It’s taken more than a decade, but Revelstoke has helped pioneer a provincial mechanized guiding certification to bring professional accreditation to the snowmobiling backcountry.
The Canadian Mechanized Backcountry Guides Association (CMBGA) has finally come together after years of work. The program was organized with the effort of several large parties in the tourism and backcountry industries, but the people in Revelstoke have been instrumental from the beginning. From Amber Granter to Steven Scott, snowmobilers in Revelstoke have helped pave the way for the rest of Canada and parts of the United States to safe mechanized access to the backcountry.
“The thought was, we don’t want to be told to be regulated, we need to regulate ourselves before that happens,” said Granter.
Professional accreditation in other tourism sectors are common. To ski guide, guides must have their Association of Canadian Mountain Guides certification to work at a commercial operation. The certifications make it easy for customers and employers to immediately know that they can trust guide’s expertise. The CMBGA is trying to create a similar standard for snowmobile guiding.
“It’s super handy to have a certifying body so when people actually apply, they can come to you already with a certificate,” said Scott.
So far, the interest in getting CMBGA certification is high. Scott said that there’s already been several guides who have reached out to inquire about prerequisites.
Getting to this point took 15 years or work that Granter started.
Amber Granter started snowmobile guiding in Whistler in 1998. Her employer at the time had a background in rafting, which was already government regulated, so he insisted on doing in-house guiding training, which Granter led.
Granter’s snowmobile guiding career brought her down to the United States and back up to Canada before landing in Revelstoke in 2002. A year later she started the BC Commercial Snowmobile Operators with the former owner of Great Canadian Snowmobile Tours. Granter said the concern at the time was uniting the businesses who were all facing issues with land, insurance, and other tourism-related problems.
At the same time, part of bringing the commercial operators together was bringing the guides together, too, but they continued to do their own training and certification.
A few years later, a slew of avalanches swept the region, bringing attention from the government on safe guiding practices. With her connection to snowmobiling operations, Granter –who was working with the Canadian Avalanche Association at the time– laid out an initial guiding training standard that demanded the operators adhere to avalanche safety plans.
Some operators continued to have guides in avalanche territory without the proper training, but the precedent of having proper training had begun.
She worked with all the parties associated with mechanized guiding and did avalanche training for snowmobile guides. Among the first group were Steve Scott and Jason Smith, who picked up the torch and were directors of the CMBGA.
“It really kind of fizzled, and it was really kind of heartbreaking,” said Granter.
As Granter learned, inserting a professional standard into an industry that didn’t have one was a tough sell. In hindsight, the added safety would seem to be enough reason for the value of creating a certification, but at the time it was easier and cheaper to continue without it, so some operators did.
Steve Scott, the Operations Manager for Great Canadian Tours (GCT) continued Granter’s work. Connecting with Brianna Lukar, who’s the lead guide at GCT, and Curtis Pawliuk, who’s the owner/operator of Frozen Pirate, Scott registered the CMBGA as a society and listed Pawliuk, Lukar, and himself as board members.
Like Granter before him, Scott and the rest of the CMBGA face an uphill battle of getting all guides to buy into the program.
“I think that people have to realize that if you’re not doing industry standard, you’re going to be held at that highest standard if something was to happen,” said Granter.
Scott said that one of the goals of the CMBGA is to limit the number of illegal guides that lower the industry standard.
“There’s always been a problem with illegal guiding all over B.C.,” said Scott.
Illegal guides are ones who mightn’t have the right avalanche certifications to take a group into the backcountry, or they may not have the rights to the tenure they’re operating on, and some may not even have the right emergency equipment. Scott referred to illegal guides as ‘parking lot’ guides.
Granter’s previous work helped to set the stage and create a demand for the CMBGA, which has started them off on the right foot.
“It’s amazing to see the community come together, and everybody’s been waiting for this for a long time, like in all parts of the industry,” said Scott.
While Amber Granter is no longer involved with CMBGA, her husband Chris is among the directors, and she said she’s happy to see it finally come together.
“I’m really glad it’s finally happening. Because I spent a lot of years trying to bring this together,” she said.
Scott is similarly excited to see the professionalization of the industry.
“We all have that feeling that this is something pretty big,” said Scott.
The CMBGA has already received interest from American guides who want to incorporate the work that the CMBGA is doing into their guiding programs. The CMBGA continues to refine its curriculum using the expertise of its board which includes Brianna Lukkar, Curtis Pawliuk, Marshall Dempster, Iain Stewart Patterson, Jason Smith, Steve Scott, Jason Ribi, and Chris Granter. The organization will also be looking for grant funding to further develop the program to include a written program, manual, and create an online data bank.
To learn more about the CMBGA, visit their website.