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Everyone Should Hire a Backcountry Ski Guide

By Chris Pew on

We love backcountry skiing with guides. We learned long ago that with the right guide, you can find more pow with less stress. We asked our friend and TREW ambassador/guide here in the PNW, Shane Robinson, to make the case for hiring a guide.

This winter you might be rethinking the idea of traveling to chase that perfect powder turn, or at least less able to travel internationally (Canada, we’re missing you). It’s the perfect opportunity to invest that travel budget into hiring a certified backcountry guide and take your backcountry skiing or snowboarding to the next level: get backcountry skiing tips for beginners, hone your existing skills, or just give yourself a vacation from decision making!   

If you are looking to start backcountry skiing this season, start with Hiring A Guide! Why? It will be more fun, seriously.  ‘But my friends said, guides are super serious and we’ll show you how to do it.’  What you’re friends are not telling you is that they will explain about half of what you really need to know, you’ll have to keep up with them while trying not to sweat to death on the way up, and kickturns - yeah, they’ll make you do lots of kickturns.  On your first day out, you're going to have a thousand questions about your new backcountry gear: how to skin uphill, how not to get soaked in sweat while skinning uphill, and so many things you won’t even think about until you start doing it.  Sure your friends can show you some of that, but do you really want to slow them down on your first day. Hire a guide and jumpstart the fun and your backcountry experience.  An avalanche class is great place to start, but consider at least one day out with a guide first so you can figure out all the do’s and don’ts of just walking uphill (there is more to it than you think) before you also have to think about snow science and avalanche terrain.  Even better, consider a package deal like Graybird Guiding’s Zero to Hero Camp ( and get basic avalanche safety course while skiing with a professional guide.Digging a snow pitIf you took your Avalanche Training class last year, but still don’t feel 100% dialed on what slopes to ride, Hire a Guide. Not only will a guide likely take you on some fun trips allowing you to gain the confidence to go back there on your own, but they can discuss what they are seeing in the snowpack and the terrain that make them feel confident about the decision they’re making. Going with a guide is like having the best backcountry partner - the one who carries all the emergency equipment, knows where they are going, maybe even has the best snacks, and is willing to share (the snacks and the beta).  snow safety for beginnersIf you think you know all there is to know about the backcountry, you should definitely Hire A Guide.  Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect - google it. I’m willing to bet that there are some backcountry skill sets where you could be more dialed. How’s your whiteout navigation? What about technical skills on glaciers or rappelling into terrain? What if S#!@ hits the fan, do you know how to make an improvised sled or build an emergency shelter? Or maybe there are just a bunch of bad habits you’ve developed in your skinning technique. There is always more to learn, and even if you do in fact know it all, give yourself a decision making holiday. As a guide, I will occasionally hire other guides, because nothing says vacation like not having to make a damn decision except whether I’m going to eat my chocolate snack on the first break - #techtip, always eat your best food first.  Group Shed

Ok, so I’ve convinced you to Hire A Guide. But before you stop reading and google “best ski/splitboard guide,” here are a few things to look for in a guide. It might surprise you to learn (I know it’s 2020, nothing is surprising anymore), there is little to no requirement that guides be certified in the US of A. However, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) certifies ski and splitboard guides in the US and is the only internationally recognized organization in the US that does so.  Bottom line, look for an AMGA Certified Ski or Splitboard Guide. In Canada, you’re looking for an ACMG Certified Guide. Look for similar certifications in other countries as well, or an IFMGA Guide is a fully certified mountain guide (meaning certified for travel on snow, rock, and alpine terrain), and this is the requirement for most of Europe. Many people think you should hire a local guide who knows their backyard best, and there is definitely some truth to this. However, also try to get the vibe of the guide and whether they will be a good fit for you and your crew, and consider bringing them along for the ride. Many guides and guide services have a flavor to their style of guiding, which you can sometimes discern on their social media or from recommendations from your friends or your buds at TREW. Swipe left or right until you find the right fit - thumbs up!

Convinced? Give Shane's company Graybird Guiding a try. Shane's Zero To Hero Camp is the perfect place to start:

We also recommend the Capow Guides based out of Revelstoke, BC. Split specific camps - Higher-level backcountry guided education -

 Get in touch with us if you're looking for more recommendations! 

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1 comment

  • Aaron Schorsch on

    Hiring a AMGA/IFMGA ski guide is always a great idea. I have been impressed so many times by the guides’ ability to read terrain (even in places they are unfamiliar with) and find the best lines and best snow. The process for becoming a certified guide is like obtaining a PhD in ski guiding and anyone who makes it to that level has so much experience, knowledge, and training. It is interesting to note that in Europe it is much more common for people to hire a guide, even for in-bounds skiing than in the US. Serious skiers know that a good guide can get them into the terrain and snow quality they want, even when conditions are not perfect. If the price of hiring a guide is a deterrent, round up a couple of friends and split the guide fee, or go on an organized multi-day trip that includes AMGA/IFMGA guides. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you hire Shane of Graybird Guiding!

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