January 12, 2015 —
At Colorado Outward Bound School, supporting the career development of our staff looks a little different than at other organizations. Many companies send their staff out to conferences or retreats hosted at a nice hotel. Some companies may even bring someone in to run teambuilding and leadership workshops for their corporate team. Here at COBS, we support our staff furthering their careers the same way we encourage our students to further their character – through challenge and adventure!
Recently COBS Course Director Mike Lewis finished working the 81 day Rockies to Ecuador Leadership Semester. After course when he could have been catching up on the comforts of frontcountry life or doing other paid work, he instead went back outside to complete a 10 day Advanced Alpine Guide Course and Aspirant Exam (AAGC/AE) through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). AMGA is the leading industry-recognized certification program in the country for guiding skills including all disciplines of climbing, mountaineering, and skiing.
The AAGC/AE is the final step after years of personal/professional experience, extensive training and coursework before taking the exam to attain certification as an AMGA Alpine Guide. Ultimately, Mike plans to pursue AMGA’s highest level of certification, the Mountain Guide which is “the highest level of credential attainable by a professional mountain guide, and is an achievement recognized in more than 20 International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) member countries.” It’s kinda a big deal.
“The AAGC/AE was a successful and useful experience. First, I learned a tremendous amount of smaller details, techniques, and equipment information from my fellow participants. These folks work for various guide services across the U.S. and beyond and in a variety of environments. They each brought common practices from their regions and guide service subcultures. Some had already completed both the Rock and Ski programs and had a depth of experience and training to share.
Second, the instructors were of the highest quality. All four of them regularly guide in the Alps, across the U.S. and other highly regarded areas around the world. They were true professionals and had an endless amount of information and learnings from their personal experience to share.
Finally, I learned a lot simply from being given challenging guide assignments and stepping into the challenge with the information I already knew coupled with the new information I was receiving.”
Mike goes on to list many of the specific things he learned during course. The AAGC/AE course requires students to have a strong background in professional guiding already, so the emphasis is on more advanced skills, efficiency, and bigger picture vision. For example, transitions between terrain such as ice and snow, rock and snow, crevassed glacier and snow fields all may require changing techniques and equipment, as well as increased risk when the group is crunched together. In higher level guiding this can have a much larger effect on the success of an expedition. Equipment choices can also affect efficiency on an expedition – the right length of rope can cut down on time to ascend a face, but must be balanced against the weight of the other equipment. Mike also picked up some new techniques for belaying, retrieving anchor equipment, short-roping on glaciers, and performing rescues more efficiently. He said one takeaway from his experience working long format and varied expeditions with COBS was that he had a “mountain sense” that other guides don’t necessarily develop from guiding short trips on the same route every time.
“[Pursuing the Mountain Guide certification is] a lot of money, time, energy, and stress. The process is motivating – an intense challenge that is making me grow immensely as a professional and as a person. Thank you for supporting my pursuit of excellence!”
We are honored to have staff who are passionate about making what they do more than a job – it’s a lifelong career. The love Mike shows for his work is evident both in and out of the field, and it has a positive impact on our students, our school and our community. If you or someone you know is interested in a career in the outdoors, then come join us.
photos courtesy of Mike Lewis