I’ve been guiding professionally since 1985 and the last 20 of those years have been with Colorado Mountain School. Since I’ve been asked a wide array of questions over the years, I thought a FAQ session might be fun and informative for anyone who’s ever wanted to know anything about climbing guides but was afraid to ask.
Q) Is it frustrating to teach beginners?
A) The way I see it, if everyone already knew how to climb…I’d be out of a job! I started guiding because I love to teach, I love climbing and I love the outdoor classroom. So guiding is a perfect combination for me. If a student struggles with a particular skill, then it’s my job to adapt my teaching style to their learning style. This is one of the many enjoyable challenges of my profession.
Q) Doesn’t it get old doing the same routes repeatedly?
A) I can’t speak for everyone, but for me I can honestly say ‘no’. I think that’s because no route is really ever the same twice. There’s always something different – different weather, different lighting, different route conditions (especially in the alpine environment). And the most important difference: different climbing partners each day…and different numbers of partners! It’s great to get to see a familiar route through new eyes each time I climb it. Additionally, I often have to adapt my guiding technique (stance location, travel technique, gear selection, etc) to each partner’s skill set. It’s also super appealing to me to know an area or climb so intimately that I notice little details that someone doing a climb for the first time would never pick up on.
Q) Do you get tired of climbing well below your limit?
A) Years ago I began to realize that my personal climbing was not improving because I was guiding full time. This meant I was spending the majority of my climbing time climbing well below my limit. I could see that if I was going to have a life outside of climbing, I had to make a choice: would I guide well or climb hard? While there are some guides who manage to do both, I’m not one of them! I decided I’m even more passionate about guiding than climbing and so I gave up the obsession of my youth, which was to climb at the elite level.
Q) Have you regretted choosing guiding over climbing?
A) Not for a minute! While I enjoy pushing my climbing limits, I don’t have the urge to do it every day. It’s awesome to get out on classic, easy to moderate terrain on a beautiful day with great partners and not have to stress about whipping! At the end of the day, climbing’s not about the difficulty of the grade for me…it’s about the quality of the experience. I’ve noticed through the years that folks who focus too much on the grade, usually end up plateauing at some point, get frustrated and quit climbing.
Q) What’s the difference between guiding and instructing?
A) Pure guiding happens when my partner’s specific climbing objective supersedes any educational objective (eg, my partner hires me to use my skill set to safely lead them up and down the Petit Grepon). Pure instruction happens when educational objectives supersede climbing objectives (eg, my partner wants to learn how to crack climb and we may never get more than 30 feet off the ground all day). Of course most of my work days include varying amounts of both.
Q) Don’t you get most of the money a client pays for a day of guiding?
A) The short answer is ‘no’. And CMS doesn’t see much of it either. A huge chunk of what you pay CMS goes to pay for our liability insurance costs; it’s just the nature of the game. In reality, whether you’re a guide or a guide service owner, at the end of the day what keeps you going is the love of the game. For me, I discovered a long time ago that if I had to work 40 hours a week, I might as well enjoy it. For all of us at here at CMS, it’s a labor of love.
Q) What’s your favorite climb?
A) This is always a tough question. Honestly though, if I’m outside in the vertical world, then I’m on my favorite climb! I love seeing the world from a perspective not many folks get to see it from.
I realize as I wrap up, that my list of questions I edited out of this post is much longer than the list I kept included! So if you’ve got other burning questions or want more answers to ‘questions you were afraid to ask’, feel free to contact CMS and we’ll work on it for a future post.
In the meantime, I hope to see you out there and climb safe!
CMS Senior Guide