CHRISTINE FELEKI AND THE PATH TO
SPLITBOARD MOUNTAIN GUIDING
By Meghan J. Ward
Christine Feleki is a Canmore native who is about to push some serious boundaries. Contributor Abby Cooper caught up with Christine to hear about her current venture to become one of the first female splitboarding guides to take the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) test. Turns out, she is one of those incredibly humble and driven human beings that make you want to live a better life, love more, and be a better person. She must be from Canmore…
AC/ Where were you born and raised?
CF/ I was born in Banff and grew up in Canmore. I lived there (Canmore) until I was 20, and then left for Victoria to go to school for Photojournalism at the Western Academy of Photography. After that I ended up in Whistler.
AC/ How did growing up in Canmore shape your love for the mountains and, eventually, your career?
CF/ I was surrounded by mountains, and the urge to be up on top of them became greater as I got older. For me, looking out the window during school was a huge distraction. I was always dreaming about being out there instead of inside.
AC/ How long have you been skiing, snowboarding, and splitboarding?
CF/ I started skiing when I was two. I started snowboarding when I was 13, and I’m 31 now. I’ve been splitboarding for seven years.
AC/ What sparked your interest into backcountry guiding?
CF/ I think I had an interest in guiding ever since high school. We had a really great outdoor education program that had us doing glacier travel, ski touring, rock climbing and backpacking. I was brought back to the idea when I read an article in Snowboard Canada magazine about Scott Newsome and his journey to becoming a snowboard guide.
At the time I was still in Whistler riding every day and serving at night, but wishing I could be “more” in the mountains. I got a splitboard and looked into the Thompson River University (TRU) Adventure Guide program. I had originally looked at the program after high school, but decided to take photojournalism instead. I spent a few years back in the Canmore and Banff area touring around and saving money before I headed to Kamloops to take the Adventure Guide program.
AC/ Did you have any doubts before committing to a guiding career?
CF/ Of course, there were huge doubts, especially as I started on the path and kept hearing comments on how much easier it would be if I just skied. But I have been snowboarding for a long time, and knew I was strong enough to pursue guiding on a snowboard. Some days while I would posthole and my ski friends swished by, I would ask myself if it was worth it. The answer was always clear on the way down – turning on a snowboard is more fun!
AC/ How long have you been apprenticing for guiding positions?
CF/ After two years at TRU, I got a job with Wells Gray Adventures as a hiking and canoe guide. The winter after graduating I slaved myself out to Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patrol, Mustang Powder and Sol Mountain Lodge. For some of these positions I skied and others I did on my snowboard.
The following year I knew I could not afford to volunteer my time for another winter, and landed a job as a trail guide for Crescent Spur Heli Skiing.
That same winter, I also heard about a practicum position with She Jumps’ Alpine Finishing School and applied. I am stoked to be part of the team at AFS, as it allows me to learn from very inspiring women! I’ve been with both places for two winters now.
This winter I have just been accepted into the ACMG Aspirant Ski Guide program as a splitboarder.
AC/ Do you feel that the program frowns upon splitboarders as guides?
CF/ I wouldn’t say it frowns on them… the CSGA (Canadian Ski Guide Association) has been certifying splitboard guides for a number of years, however not every operation hires CSGA guides. The ACMG took a little longer to allow snowboarders, with Craig Kelly being the first to attempt. I feel like I will be assessed a little harder as a splitboarder, as there is still only a handful out there, and there are differences between skiing and snowboarding.
AC/ Do you think that mountain guiding is still a primarily male-dominated occupation?
CF/ No, I think that not as many female guides are out there, but not all females want to have this lifestyle either. I think most operations are happy to have female influences on their guiding teams and have worked with many in my short experience so far.
AC/ What have you found to be the biggest hurdle in pursuing a career in guiding?
CF/ Well, money is the biggest, unfortunately. But patience is the answer. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to fast-track myself to a guiding certificate. I didn’t have the funds to take whole winters off to gain experience, and would just have to let things happen as they did.
AC/ What is the most rewarding part of guiding?
CF/ I think the best rewards I have had are experiencing really amazing places with others, and feeling like you shared it with someone who otherwise might have not been able to do it on their own.
AC/ What words of advice would you pass along to aspiring female guides?
CF/ You are not an imposter. Have the confidence in yourself that others see in you.
A lover of all things outdoors, Abby Cooper is a splitboarder, climber, hiker, adventurer, photographer and writer. She’s living life one adventure to the next with her dog by her side.