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 hell of 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 6 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 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 many 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!!

“what inspired you to leave it all?”

It was in September 2014 while planning a trip to Malta that my sister convinced me that it was not at all dorky and totally ok to be billy no-mates and to travel alone. Previously, ‘travel holidays’ for me had always been in big groups or as a twosome. It didn’t take long for my concerns to evaporate as I experienced hostel life, not for the first time, but for the first time on my own. I played safe and went for a hostel which could have just as well have been an upmarket B&B. It had a chique boutique style about it, comfortable beds and monsoon shower wet rooms along with a superb kitchen and dinning area which soon became our shared communal hang out. At 22 Euros a night I was more than happy. It didn’t take long to make friends, we cooked, drank, danced and explored the island mostly together. Never did I feel like I was alone and the best bit, I met some great people who I am still in regular contact with to this day.

Malta September 2014: www.twopillowsmalta.com

The next year in May 2015 I made a longer trip with my good friend Matt to Peru. 3 weeks following the Inca trails and learning about the accent Inca cultures in an old overland truck filled with 18 people. Complete strangers from all over the world in a spectrum of different age groups, life stages and financial backgrounds. Out of all the trips, this trip and the people I met inspired me the most that work and travel could be a thing for me.

Peru May 2015 Dragoman Overland Tours: www.dragoman.com

But could something long term work? It was something I had always thought about, I talked about it many times, but was it something I could really do? Did I have the courage to jack it all in, change my career and lifestyle and say farewell to my comfort zones. At this time I was 35, I wasn’t yet totally convinced and besides I had moved to Germany in 2012 and I was loving my new life there.

However world travel stayed forever on my mind. With each following trip I was reawoken with that sudden eyes wide open feeling one gets as soon as they step off an airplane. In 2016 I put myself out there in different countries from Turkey to Spain, these ‘tester’ trips were always on my own, mixed in with other trips in the year with friends.

Antalya Turkey May 2016: www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Role-Street/Antalya/100342

El Palmar Spain October 2016: http://mambobeachhousecom.ipage.com

After spending 5 years living in Germany and building my career to a level where I wasn’t quite sure where to take it next I booked one last trip. A surf and yoga retreat on the temperate West coast of Portugal. In part it is thanks to my two inspirational hosts and yoga teachers @Cecilie and @Carmen who I hold in dearest regard that I was able to make my final and last decision. Here life was simple.  It was focussed on health, on wellbeing, understanding and togetherness. We went surfing and practiced yoga every day. Sometimes we’d just sit and talk, other days we’d run along the beaches, through the forests and along the cliffs, we’d swim, sunbathe, eat, drink, sing at the top of our lungs and dance into the next day. We spoke of our pasts, of heartaches gone and of our dreams of the future. Stories of travel were always there, but more importantly for me stories of a more simple life began to dominate.

The theme soon started to draw its own conclusion, with each trip I was awakened, meeting inspiring people with their own stories to tell. I became like a sponge, soaking up energy from experiences, my surroundings, taking note of the emotions those experiences generated and the respect for the people I met along the way. These people, these places and the energy it created were my inspiration to trigger change.

Baleal Portugal April 2017: www.balilihouse.com

After my time in Baleal I returned to Germany and handed in my 3 months notice the next day. That part wasn’t easy, it was an emotional day, both for myself and my boss who I respected highly. It had taken many experiences and many encounters to come this far, however my decision was now made, I was committed to see it through despite persuasions of reconsideration. I was ready, it was time to take the next step, to walk the walk and start a new story, not just another trip, but to make a life change. A new journey was about to begin…

Top Tip: spend some time alone and with others to think about what most brings you joy, identify your core beliefs, hone them, then action them.


What has been your trigger to create change?

everyone has a story

The more I touch with people on this subject the more inspired I become. Stories of escaping the day to day, stories in search of change, a new life, a new direction or simply new experiences and adventure.

The question “why”

When I made the decision to finally commit and announce my decision to quit it all and leave Europe I was actually quite taken aback by the amount of surprised reactions I got. For me I had mentally prepared for that decision in some way or another for a long time, for me the concept felt natural, I was ready. However, I quickly got the feeling that for many the concept seemed very align.

A few reactions I got and I quote:

“Why would you leave your job, are you crazy?”

“Are you having a midlife crisis?”

“Is this a spontaneous decision, or have you planned it?”

Others would include

“I would love to do that, but I could never make the final step”

or

“I wish I could go traveling too”

My most memorable was from my pharmacist just before he injected me in the arm with jab 1 of 3 of my Rabies vaccinations.

“what gave you the idea to go travelling?”

…I was rather taken aback by the use of the word ‘idea’ like it was some singular moment of clarity. The fact of the matter is that it was never just one idea, it was many, combined together, with structure, ideas, emotions…it was an evolved process.

How it all began

When it came to big travel trips I was always one of those people, always talking, never doing. For me world travel was always something in the back of my mind. A lot of my friends did the gap year thing after university, I however went straight into work. I had £20,000 in student loan debts to pay off, I had a career I wanted to build and most of all I wanted to start putting my 5 years at university to good use. I had something to prove to my myself, I had ideas I wanted to develop and to see how far I could take them. But in the most part, like most of us in the cold light of day, I just needed the money to start coming in.

I worked hard and climbed the ladder fast. I spent 8 years working @metabo UK, it was not always easy, I was lucky to survive several redundancy culls, I took on extra roles of those past, survived the crisis of 2008 and then got offered the break I was perhaps always looking for. In 2012 I packed my bags and headed off to Germany. I accepted a role offered by my parent company to work at the headquarters @metabo DE as the European Promotions Manager. A varied role which incoperated aspects of Product Management, Product Design, Sales and Marketing. This was perfect for me, challenging and interesting work in a company I knew, had great respect for and already 8 years experience. The new role established itself quickly, we grew, standardised and set up measurable, repeatable processes. We had some great product and sales successes! I was lucky enough to be given enough freedom to develop my own ideas as well as those of my fellow colleagues, our customers and the demands of the market. One of the most fun projects was:

I was never sure how long I would stay, perhaps only 2-3 years, perhaps forever, it was never fixed in stone and left always open. As one of the few ‘foreign’ workers in the headquarters I was grateful to Metabo for that contractual freedom. 5 years later and my German pension was secured and all my career ambitions had largely been met. I was not the type who wanted to continually climb the corporate ladder. I had done enough of that over the years, pushing for promotion after promotion, bonus after bonus. I had also seen in others and experienced for myself the side effects of taking on too much, I did not want my job to erode into my private life more than it already had. I had struck a good balance in Germany, they know what they are doing there and they put special emphasis on their feierabend, but I was still aware of the dangers of taking on more and more, I had done that back in the UK in my early carrier days, I had got the hat and the t-shirt, the doctor was not impressed!

The more I grew, the more I really began to understand what the buzz term ‘work life balance’ really meant. It is one thing to say it, but to really start to begin to feel it, that is what is important, not just on the odd day, but regularly. Another life saying; ‘work to live, not live to work’ however I most certainly do not wish to work so I can just live. Existence is not the key. Stuck in one place, continuously working to earn the right for a few short holidays, retire at 65, maybe get 10 years of good quality retirement with questionable health and then kick the bucket, is that what it is really all about?

The more thought I put into it, the more I thought about where next. Stay with the same company, push for another promotion, change companies, same industry, different industry, same old story, go back to the UK, settle down and put up with a country split in two over the consequences and chaos of Brexit. Was this all about career decisions or was there something more? What is with this saying “you only live once”. What did that mean to me?  What next?  #thiswayorthat


What’s your story?