They pay me: Backcountry Guide

Carter Gerdes
Jackson, Wyoming
Snowmobile guide at Togwotee Mountain Lodge
Yearly mileage: 7,000 miles
How I got the job: As a regular vacationer to Togwotee, Gerdes contemplated making the move for three years.
Paying my dues: “The first year, I was 95 percent guiding trail rides. The second year, I was on the trail only 5 percent of the time. It’s just gotten better from there. I’m a premier back country steep and deep guide.”
Average career span for a guide: About five years. “I’ve been doing this 13 years. I’m 62 years old, and these young guys hate me. They can’t figure out how and old guy like me can out ride them every time.”
Current snowmobile: 2008 Polaris 700 Dragon
Employer: Is an employee of Togwotee Mountain Lodge, as guide permits are no longer issued to individuals.
Special training required: Up-to-date on first aid and CPR. Annual avalanche training.
Required skills: “Physical strength, a gregarious personality and salesmanship. Part of my job is to convince people that the worst day on a snowmobile is the best day of their lives. You have to be firm with safety issues. You have to be willing to grab a guy’s helmet and kick him out of the group. And you need a good sense of direction. You’ve got to be able to learn how to go into and out of thousand different meadows, through trees and over mountain tops.”
My favorite part of the job: “The look on a guy’s or girl’s face when they have successfully mastered a mountain riding experience that they have not mastered before: that powder turn, that high mark, trick riding. I like watching the faces of people when the light goes on.”
My hours: “I average about 100 days a year as a guide. I work 7 days a week. My longest stretch is 28 days in a row. They don’t like us working 7 days a week, but they understand the importance of the communication between my groups, them showing up and me being available for them. I’m all about them coming back three times a year.”
My typical day: “Fun, giggles, stress, fear. I tell everybody we never cross the road ever without being in fear of avalanches. It’s ever-present on my mind. I preach safety, but I’m constantly fearful of the guys behind me that may wander too far or get hurt.” Guides arrive at 8, pull and inspect sleds and prep for the 9 o’clock departure. They evaluate clients for physical and snowmobile ability. The anticipated destination is logged into a computer system, but destinations often change. Return is by 4:30. In the case of mechanical issues, all riders return to the lodge until the situation can be remedied.
A common misconception: “That all I do is ride around on a snowmobile. That’s not all I’m doing. I’m making sure riders can handle the terrain. I have to find a way to make a trip where the intermediates have fun and aren’t terrified, and so the experts are not bored. This is a mentally stressful job. I’m in charge of people’s lives. It’s constant planning, constant stress. And then you every now and then I get a loose cannon who won’t listen.
The worst part of the job: “Having to go out on a search and rescue that takes me out until late at night. It’s the least fun part, but it’s necessary and I’ll do it in the blink of an eye.”
Pay Range: Part salary, part tip-based. “My first year, I made $60 per day. It has somewhat improved since then.”
Off-Season Job: professional carpet layer

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