How To Become a Backcountry Snowboard Guide

by Ben

A backcountry snowboard guide is a professional qualified to lead groups of riders into the backcountry. The job requires specific skills, knowledge, and experience. So let’s discuss how to become a backcountry snowboard guide!

To become a backcountry snowboard guide, you need the right certification and experience. You should be able to teach people how to snowboard safely on different terrains, as well as know the terrain well enough to plan safe and interesting routes.

As a former backcountry guide,  I’ll highlight the necessary steps you need to take to become a successful backcountry snowboard guide. Stick around!

Table of Contents

Backcountry Snowboard Guide Requirements

Being a backcountry snowboard guide is more than just teaching people how to snowboard. You’ll be responsible for ensuring your clients safety in some potentially unpredictable conditions. 

You also need to know how to navigate different terrain, which can be challenging. This includes knowing how long it takes to get out there, where to find safe zones for rest stops, and where to find emergency shelters in case something goes wrong.

But even if you know all of this, you need to be able to prove it. Here’s what you need…

1. Certifications

Snowboard guides need to be certified before taking clients into the field. There are three levels of certification a guide must go through (in the USA): 

  • Level 1 certification is for beginners who have never guided before or for people with little experience in guiding.
  • Level 2 certification is for more experienced guides.
  • Level 3 certification is for expert guides with extensive knowledge in the field of backcountry snowboard guiding.

2. Experience

You’ll need experience. This is the best way to learn how to adapt and manage whatever scenarios that may arise. A certain skill level in snowboarding, skiing, and avalanche awareness is necessary for guiding safely in the backcountry. 

It can take years (or even decades) of practice to become truly proficient in these skills. Without this experience, a guide will not be able to teach others these skills, nor will they be able to offer guided tours safely.

Rescue protocol and avalanche management should be ingrained in your muscle memory. In the event of an emergency you can switch on “auto-pilot” and get the job done. 

3. First Aid Skills

Backcountry snowboarding is a dangerous activity. Especially with the rise of “slackcountry explorers“.

In the backcountry, you’re exposed to dangerous terrain, often away from help. This means that if something happens, you need to handle it on your own (at least initially). 

A backcountry snowboard guides’ work is not all about snowboarding. You need to be prepared for any emergency during the tour and know how to react if something happens. This can range from minor injuries, broken bones and in the worst circumstances, CPR. 

Skills Needed in Backcountry Snowboard Guiding

There are many other skills needed to become a successful Backcountry Snowboard Guide.

  1. You must snowboard at a very high level. 
  2. Know how to use the backcountry equipment, like the avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe. Lead practical simulation sessions. 
  3. Understand how to assess avalanche conditions
  4. Have first aid skills and know the proper rescue techniques.
  5. Knowledge of the local terrain. This will make your tours as safe as possible for your clients while providing them with an enjoyable experience.

backcountry snowboard guide in the mountains

The skills needed to become a successful backcountry snowboard guide are not only physical. You’ve got to be super patient. Trust me on this one! 

Despite explaining that only advanced snowboarders can come on certain routes, you’ll be surprised by just how many average riders will book anyway. Handling these situations requires patience and some excellent communication skills.

A good backcountry snowboard guide also needs the ability to assess risk and make calculated decisions. Never let stoke levels or peer pressure affect your judgement!

Challenges of Becoming a Backcountry Snowboard Guide

Backcountry snowboard guides face many challenges. I experienced a huge number in my years of guiding, including the following:

  • The job requires a lot of physical activity. It’s common for backcountry guides to walk 10 miles (16.09 km) daily while carrying heavy equipment on their back. It requires physical fitness, endurance, and strength to traverse difficult terrain.
  • The job requires an extensive knowledge of avalanche safety, backcountry travel, and snowboarding. If you don’t know much about these issues, then getting certified will become a lot more difficult.
  • You’ll need to teach clients who are often inexperienced in the sport. For example, teaching them how to snowboard in deep powder and how to respect risky environments. 
  • Inclement weather conditions can often be difficult. This can make it difficult or impossible for your clients to get into a safe place before dark or before bad weather, such as rain or high winds. Preparation is key. 
  • Demanding guests. Certain groups of more entitled guests will demand to ride certain dangerous areas, even against advice. Don’t be afraid to cancel the session. They’ll give you hell but you might have just saved their life. 

What To Do Once You Have The Skills

Once you’re qualified for the job, apply to pre-existing guiding companies in the mountains. Whilst many rider’s want to set up their own company and make their own path, you should gain some experience first.

If you haven’t taught in a regular snowboard school, this would be a good first step. If you have teaching experience, approach some more backcountry focused schools. 

If you already have experience teaching in a backcountry snowboarding company then… why are you reading this! 

Alternative Snowboarding Jobs

A great alternative mountain job (which I have also done) is joining the ski patrol. Yes, snowboarders can join too!

It’s an awesome way to gain some experience in a more controlled environment. Learn more in my article about snowboarding in the ski patrol

The Growth of Backcountry Snowboard Guiding

Backcountry snowboard guiding is not just a recent trend, it’s been steadily increasing for the past few years. 

Snowboarders are looking for new ways to explore the backcountry snowboarding sport, and with increased avalanche awareness, they are now doing it with the help of professional guides. Many freestyle snowboarders have even begun to gravitate towards riding powder!

Whilst “backcountry guiding” previously meant some local dude taking you up to his favorite spots, guides are becoming more professional. It’s likely that in the years to come, there will be stricter regulations and qualifications in place.

Final Thoughts

Backcountry snowboarding guides are in high demand. There is a growing need for people who can safely lead groups on backcountry snowboarding trips.

I loved my time as a backcountry guide. The job provides a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and loads of fresh powder!

As to where is the best place to become a guide, I would highly recommend being adventurous and choosing one of these incredible Japanese ski resorts!

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