A Day in the Shoes of: 30-year veteran heli-ski guide, Bob Sayer.
Hi, I’m Bob Sayer. I’m the Operations Manager and Senior Lead Guide for Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing. I’ve spent my life guiding, everything from skiing and climbing to flyfishing and just about anything else you can do in the wilderness. I love taking people out to play in the mountains. (In the off season, Bob can be found in his hometown of Kamloops training for his next triathlon.)
How did you get started in the heli-skiing industry?
I fell in love with skiing the first time I ever tried it. I started ski patrolling right out of high school and, at 17, I saw a Warren Miller movie that showcased Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing. I knew right then “that’s what I want to be when I grow up, a helicopter ski guide for Mike Wiegele.”
I spent the next dozen years working toward that goal and in 1987 my ski patrol partner and I won the Canadian Powder 8 Championships. First prize was a trip to Mike Wiegele’s to compete at the World Championships. Though we didn’t win the completion, I did convince Mike that I belonged there and I haven’t left since.
30 years into your career, what do you still love about it?
Though the skiing is fabulous, the thing I love most about my job is taking people out and showing them the wonderful things about our mountains. I have the best office in the world, the Cariboo and Monashee Mountains.
What are some aspects of being a heli-ski guide that don’t come with the job description?
What you don’t expect when you start guiding is the relationships you will develop with your clients. I have traveled the world with some of my clients, I have been to their weddings, watched their children grow; they have become some of the most important people in my life.
Describe your ideal day on the job.
I would say that an ideal day on the job for me would be taking a group of first-time heliskiers out on a sunny day with 40 centimetres of new snow. Starting them out on some easy open runs then progressing to more challenging terrain. Lunch at the Grizzly Hut where we can look out at the big north facing glaciers. Then an afternoon of skiing through the wide open glades of Peggy and Sam’s or Adam’s Burn. Of course, beers back at the Lodge to share stories and pictures to wrap up the day.
What is the most memorable moment you’ve had in your career?
There are dozens of them every year and more every week, so it would be impossible to pick one over another.
What are some of the challenges?
Of course, like all jobs, there are challenges to the career. The days are long; typically we are at work from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. You are away from your family for long periods of time. You need to keep yourself in good physical condition. It takes several years to get fully qualified, typically about the same as getting a PHD (8–10 years).
How do you keep people safe in the backcountry?
Guides are very well trained in safety and rescue. Guides need the highest level of avalanche certification, the highest level of guiding certification and strong first aid skills and certification.
We attend the morning guides meeting at 7:30 a.m. each day to get up to the minute weather and avalanche conditions. In the mountains, we dig snow profiles to check for weaknesses in the snow pack. We choose terrain that avoids the hazards if we feel there are any. We warn guests of any expected hazards and ask them to ski with a partner at all times while in the trees so that they are able to help each other if they fall in a tree well.
Prior to each season we do 10 days of training with refreshers every week. All of the guides work as a team throughout the day sharing any information or observations with all of the other guides. Guides generally apprentice for about 10 years before being given responsibility for their own helicopter group.
In your experience, what makes a good heli-ski guide?
A good heliski guide needs to be many things; firstly you must have good mountain sense. You must be a very good skier. You must be a team player. But probably the most important thing is you must love taking care of people, after all the word “guide” means taking care of people.
What are the top places you’ve ever skied?
I have been to most of the top ski resorts in the Europe and North America but the best skiing in the world is right here in the backcountry of British Columbia. Runs like Freefall, Stienbock, Early Basket and Dixon Glacier are the stuff dreams are made.
Originally published in KamloopsBCNow’s “A Day in the Shoes of” series. Reprinted with permission.