Boardroom: an interview with Christine Feleki, aspiring female splitboard guide

An aspiring splitboard guide from Canmore, Alberta, Christine Feleki is working over the next few months to gain the experience needed to pass her final guide exam. In a world where there are not many splitboard guides, and even fewer female splitboard guides, Feleki has put in the time honing the art of knuckle-dragger guiding and terrain management. Now, she’s on track to become a fully certified guide.

Feleki took time out of her course schedule to talk with Backcountry Magazine about what it is like on the road to splitboard guiding.

Christine Feleki in the midst of an alpine transition. [Photo] Jameson Florence

Christine Feleki in the midst of an alpine transition. [Photo] Jameson Florence

Backcountry Magazine: What is the process you have to go through to become a guide, and where are you in that process?

Christine Feleki: I went through the Thompson Rivers University program called the Adventure Guide Program. I did a lot of training courses with them, but afterwards, in order to start gaining experience, you get hired as a guide, and because you don’t have any experience, you end up volunteering and doing practicums to learn. I spent a whole winter of volunteering at multiple different lodges tailguiding in exchange for experience.

I had been thinking about applying for the apprentice guide-training program, which is not necessarily a part of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) but it is hosted by the ACMG. You put together a resume to be accepted into their training program. If you complete the training program, then that allows you to go forward to the apprentice exam, and from there you become an apprentice who can take groups out under supervision. You are still not technically a guide. I am in the guide-training program currently.

BCM: What was a challenge you faced when you started training to be a guide?

CF: When I first started thinking about becoming a guide, I looked on the ACMG website and there is a big list of things you need to have finished. I started drafting up my resume and realized that there were some pretty big holes in it. I spent all of last year filling in the gaps. What I didn’t have was a lot of peak ascents and day objectives in alpine, glaciated terrain. This was because when I went ski touring, a lot of times on my day off, it would be stormy and so we would go tree skiing. It’s not like that isn’t relevant, but it’s not what the ACMG wants to see as all of your experience. Once I filled in the gaps, they accepted my resume in May, and I started the program after that.

In my program this year, I focused on the Alpine Skills Course, which is based in the Rockies. After that course we [guide-training participants] were sent a package which was a list of scenarios that took all of the skill sets that we worked on that are more problem-solving based. We learned all the individual components in the field and then we had to mix them up and put them together in different ways. It really grew my understanding of how all these skills come together.

From there, you study mechanized travel and companion rescue. These are important because they bring together all of the other skills you have learned in the beginning courses.

My next course is the touring component of the training. It is going to be heavy on navigation skills—whiteout navigation—group management and terrain management as always.

Feleki showing off her splitboarding skills. [Photo] Jameson Florence

Feleki showing off her splitboarding skills. [Photo] Jameson Florence

BCM: What was a fear you had going into guiding?

CF: After the touring course it is either yes or no on whether you can go on to the exam. I used be afraid of failing and not making it on to the exam or failing the exam, but in the last few years I have come around to the idea that failing does not matter to me as much anymore. If I fail, it just means that I am not ready, and I will have a chance to learn more. Before, failing came with a sense of embarrassment, but now I am not afraid, I just have to keep working harder and trying. It is in many ways why I felt ready to take the exam this year.

What I am realizing is that a lot of guiding is being uncertain, and you become more comfortable with uncertainty as you gain experience. It is that idea that you are able to work through those situations. Before you might think, “well I don’t know what I would do.” Now it is, “I might put an up track and it might not work, but that’s OK. I can just back up and go another way.” It is not like you blow the whole day because you make one wrong turn. You learn to deal with those little missteps and keep the day going.

BCM: Do you think training differs at all for splitboarders?

CF: When you look at splitboarding coming into this industry, there is an old-school mentality that we are not as efficient. We all know how to use our own tools. We get harped on for going fall line. In some ways, we are not as mobile in snowboard mode, but the reality is that it doesn’t take us that long to switch over to split mode and be able to use that tool as skis. As a guide, you have to be good at skiing your splitboard anyway. That is something that skiers don’t need to learn how to do.

I do need to think more about exits. You have to choose you stopping points differently—a little group management we might have to do differently.

BCM: Do you use soft or hard boots?

I switched to a hard boot system this year. I did it for a few reasons, but it works better when guiding. I feel that there are times when I was riding soft boots when I wasn’t able to do things because I just took too much time. You can get in and out of your skis, but I would have to fiddle with my ratchets getting my boots back in in splitboard transitions.

BCM: When you were younger, did you plan on being a guide?

CF: As a kid I wanted to be outside, and I loved the mountains, but I didn’t necessarily want to be a guide. That being said, I almost went into an adventure-guide program at the age of 18. At the last minute, I switched gears and decided to take photojournalism instead. When I came back to the adventure-guide program I was 27, and most of the kids were 22, so I struggled. I thought I had missed the boat, but I got over that. I was a really shy person, but now I think I am in a better position because I am not afraid of people anymore. The reason I got into guiding, however, was because I just wanted to be in the mountains.



  1. Richard Smith says:

    Had the pleasure of spltting with Christine in January in Rogers Pass with Joey Vosburg. Great person and excellent snowboarder. Great to see an article about her.

    Rich Smith
    Kamloops, BC, Canada

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