Leader of the Pack: ACMG guide Jasmin Caton navigates guiding, running a lodge and motherhood

This story originally ran in our 2019 Skills Guide. We’re resharing today in celebration of Mother’s Day. Thanks, Mom!

When I reached out via email to see if Canadian-certified guide and Valhalla Mountain Touring owner Jasmin Caton would be interested in being profiled for this issue, she was quick to respond with an enthusiastic yes. But there was a caveat. “Things are going to get a little nuts for me,” she wrote. “I’m having twins tomorrow!” So, after welcoming a new son and daughter into her life, Caton recapped what it means to be really busy: from breaking trail to managing spreadsheets and, now, balancing motherhood alongside a guiding operation. Here’s what Caton had to say.

Jasmin Caton takes the lead over Chamonix, France’s Argentière Glacier. [Photo] Fredrik Marmsater

In 2010, the same year I became certified to guide backcountry skiing, I became the owner of Valhalla Mountain Touring. My dad decided he was ready to retire and gave me the option of purchasing the business from him.

It’s hard to even name the greatest reward I feel for taking over VMT. There are too many to count. For one, I get to ski for work. Pretty much every single day of the winter I am on my skis, in the mountains, away from crowds and traffic and noise. The days are full, tiring and sometimes physically and mentally hard, but the routine is simple—wake, eat, ski, eat, sleep, repeat—all winter long. I love that my job keeps my body strong from deep trail breaking, shoveling snow, chopping wood and loading gear on and off the snowcat.

The fact that I am responsible for the safety of my guests is something I take very seriously. I manage the risks by repeatedly checking in with my brain, my environment, my coworkers, my guests and my gut. I am big on creating good habits, little things I do daily that might decrease risk a hair here, a bit there. I guide in terrain that is really familiar to me, which can be helpful but can also breed a sense of complacency, so I am constantly guarding against this. I have tried to keep a reasonable variety in my guiding—not just working at my lodge, but at other lodges, in other mountain ranges and in course and guide-exam settings. This variety keeps me learning and gauging my skills and techniques against current best practices in guiding.

I have tended to be quite a goal-oriented person. I enjoy driving myself pretty hard to wring as much adventure and challenge out of life as possible and am constantly imagining future adventures. When I found out I was having twins, my outlook contracted, and, for once, I was living in the complete present. The truth is, I had no idea how I’d feel through pregnancy, and now that the babies are born, I have no idea how I’ll feel physically and mentally when it’s time to resume my role as a guide.

During a weeklong ski excursion through British Columbia’s Jumbo Valley, Jasmin Caton takes pause. [Photo] Garrett Grove

It’s been quite a gift to be brought into the present moment, and as time passes and I emerge from the fog of new motherhood I am excited to find some new balance between my old go-getter self and my current mellow, at-home self. What my life will look like in one, two, five years from now is a complete mystery—and I’m completely OK with that.

Instead of focusing on people’s perceptions of what I will and won’t be able to do as a mother and guide, I’ve instead taken inspiration from some of my female guide peers who are mothers. Each of them has undoubtedly had to alter her lifestyle and work choices from their pre-kid realities, but their lives seem full on so many levels, and I’m grateful to be able to draw from their experiences.

As far as hopes for my roles as guide and mom, I hope that each role can improve my ability to function in the other. Being a mother will make me a more patient guide. Having less time to spend in the mountains working my body will help me cherish those days that, in the past, felt at times like a bit of a monotonous grind. Being a guide will help me to bring my kids out on adventures, take care of their needs in the backcountry and recognize that, just like with guests, the experience is more about them than about me.

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