-unrestricted License to give you the legal capacity to pick up and return guests from the village to base. That is a core responsibility of the guides, it puts you up a pay a bracket and it puts you a step up on the all important schedule = more work = more pay = rent gets paid.

Sorry to say, but this is a process, mentally prepare for it so you don’t get the wind knocked out of your sails, especially if you are not from North America (majority of young workers in Whistler). The process is stuck in the Stone Age, it took me 5 months, no joke. Try and be patient and go with it. Seek guidance from your fellow guides, we will help, we’ve all been through the pain and all have some good advice to pass on.

So first thing first. Check out the Class 4 requirements: https://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/types-licences/Pages/Get-your-commercial-driver-licence.aspx

Then visit your local ICBC office:

Get your paper work in order from your home country.  This will take 2-3 weeks.

Paperwork processing Canada side will take 4-8 weeks. No they will not accept electronic confirmation. When your home country sends the letter do not open it.  An opened envelope will render the mail invalid, yes seriously!

Pass your theory test. $15 a pop (for me the hard part)

Top Tip: read the book. I skim-read it. Error! That won’t work. You need to photographic memory the living hahula out of this thing. Like cover to cover. Because of questions no many years of driving experience will prepare you for. My favourite “when you use your high beam lights at night, you must switch them to low beam when a vehicle approaching is within at least ……. meters.  200 m, 250 m, 150 m or 100 m?” Whoever decided an exact distance should be measured and then recalled by drivers, driving at night and then thought it valuable enough to put in what is considered a high level test is beyond me.

https://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/Documents/drive_commercial_veh_full.pdf

Also try out the various on-line tests:

Book your practical test: wait 4 weeks or so for a slot to open (options also in Squamish, Vanc)

Pass your pre-trip and practical test. $45 a pop (for me the easy part)

Top Tip: 1 (pre-trip) show the examiner that you check the function of your own seat belt as well as those of your passengers (easy to forget). 2 (practical) if you are asked what you should do after you have let off your passengers and take some time out before setting off with a set of new passengers. Answer: get out and walk around your bus to ensure there are no new obstructions, e.g. kids, especially kids.

Pass your medical (you have 45 days to complete and submit it from receiving the form) I did mine a few weeks before my practical so once I passed the practical I was good to go!: $125 for what is essentially not much more than an eye test.

Additional paper work processing fee: $40

You are likely looking at roughly $200+ for this fun time ride.

Good news! Smile nicely and Canadian will reimburse some of your Class 4 fees so KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS.

ATV & Buggy Guiding

For the majority it’s the machines that most guides will go for. It provides the thrill and the cool factor, but is also potentially the most dangerous so it takes the most training and time to get signed off on.

Top Tip: tail tail tail. Every spare day you have, jump on a machine with the current guides, listen, watch and learn. No guide is the same and often no way is the right way, different styles, different strengths and weaknesses, different ways of doing things. The core however is the same, learn this and keep it safe. The more often you do this the better chance you give yourself of getting signed off. Sign off = work = rent gets paid

Top Tip: know the terrain. Go out on your own or with fellow colleagues, drive, get used to the trails, look out and take note of your hazard call out points, draw your own map, write down the trail names. Know it, before you guide it or as some will say ‘ride before you guide’.

Top Tip: don’t break yourself, if you do, do it so you can at least still drive a Jeep one handed, ey boys.  No work = no pay = *$%@ rent

Top Tip: don’t get sick. Same formula = no work = no pay = *$%@ landlord

Top Tip: there is no tip about tips, because well I guess there is no recognized internationally understood standard about how and when to tip. Some guides will believe they have a knack, a trick. In my experience it totally depends on the guest and not necessarily the guide. Hot topic? Maybe. Top Tip: always maintain a top level of service, look after your customers, be curteous, maintain the balance between safety and fun. Add value in your own way. It may be additional information regarding flora and fauna, local knowledge on where to go, where to eat, other interesting activities to do, local history, fun play list on the Jeeps or for some just cracking out their arsenal of jokes. Actually it’s all about the jokes, just tell jokes.

10-40: Not sure I should write this as a tip, but Top Tip: don’t have a 10-40 (emergency accident). Most of the time it will not matter how good a guide you are, shit will hit the fan at some point. For me luckily not this season. For the most part there is nothing you can do and it’s no ones fault, accidents happen so do your best to limit whatever it is that could happen from happening. Key: Have fun – Keep it safe. As a qualified guide you are trained to deal with situations if they happen, keep your head, remember your training, radio in your team. There are a lot of experienced and capable colleagues ready to help. Remember key: make safe, stabilize, extract, 1 hr golden window.

Canoe Guiding

Perhaps my favourite and also most difficult of the guiding jobs. Away form the noise and fumes of the machines canoe guiding gives you the opportunity to escape back into nature and really connect with your customers. With this tour I feel you have to guide the most. I don’t mean just chatting along and telling stories with the parents or singing along with the kids, yes that is part of it, but it is one size fits all with this tour so customer ability can swing in polar opposites. You can quite easily go from leading from the front/mid pack in a morning session to transferring guests and towing the back canoe along in the afternoon. Out of all the tours I found this was the one where you had to teach the most. Not just in the pre-trip safety speech, but throughout the tour. Here helping customers overcome their fears, building confidence and developing communication skills was just as important as having fun.

Conditions vary too. Some days it will be onto a smooth glassy Alta Lake as bald eagles soar above with the sun beating down as you flow into the tranquility of Lily Pad Lane before entering the gentle meanders of the River of Golden Dreams. Other days it will be battling against the chop created by a stubborn head wind, hugging the shore line for shelter before trying to escape the flesh eating branches of a swollen, fresh snow melt river of golden dreams.

The work is physical. I personally like that aspect. The canoeing itself will provide you with a good arm and core workout. You’ll need a strong back to lift the canoes in and out of the water, portaging and then lifting them on and off the trailer. Top Tip: If you have a bad back skip this one. If not persevere, you’ll get strong quick.

MTB e-bike Guiding

Much like canoe guiding the MTB-ebike tours gave me the opportunity to mix it up a little and add variety to my week. The tours give you and the customer the chance to explore the old growth forests trails with trees over a thousand years old whilst reconnecting with nature and tails of the first settlers of the 1900’s. Depending on ability you can tailor fit the tour to the group, either as a gentle scenic ride or spice it up with hitting some soft features and flowing through the berms on the way down. Both work equally well.

Good resource article: http://hikeinwhistler.com/index.php/whistler-hiking-trails/callaghan-lake

Other

In quiet season or when you are struggling to get out on tour for whatever reason, fill your time, get paid and get your hands dirty. Trail work, landscaping, or just stacking wood, take what you can and always try to be the yes man.

The Staff Party

The CWA staff parties are known to be legendary in Whistler. no photos here, soon enough you’ll get to hear the stories.

Best work/life hack

TOFU: Take Ownership, Follow Up. See-it fix-it, pick it up, shut it, help it, report it.

Company Background

This article from the local Pique Newspaper says it better than I ever could. read on:

https://www.piquenewsmagazine.com/whistler/a-quarter-century-of-good-times/Content?oid=11629403

Summery

So in essence when the operations manager Josh Livermore wrote to me before I took on the job “this is understandably a serious commitment, so please look into whether it’s the right fit for you” he was right. It is. It is also a process. A process that some will give up on, but for those that stick with it, for now at least I can in all honesty say this was one of those jobs that just got better and better with time! Thanks guys we made it! #canadian01

Now. Bring on Winter!!

Volunteer hut build for the Spearhead huts project

this one is nuts! 8 days camping in the Alpine. Physical work rewarded with great camaraderie, respect and delicious hot food severed 3 times a day. The daily routine, work, eat, explore, watch the sun set, read, sleep. Simple work for a simple life and a good cause. Give back. Find your peace.

Funnily I found out about this project whilst volunteering at the *World Ski and Snowboard festival (WSSF) in April 2018. Inspired by a speech from Liz Scremin at the Multiplicity event. The whole WSSF event was awe inspiring in itself so motivating and then Liz came on stage. 4 months later I would find myself working out at 2000m elevation helping to build an Alpine hut, a safe haven for backcountry enthusiasts, a next level step to help get people further out into nature.

Motivation

I am not a backcountry skier, in fact I can’t ski. I am a snowboarder, but I do not own a split board nor do I have the spare cash to splash out on the whole set up. Why the hell am I giving up 8 days of paid work (roughly a whole months rent) in peak summer season to help build a backcountry ski hut that I will most likely never use?

Maybe it was Liz’s speech at Multiplicity that did it. Maybe it was in part due to my core values of wanting to give a little something back to the communities in which I live. Maybe it was the thought of just being part of an epic project in a epic location. To working with my hands and living outdoors. Maybe it was my chance to escape back out into nature, real nature, the high alpine. Maybe it was a little of all of the above.

Work

Typically in 4 day slots. Arriving at the end of July I was fast put to work sealing in the last of the Blue Seal membrane for the basement room foundations. As trust built we discussed our skill levels over lunch. Some of the more qualified volunteers were sent in to assist the **BC Passive House guys with the roof installation where as I with no official qualifications as such, but good general working knowledge was entrusted with a Bostitch nailing gun, a few boxes of Simpson Strong-Tie Shearwall straps, Framing angle brackets and a large box of nail strips. The straps and brackets were used to reinforce the wall and wall to ceiling joints. Soon I happily set to work moving from wall to wall, often with the support of a fellow volunteer or guidance from the site manger Trevor MacDonald. With views of Russet Lake and Fissile Peak in the background it didn’t take long to start to feel a real sense of appreciation for the visionaries behind this project.

I’d like to mention this as I feel it’s an important piece that formed part of our daily routine. Site clean up was a continuous affair, we were working in a place of natural beauty and with daily heli drops coming in and out we had to make sure all loose items were picked up or tied down. There was a strict agreement with BC Parks on waste control that went for site materials as well as food and human waste which I was happy to see adhered to and respected by all.

Luckily the weather was mostly warm and the sun was mostly out, unluckily so were the black flies, the horse flies and the misquotes. Some chose to combat the bugs by wearing full length shirts and trousers. For me in typical form when the sun is out I went for the clothe-less option, a baseball cap doubling up as fly swat and body spray mixed in with sun cream.

With no running water and a limited water supply reserved for drinking, washing took up in the form of a quick dive in and out of the snow melt waters of Russet Lake. A ten degree bath soon soothed away the dirt and grime of a solid days work.

With the baking sun soon came the threat of Wild Fire season and just as we needed them most with only 1/3rd of the roof panels in position our heavy lift helicopters were grounded. With the large helicopters on fire watch the hut work soon dried up, the BC Passive house team were flown back and the volunteer work shifted to ground work. A less glamorous, but still essential part of the build. The Kees and Clair hut will come with an impressive grey water dispersion field which will treat the waste kitchen water through a perforated pipe system laid out in a zig zag formation through a rock field. Our task for the next days; to dig channels and lift boulders out of the rock field for the filtration pipes. Hot, physical work, no gym membership or flashy boot camp course required!

With Nature

A big part of this trip for was to reconnect. I had been in Whistler for 9 months, worked straight through Winter, Spring and now into Summer without taking any real quality time off (apart from one fabulous trip to Tofino). As a result my time in the Alpine, ‘the real Mountains’ had been limited. Work and finding a way to make rent put me under pressure and to some extent shifted my focus not out of want, but necessity. I recognized this and took a step back. Why was I here? What were my key drivers? It was time to shift again and reconnect with my core values.

Before and After

the last call. It’s the 7th of November 2018 and for the high Alpine at least winter is here. Temperatures are frequently below zero and as far as outdoor work is concerned the site needs to be put to bed. A last call was made by Liz for volunteers for a 1 day pack down. Fortunately I already had time booked off so I accepted the call. As to be expected for a project like this in such a remote location weather and the resultant issues with access of resources means delays are frequent. Good news is that the building is now water tight. The roof is on, the most critical North and East facing walls are finished in cladding and the others are protected in winter proof membrane. Time, weather and resources permitting indoor installations and finishings can resume during winter/spring.

status Aug 2018
status Nov 2018
East wall finished. South wall WIP
East wall complete with scaffold bundled ready to be air lifted out
Hut to the left. Fissile Peak. Whirlwind Peak. Cheakamus Glacier. Black Tusk. All kinds of wonderful
artists impression summer
artists impression winter

Fly-in Fly-out

Meet up at Blackcomb Helicopters front desk, sign the waiver, strap in and go! https://goo.gl/maps/a2uxTxW9tfy

Walk in options

  1. The most straight forward way in. From Whistler village take the Singing pass trail up to Oboe, sling a left and pick up the trail to Russet Lake. Around 15 km there with 1100 m elevation gain. Expect 3-4 hrs hiking.
  2. The most gentle way in. Take the Whistler Gondi up to the Roundhouse and follow trail markers to the Harmony Meadows trail and Symphony lake. Continue onwards up through the Symphony bowl to Flute via the Musical Bumps trail. From there continue South East past Oboe and the Singing Pass intersection picking up the trail to Russet Lake.
  3. The most spectacular way in. From Peak Chair pick up the High Note trail keeping views of Cheakamus lake on your right. Connect with the Musical bumps trail at Flute and continue down towards Oboe and the trail to Russet Lake.

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/canada/british-columbia/russet-lake

Background

The Kees & Claire Hut at Russet Lake is a project of the Spearhead Huts Society, a non for profit organization and registered Canadian charity. The park use permit is held by the Alpine Club of Canada – Whistler Section.

The hut is named after Cornelius (Kees) Brenninkmeyer & Claire Dixon. A young couple who died accidentally on January 4th, 2007 while on the Wapta ski traverse near Lake Louise, Alberta.

The hut will provide comfortable, low cost ($24-40 a night) year round shelter for hikers and backcountry enthusiasts alike. 36 bunks with full cooking facilities, storage, solar energy and an eco friendly waste water treatment system.

Two more huts are planned along the Spearhead Ski Traverse at Mt. Pattison and Mt. Macbeth connecting the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Project costs are funded entirely from donations. $6M is budgeted.

Links

Volunteer for the Spearhead huts project: http://www.spearheadhuts.org/how-you-can-help/volunteer-sign-up/

Facebook Spearhead huts project: https://www.facebook.com/SpearheadHutProject/

Project overview: http://www.spearheadhuts.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Spearhead-Huts_Project-Description_2014-12-02.pdf

*The World Ski and Snowboard Festival combines 6 days of non-stop events and action on and off the slopes. From music, art, photography, filmmaking, ski and snowboard competitions to non-stop nightlife.

Whistler Wold Ski & Snowboard Festival: https://www.whistler.com/events/world-ski-snowboard-festival/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI266Gq4y-3gIVk4F-Ch2hCgT6EAAYAiAAEgKk2vD_BwE

Facebook Whistler Wold Ski & Snowboard Festival: https://www.facebook.com/WORLDSKISNOWBOARDFEST/

**Passive House (Passivhaus) is an international standard developed in Germany for energy efficiency, which reduces the building’s ecological footprint. It results in ultra low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. This is done by focus on energy used to heat a home by creating an airtight structure, having high-quality windows, super-insulation and good ventilation.

Passive House Pemberton: https://www.bcpassivehouse.com/about.html

Passive House Canada: http://www.passivehousecanada.com/about-passive-house-canada/