Daughter’s legacy is contributing to better backcountry guides 

After two avalanche disasters near Revelstoke claimed the lives of 14 people last month public questions and incredulity surrounding backcountry adventure has been matched only by the grief of those who lost loved ones.

Calls have been made for restrictions on backcountry access, better education, more money for avalanche research and better judgement by those leading others in the mountains.

But there is no question people will continue to venture into the backcountry.

Some people can’t seem to understand this; Hans Kögler does.

A lifelong mountaineer himself, Kögler passed on his interest in the mountains and the backcountry to his daughter Karen. Karen Kögler’s love of the mountains led her to the University College of the Cariboo’s two-year Adventure Guide Diploma program, one of the best known guide training programs in the world.

Karen was ice climbing near Lake Louise four years ago with a couple of other students in the Adventure Guide program when a chunk of ice described as the size of a small car broke off above and buried her. She was 22.

A year later, Hans Kögler established the Karen Kögler Memorial Award at the University College of the Cariboo. For the past three years one or two students in the Adventure Guide program have been awarded scholarships. The cash awards go to students, chosen by faculty, who show particular drive and passion for the outdoors, not necessarily the most skill. Kögler believes in the program and the values it instils in students.

"There’s a lot of mutual respect in the program, between the teachers and the students," he says describing how students took him out for breakfast following this year’s awards. "The kids are really neat."

The program at the Kamloops school is a critical link in backcountry education, in B.C. and around the world, setting standards for training whitewater, ocean, climbing and ski guides. Each year the college receives more than 500 expressions of interest for the Adventure Guide program, from across the country and from foreign countries. Only 24 students are admitted.

"Students have to be pretty proficient already," says Kögler. "The program really polishes the kids off, so they can earn a living when they graduate."

The program is designed to train graduates to work within the adventure tourism industry as guides and/or small business owners. As such they are introducing, guiding and teaching others in the backcountry.

Kögler estimates about 20 per cent of program graduates are working in the Sea to Sky corridor. Many more students find work in this area during their summer break.

With so many businesses in the corridor hiring graduates of the program, Kögler is hoping for a little more financial support from those businesses for the Karen Kögler Memorial Award.

Up to two students are presented with cash awards each year based on the interest generated from an endowment fund. Some years as much as $2,500 has been awarded.

What Kögler would like to do is increase the endowment so it can withstand downturns in the economy and low interest rates and produce a significant financial award for students every year.

"To become a full-fledged mountain guide requires a number of exams, in addition to what is offered in the program," Kögler says. "It can cost $1,700 or $1,800 for each exam, as well as a week of the kids’ time. And equipment is expensive."

For more information on the program or the Karen Kögler Memorial Award contact David Freeze, an instructor in the Adventure Guide program, at 250-371-5842, or e-mail: dfreeze@cariboo.bc.ca

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