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The mutant offspring known as the ski guido
With our touring boots set to walk mode for ease of motion, we are able to tromp our way up the track that Read has established, gliding on the flatter bits, stair-climbing when it gets a tad steeper. Keith has his layers stripped, sunglasses on, and is using his poles to pack down user-friendly corners. Expending his caloric cache at a tremendous rate, Read demonstrates what he means when he says that "being a guide means being a life-long athlete." Thanks to his efforts, the rest of us are scarcely breaking a sweat, following in his footsteps, taking in the view, talking about the beers we'll down when complete. But Read, he is sweating and moving and gazing up at the slope, trying to ascertain the path of least resistance — and of the highest margin of safety.
Such is the labour of a professional mountain guide: lead the way; break trail; ascertain and manage risk; do so with an eye to the client's desires and abilities (or lack thereof); and above all, with an effortless grace and calm that pays ultimate respect to the mountains. But there are two traits that are becoming newly emphasized in the ACMG repertoire: objective-based guiding, with an emphasis on goal-based touring (as distinct from the routine of mechanized guiding at helicopter/snowcat operations); and backcountry coaching, with a focus on teaching backcountry travel skills, and at the more advanced levels, managing complex and challenging terrain such as couloirs, steep chutes, and long-haul tours.
Canada has a rather unique guiding certification; unlike other countries, the ACMG breaks up what is elsewhere a unified program into the disciplines of ski, rock, and alpine, along with newer certifications such as indoor gym climbing and hiking. The specialization of guide disciplines was undertaken to feed the high demand for snowcat and heli guides throughout the '80s and '90s, primarily in B.C. As Read notes, in this respect the ACMG has responded to the needs of the public. But whereas heli-ski guides were needed 20 years ago, today the emphasis is increasingly on backcountry travel. The Canadian Mountain and Ski Guide (CMSG) program is now emphasizing objective-based guiding and backcountry coaching.
With Extremely Canadian, these two aspects are pushed to the forefront, as Read says, in a way that is "pushing and rewriting what we're trained to do as certified guides." In the Spearhead, says Read, this mean learning to "utilize the terrain far more than it has been in the past," alongside an emphasis on backcountry skills and ski coaching. "It is really challenging," says Read. "Extremely Canadian has done a really good job challenging people with terrain. Now we're taking that into the backcountry, potentially doing bigger lines. . . it's fascinating, and there's a lot of skills to be developed."
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