Industry Leaders Work to Establish Association of Snowmobile Guides in BC
Mountain snowmobile guiding has reached a tipping point. As mountain sledding continues to increase in popularity, more and more self-labelled “guides” have come forth to serve a growing demographic of inexperienced riders heading into big terrain. But without a structure for normalizing qualifications and abilities, the result is a cowboy culture of guiding that has potentially dangerous consequences for clients and undercuts the professionalism of established commercial guiding operations in the province.
That’s all about to change.
The first-ever sled guide association in the world is coalescing, with the epicenter in the interior of British Columbia.
Association of Snowmobile Guides in BC
The collaborative effort is led by Great Canadian Tours—headquartered out of Revelstoke’s Glacier House—and Carl Kuster Mountain Park (CKMP) out of Sicamous. It’s aided by input and expertise from professionals at the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) and members of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) from Thompson Rivers University. As the concept is still in development, stakeholders have yet to finalize a name for the association.
“Historically, sledders in general have been behind the ball in terms of mountain skills and avalanche training,” says Steve Scott, operations manager and lead guide at Great Canadian. “An association will step up the acceptable standard for guiding snowmobiling in the backcountry.”
“The increasing demand in mountain sledding right now takes a more skilled guide than what used to exist,” agrees Jeremy Hanke, an avalanche professional working with CKMP and owner of avalanche education operation, Soul Rides.
The association would seek to establish a benchmark for qualification and training of mountain snowmobile and snow bike guides operating in BC. Not only would province-wide standardization benefit the safety and experience of the client, but it would also help establish a safer backcountry for guides, tenure-holding operators and the public.
Steps in the Right Direction
Great Canadian has taken the first steps in formalizing snowmobile guiding qualification. In addition to their own guide training—which takes place at the beginning of each winter and is ongoing throughout—the snowmobile tour operator hosted a guide’s course at the start of Winter 2017/18 that covered everything from safety in the field to legal aspects like waivers and liability basics.
Moving forward, the plan is to involve other commercial operations throughout the province. In March of 2019, a more advanced lead guide beta course is planned to take place. “We’re working with the CAA to help put the next group of candidates through Avalanche Operations Level 2, so we can develop some lead guides to help refine this beta course,” says Hanke. “To guide in complex avalanche terrain, you have to be an elite, trained guide. Lead guiding means training in [everything from] avalanche skills, rope rescue skills, first aid, and navigation to mechanical skills, backcountry communications, and training in working with helicopters.”
Among recreational riders, Scott says the culture is shifting to accept the fact that the mountains are more dangerous than people may have historically thought. That’s one of the main factors making riders more receptive to the idea of hiring a guide. “And once they go out with one, their eyes are open to the advanced riding they can do with a guide,” he says. “They feel safe and they have a lot more fun.”