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Interviewed by Ian Faurot
Hometown: McCall, Idaho
Current Location: McCall, Idaho
Job Title: Owner and Operator, Payette Powder Guides and River Guide for Canyons River Company
Ian Faurot: And how about Journeys?
Marty Rood: Journeys, I haven’t done that in years. Mike Murphy and I ran a kayak club for a long time out of McCall. but I don’t really do that any more.
I don’t know if you remember, but I took that class for a summer and always had a great time.
Yeah it turned out a lot of good kayakers, but eventually that kind of ran its course and led into me guiding full time for Canyons.
How did you get involved in the guiding world?
In college I was supposed to be a finance major. I was supposed to be in ROTC but they wouldn’t let me change my major. So I quit a full ride scholarship to be a Leisure Studies and Services Major. That's where I met my wife Melissa. I knew I was going to work at a ski area anyways, so i figured I would have an edge over a lift operator if I had a rec degree. So I got a rec degree, drove straight from college to Brundage, got a job as a ski instructor, and I haven’t left. McCall has been really good to me as far as being in the outdoors and making a living in the recreation business.
So its January, and it’s currently dumping; let’s talk about skiing. Can you tell me about Payette Powder Guides as far as what you do, where you are located, how the operation runs?
So we have two yurts, a sauna and an outhouse that sit on top of a high mountain pass at 7,000 feet. We access those with five snowmobiles and a snowcat, and then we do human powered ski touring from there. So we’ll do private rentals of the yurt, we’ll do full service guided trips, cooking, gear, transportation, all that. And we also do a couple avalanche training courses throughout the year, and we can also guide day trips, so that keeps us busy all winter long.
You told me you are spread pretty thin right now. What does busy mean for you?
Well it’s just kinda the one man show right now. I’ve gotta be the office, the IT guy, kitchen, outfitter guy, just the whole nine yards. I’ve got about five guys that help me out kinda part time, depending on what we’re doing. The last two years the volume has significantly increased, as far as interest in not just the avalanche classes but the guided skiing as well.
Starting in November, or whenever you get going, run me through the beginning of your season. What kind of prep goes into getting ready for winter in a mountain town?
Usually around the beginning of December we do a guide training, we get together, make sure we’ve got our WFR re-cert and all that. Then we’ll do a guide training, we’ll go shakedown all the equipment, get the snowmobiles together, make sure the snowcat driver, the carrier is all put together, and make sure we know where everything is. Then in the middle of December, we’ll do two town-based Avalanche 1 Classes, cause you really can’t sell a ski tour trip in early December. It’s a great time to do avalanche education. We do these town based classes with up to 15 people, 1 day in the classroom over at the McCall Outdoor Science School field campus, then we’ll do two day trips up to Lick Creek Summit. We’ll do that two weekends of that, so that locks up the early December, and once the holidays roll around we start getting demand for the private rentals. I have a lot of people who have taken a level 1 avalanche class, and they wanna rent the yurt privately for them and their group of eight. So back in November I have to make sure the firewood and everything is all ready to go for those guys, usually about its 10 cords of firewood. Quite a bit of prep to get everything ready so its all ready to go for the winter, and like I said in the holidays I start doing private rentals. Then it’s set up so that every other weekend it’s a guided trip or class and then the next weekend is a private rental, and thats kinda been the business model. The rest we fill in day trips and private classes, and that’ll roll until the end of March. Usually around the end of January we quit doing classes and its nice to get out there and stop talking about it and actually go do it.
So backcountry ski guiding. It’s all Red Bull, high fives, sick air and face shots right?
If you had to pick a best thing, what still gives you goosebumps when you think, “I'm at work right now?”
I get to ski untracked snow, all the time man. Just yesterday we were on a guided day trip and I felt bad cause we were crossing tracks. There was a group of six in there the day before, so it was six tracks, and human powered skiing, it just doesn’t get tracked up that much, I mean my hi-speed quads (legs) are only so big. And your gonna go travel in these high mountains, what’s really interesting is you can go out on a high avy hazard day and especially in our mountains, in the West Central mountains, stay out of harms way, and still have a really good day. So yesterday we were powder skiing in baseball hats and sunglasses.
What is your least favorite part of ski guiding?
For our operation, the crux of the operation is transportation. We’re not like a place in the Sawtooths where people just park on the road and skin in to the yurt, we have this 12 mile approach up this road. And it’s great ski touring, but you know, I have to deal with the machinery. I have five snowmobiles that I have to keep running, which is quite a chore. I have a snowcat that you know with these cold temperatures early in the year, we had a little bit of trouble with it. So our crux is the road which is kind of our pipeline to get there. Even though it’s this human powered experience that part of it we try to take a lot of the emphasis off of it like not spending a lot of time on the snowmobiles or in the snowcat. With that all said, thats the biggest part of the business for me. Getting the yurts ready, and going skiing, thats all fun and easy but getting people from the parking lot to our yurt on snowmobiles or in a snowcat is the crux. And now the office is turning into a crux, being the one man show. But thats always gonna be the case.
Why is McCall a great place to have a backcountry skiing outfit?
There’s a lot of skiing outlets to bring skiers to town. There’s Tamarack Ski Resort, there’s Brundage Mountain, you can go out of bounds at both of those resorts. There’s a myriad of nordic skiing options in town. There are so many different aspects of skiing in McCall and to do the BC guiding end of it was just one more way for people to go out and go skiing. You know it definitely doesn’t have the automobile access that some places have, but with that said that’s what makes it so nice is that there are no people. My company motto is that I don’t cross a track all season and people kinda look at me weird. It’s called Payette Powder Guides. We ski untracked powder. Sometimes that’s steep and sometimes it’s not, but we’re skiing untracked powder all the time and there’s a lot of untracked snow out here. Like I said earlier, even on a high hazard day, in our mountains, you can travel around, and it lends itself very well to ski touring. You can get to a lot of different aspects with fairly short hikes, and maybe they’re not the longest runs in the world but for human powered skiing it’s really nice. You can get above treeline, you can see a bunch of different aspects without spending all day on one objective. It makes it really, in my mind, unique in a way.
What is the biggest challenge facing ski guiding outfits today?
Well a lot of it there’s so many more people cause there’s open boundaries, and the gear is better, and the biggest challenge would be people becoming lifelong students of it. Rather than, “I buy the stuff, I get the beacon, I watch some red bull movies, and I’m ready to go!” Being a lifelong student of it, you know the snow is stable most of the time, but boy, knowing that small period of time when it’s not, is actually kind of hard. So you can go out a hundred times safely, and think you’re doing it right. My goal as a lifelong learner is not to be lucky, but to be good. And that’s hard… I think… It’s too easy to go out and be lucky.
So that biggest challenge to fill a guided trip is, “Why do I need a guide? Why do I need to take a class? When I can go buy the stuff and go out by myself?” But I really encourage people to take the classes and thats why we do the private rentals and to get the skills to go take your own group. That’s the nature of it, you never get the merit badge that says you’re all good. When I’m traveling with people like that it makes me kinda turn my head and question them. It’s not a checklist, that’s when you get sloppy.
When did you start backcountry skiing and how has it changed since then?
I officially started Payette Powder Guides in 2004 but my avalanche education started in 1992. My neighbor was the avalanche forecaster and they had just started the avalanche center and he was the only forecaster and I joined as a volunteer. I was stuck at the ski area and I would go to Brundage and I would look at all this terrain that I wanted to go ski, and I was stuck in this spot. And it was great, but it has become busier and busier, right? On a powder day at 11:00 it’s tore up and it didn’t use to be that way, but with the gear and high speed quads(lifts) and stuff, people have gotten to be much better powder skiers now … what was the question?
How has it changed, what has changed? It sounds like more people.
Yeah just more people doing it for sure. I mean we drive up to the yurt, and we’ll see 4-5 groups of snowmobiles and people, ski touring on their own, and it didn’t used to be that way. And I think its great, some people are like, worried about oh my gosh, the backcountry is over used and crowded, and i think it’s great seeing skin tracks out there.
What separates a good ski guide from a great ski guide?
Oh interesting question. I kinda look at it as the hard skills are pretty easy to learn, like, the technical snow science end of it. Some of the soft skills, the social skills, like with any guiding, whether you’re river guiding, ski guiding, hiking guiding, there are some soft skills that you can’t really train people to do. And the other thing I look for is that they’re a ninja in the kitchen. Cause on an overnight trip you wanna be able to you know, do it all, right? So the full package is what you want. But it’s also that lifelong learning. The people that I respect the most are the people that are definitely lifelong learners of the snow and the mountain, and not the kind of ‘been there done that’ kind of folks.
How to you take care of yourself throughout the season, physically mentally, and emotionally?
You know when I worked for someone else as a river guide, I used to have to take care of myself more. But, I get to be in the ski business for myself now, and it’s kind of inspiring, like, my boss doesn’t care if I do something or not, I’m in a unique position right? So to take care of myself, I get to choose what trips I do or not do. So to take care of myself, you’re gonna laugh, but I get out on my powder sled and put my skis on it, and I’ll go skiing on my own and go out of my permit area to a place where I used to have a yurt. That’s where I get a little bit of me time that way. And then my other me time is I go skiing with my wife. I have a pass at both ski areas, you know, people think I go backcountry skiing all the time but I love cranking snot bubblers you know? I do, I like to go skiing, and as long as I can go make some turns and be out ….
Have you noticed the effects of climate change? Has that changed your operation at all?
Rain events at higher elevation more often. When I started with my partner Chuck in 2004 I mean we had a rain event over the top… every couple of years… MAYBE. And they were events that you knew, I mean you could name that layer in the snowpack. And now that happens more than once a year? That’s nuts. So it just seems like we get these bigger swings right? You’ll get a longer high pressure and a bigger storm cycle with it and those swings make it a little more difficult to deal with conditions that are out of the norm. When it comes to the avy game thats what were always looking at is things that are out of the norm, and now, what is that norm? But yea, I say rain events over the top, and they make the avy game more challenging.
Are there any moments throughout your guiding career that stand out to you?
Like happy moments? Or like tragic moments or life changers? Or what?
Well I was thinking about happy moments, but if you had some big eye opener that changed your perspective, that’d be fun to talk about too…
I’m a fun hog, so it’s hard to… I mean, the whole point of guiding and being in the outfitting business is to have fun. If you’re not having fun man then you gotta figure something out, cause it’s all about having fun. Period. I go to these avy trainings and people get all serious, and I take it seriously, but you know my boss can’t fire me for anything I do at these trainings, but its all about having fun. With that being said, the defining moments are when shit goes down, and it’s always when you least expect it. That’s why you really gotta be prepared for worst case scenario. Even though I like to have fun, every time we go out we paint that worst case scenario. So you’re ready for it, cause its gonna be a shit show anyways. I had a friend get fully buried, and I was like I knew this was gonna happen, but I didn’t think it’d be today. And on the river you have those near drowning experiences with somebody and you realize you have to be prepared for those. And as an outfitter or a guide, you gotta paint that worst case scenario, so when that does happen, you’re as ready as you can be. Sometimes you gotta be the wet blanket.
One last question. In the Canyons Warehouse there’s this old senior high school picture of a kid just looking super goofy with a long neck and acne hanging on the wall…. what’s that doing there?
Oh my god. Yeah. Guide party at my house. My grandmother gave it back to me. My own fuckin’ senior photo. Who does that? I’m like I don’t want it! So it’s in my attic, and we had a guide party and this was years ago, and one of the younger guides STOLE it and put it in the warehouse. I’m like well, they might as well hang it here, I don’t want it at my house! And so it hangs over the workbench at the Canyons Warehouse, not for any motivational purposes whatsoever, merely to make fun of me.
Thanks to Ian and Marty for this interview!
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