I had a unique idea well at least for this day and age in the guiding industry. I am going to design a web page that sells just one thing and one thing only and that is me. I am not going to pretend to be a big company with a massive product line and dozens of employees. the truth of the matter is that there is really only one big guiding company in the Bow Valley and that is Yamnuska. One can’t really count the university of Calgary or the Canadian Alpine Club as those are government sponsored entities. I will do a little experiment type in a few key words into google and see what guiding companies I come up with. Lets try mountain guides, Canadian Rockies, rock climbing, ice climbing, ski touring, mountaineering. Using that exact phrasing coma’s and all here are my results.
Cirrus Alpine Guides
Altus Mountain Guides
Great Divide Mountaineering
On Top Mountaineering
Canada West Mountain School
Alpine Club of Canada
James Blench Guiding Services
Mountain Skills Academy
Todd Craig Mountain Guide
Barry Blanchard Inc. comes in 24th. Cloud nine around 28 and so the story goes.
Yamnuska: Well it is understandable that The Yam Scam would come in pretty high. They certainly have been around the longest and presently they are the largest by a long shot. They have a huge product line. Everything from day hikes to specialized private guiding. Throw in a few trips to different parts of the world. They also have people on staff who do nothing but promotion. The company has gone through a few changes in its three decades of existence. It originally started with a core group of local climbers who bent the rules to start a business. They use to bring clients into Banff National Park and teach courses. The fact that they didn't have licences to guide wasn’t a issue because they were instructing not guiding so that made it all right. It was eventually sold as a boyfriend girlfriend fell apart.
Dave Begg ended up taking over the place. He invested into a larger office space and a bit of gear. He also added to his product line considerably. Within a few years Yamnuska became much bigger then it was. It was by far the largest company in the Valley. It really was the only company in the valley. Canadian Mountain Holidays had moved on. Hans and the boys had discovered and developed a crazy ass idea of using helicopters to replace ski lifts. You most likely know them as CMH.
Along comes a investor/buyer. Which is where Yamnuska is now. They have retained some key staff over this whole period of time. The main individual would be Dave Stark who has pretty much seen it all when it comes to the Canadian guiding scene. Another would be Barry Blanchard (one of Canada’s three best Metis mountaineers).
The next in line is Summit Guides. This is Doug Lassier. I don’t know Doug very well even though we have met a couple times over the years. Doug operates out of Nelson BC so why he turned up so high in the rankings is because he has always been a bit tech savvy. I do recall him doing some camera work way back in the day. He always struck me as a serious sort of guy and I am sure he runs a first class operation.
The next company that shows up is Cirrus Alpine Guides. This is really a one man show run by a friend of mine Mark Stewart. Mark like just about everybody else portrays his company to be much larger then it is. This is pretty normal for the guiding world. In fact if your an outsider looking in you’d think we have dozens of large guiding companies in this part of the world. Mark has been at this guiding thing quite awhile. He is a pretty easy going guy and I sure if you had a ski touring objective he would be my first choice.
alpinism.com is a funny name for a guiding company but you can be certain that folks know where the website can be found. I did the exact same thing ever since I scored
mountainguide.com way back in 1994. This is as close as we get to a medium size company. It is still a one man band run by Mark Klassen here in Banff. Mark has a bit more going on then most and is well connected. Formerly he was a ski patroller and head of avalanche forecasting in Lake Louise for about 14 years total. His main bread and butter is avalanche courses and ski tour guiding. He is also a avid mountaineer and rock climber. Little weak on the ice climbing though I am sure he could teach basic courses just fine. With Marks company I think most days you would be getting him as your guide but on the overflow days one of the young aspirants that flock around him. He certainly has a diverse product line for a one man show but that is really what a guide has to do these days to make a living.
Next Cowboys up to bat is Altus Mountain Guides. Funny that these guys would show up in a Rockies search at all. They do off Rockies venues but they are out of Whistler, BC. Near as I can tell they are a loose association of guides that have bonded to form an alliance. This is increasingly more common as it is a good way to share expenses. I find interesting that they have a pretty heavy clause about having rescue insurance and enough medical coverage to get you out of the country. In whistler they are not operating in a National Park so I guess this is a bit bigger of a concern. Suppose a big high cost rescue might break the bank for these boys/girls. In Banff all rescue costs are covered by your park entrance fee. Course if you take advantage of this you can’t be a member of my “ Never been Rescued by Parks Canada “ Facebook page. You certainly don’t want that.
Great Divide Mountaineering is run by Marco Delesalle. Marco is a one man band raised in Canmore. His father was a guide I believe. I’ve know Marco for at least twenty years. We never really hung out as he is from the next generation of climbers who I seem to hang out with more and more these days. My generation most have given up on climbing or are to out of shape to do anything more then a half day of easy sport climbing. I think Marco is pretty busy these days doing private guiding. He seems to have a pretty good balance of skiing, climbing and recreational travel. Life without kids.
On Top Mountaineering is run by Jorge Wilz. It is basically a family operation run out of the garage in Canmore. Jorge is perhaps the second biggest employer of guides next to Yamnuska. I see on Jorge’s website that he has recently formed a union of sorts. He has several local guides on his website. Most are heli-ski guides for CMH. The reason is that CMH revel stoke has been Jorge’s main winter work. I am pretty sure that his website is brings in a lot of work. His product line is massive. Trips in the US and Europe make up a fair bit of this. I do know that he is looking for guides of every sort and level during the high season summer and winter.
Canada West Mountain School is the next one to show up on our list via my chosen algorithm. When these guys say Canada west they really mean west. Based out of Squamish but offer a pretty diverse product line. This once again seems to be one of those loosely formed unions of guides that live in the area. It appears that the majority are west coast Nefies. The company is run and owned by Brian Jones who I don’t know but have heard of forever. I don’t get out of my National Park much so that is part of the reason the other being that I don’t travel to Squamish all very often anymore. Canada West has been around as long as I can remember. I don’t see their logo in my hood very often if ever. Not knowing to much about them they may be the west coast version of Yamnuska
Ok now we get to the weird one. The Alpine Club of Canada (ACC). The ACC offers volunteer leadership training which is a great idea I think. As this provides a leadership core with a higher skill set and adds safety to its members. As a guiding company it has some serious advantages that are in violation of the anti-competition act. Part of which states “ in order to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises have an equitable opportunity to participate in the Canadian economy”. The ACC is a not for profit organization that provides services for those interested in alpine pursuits. There is no argument that they provide a valuable service connecting Canadians from all regions of the country to the mountain of western Canada. They also provide opportunities for skiing and climbing events all across this great nation. However they also have a monopoly on practically all the huts in western. Some of these are restricted to a lottery meaning that a guide can not even offer a trip to these locations as there is no guarantee that there will be a space. They can also cancel a hut at any time with no financial penalty. The reason for the lottery is that these are prime locations. This alone would qualify them as a monopoly.
The other thing is as a non for profit they do not pay taxes. While a private guide must run his business, replace equipment, maintain a vehicle, advertise, and pay taxes. The ACC is also government funded, has a massive membership all interested in outdoor activities. They run guided trips that are in direct competition with existing businesses. So a typical trip would be their early season ice climbing trip for 5 days at $1100 with a 3:1 client to guide ratio works out that the ACC is making $660 a day per group subtract guides wages which is around $350 they walk home with $310 a day per group. They also commonly use their volunteer leaders to assist on these programs meaning that they can have 2, 3 or 4 groups in the field with perhaps just one guide and one assistant and a number of volunteers making their profit margin that much larger. Multiply this by a hundred plus days of work they offer and your looking at some serious coin that is taken out of the free market place. You can’t make this kind of stuff up! I have actually seen this going on while guiding in Field and other local areas.
I don’t want to insinuate that they are not offering a good product. The guides in their employ are some of the best in the world. I know almost all of them and would not hesitate to recommend them to any of my clients. If the alpine club stuck to the business they were originally intended for those clients that they are gleaming out of the market would return and seek guides elsewhere. This would ensure a fair price and a more even distribution of work in the already diminishing market place. So when you book onto one of their trips you might want to keep this in mind. The University of Calgary which is also government funded runs a program exactly like this one. I know it sounds like I am coming down on these guys but the working life of a guide is short. We also don’t have retirement plans unless you call never retiring a plan. Injuries are common and competition is fierce.
Wow that took awhile. Next is James Blench guiding Sevices.
Now we have Mountain Skills Academy. This company is a real up and comer. Run by Eric Dumerac who originates back East in Quebec I believe. Eric has really been active building his company and looking at things in a completely different way. It seems that he has been growing so quickly that Yamnuska the 800 pound Gorilla in the room is getting a bit worried. Yamnuska relies heavily on big army contracts with the Canadian and British army and rumour has it that Eric has been pursuing these. Have a look at his website it is really impressive. It seems recently MSA has been organizing guides under an umbrella sort of operation which acts as a guides bureau. This really is a much needed service but given the independent nature of the guides that I know this may go over like a lead ballon.
The next company to show up was Alpine Addictions. This is another one man band and unlike many of the other companies doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It is run by Jeff Honig out of Revelstoke BC. It has to be tough being a guide in Revy during the summer season. You can not swing a dead cat in that town without hitting a guide. The town is in the interior of BC so it doesn’t have a huge population base to draw from in the summer months making it just that much harder. I don’t know Jeff Honig but I know of him. He is a well known climber and a excellent guide from what I have heard. He is also a bit less expensive then me.
The twentieth suggested website was….wait for it…..wait for it…little longer …. Todd Craig Mountain Guiding Services. I have known Todd for some 20 years or more. While not really close friends and travel in different circles I certainly like the guy. His website like Alpine Addictions is just a simple one man band offering his services to the highest and lowest bidder. Todd is based out of Golden, BC. Close enough to be a competition but not really. Here is another small town in the eastern edge of the province with a relatively high percentage of guides to population base.
Well those are the first 20 web suggestions by google using the algorithm of words I thought would get me a guide in the Canadian Rockies. I should mention that Cloud Nine Guides also showed up around 24th. Young guide by the name of Mike Trehearne. I remember Mike when he was a puppy and worked for me behind the desk I had at Mountain Magic Equipment here in Banff
Not say these are the only guides in the area there are many more to be sure. However they are the ones who came up first on my search. The thing is that you can be certain that if you are getting a certified guide they meet a minimum standard and that you are good hands. When hiring from somebody from an association they are answerable to a certain extent. Although that doesn't really apply to full mountain guides as they generally pick on aspirants. So now you have it. Me I just pimp myself. Don't need the headaches of running a company again. Gotta get back and clean up my website , later Sk8ter