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TravelTravel Advice

These Ski Guides Will Improve Your Backcountry Game

If you plan to explore the backcountry this winter, these certified mountain guides will keep you safe, refine your skills, and bring you to secret stashes

If you plan to explore the backcountry this winter, these certified mountain guides will keep you safe, refine your skills, and bring you to secret stashes. (Photo: Courtesy Fredrik Marmsater)
If you plan to explore the backcountry this winter, these certified mountain guides will keep you safe, refine your skills, and bring you to secret stashes.

Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.

Whether you’ve been backcountry skiing for decades or this will be the first winter you strap skins to your skis, there are a number of reasons to consider hiring a guide. A good one will find you better snow than you may be able to on your own, and they’ll help you make smart decisions related to route finding, avalanche danger, and general safety. Plus, they’re generally awesome people to hang around with. These guides are some of our favorites. 

Margaret Wheeler

The Sawtooths, Idaho

Wheeler grew up ski racing on the East Coast and lived in Chamonix, France, after college. While earning her master’s degree in engineering in Washington State, she took her first American Mountain Guides Association ski-guide course, which set her on a path. Five years later, in 2006, she also completed courses for rock and alpine guiding, making her just the second woman in North America to earn her guiding certification through the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA). Wheeler, who is based in Ketchum, Idaho, guides in Europe and closer to home with Sawtooth Mountain Guides on day and overnight trips (from $175) around Sun Valley and the Sawtooths. 

Zahan Billimoria

The Tetons, Wyoming

When Teton Gravity Research film crews and athletes want to shoot in far-flung mountain locales, Billimoria is the one they call. Born in Switzerland, Billimoria now lives and guides out of Jackson, Wyoming, where he’s tackled multiple first descents through the Tetons and skied the Grand Teton more than a dozen times. He’s an IFMGA-certified lead guide for Exum Mountain Guides and the owner of Samsara Mountain Experience, a guiding outfit that leads trips throughout the Tetons and beyond (price upon request) as well as a training program for mountain athletes. If you can’t make it to the Tetons this season, you can also do one of his online workouts from home (from $95).

Peter Doucette

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(Photo: Courtesy Bernd Zeugswetter)

The White Mountains, New Hampshire

When Doucette isn’t training Special Ops teams in the U.S. military, he’s running Mountain Sense, an international guiding operation based in the White Mountains. The IFMGA-certified guide hosts backcountry ski trips from the European Alps to the Canadian Rockies, but this winter he’ll be leading outings on the snow-covered peaks around his home in Jackson, New Hampshire—including 6,288-foot Mount Washington (price upon request).

Tino Villanueva

The Cascades, Washington

A native of the Pacific Northwest and an IFMGA-certified guide, Villanueva is a former Crystal Mountain ski patroller and an avalanche forecaster for big-mountain freeskiing competitions. He now works as a lead guide for Seattle-based Mountain Madness; as a lead heli-ski guide and an avalanche forecaster for Points North Heli Adventures in Cordova, Alaska; and as a guide for private custom trips (price upon request). In normal times, when he’s not ski-touring around his home in the Cascades, Villanueva is bagging first ascents throughout the Himalayas and appearing in ski films.

Sheldon Kerr

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(Photo: Courtesy Krystle Wright)

The San Juans, Colorado

Having grown up skiing in Vermont and Colorado, Kerr dabbled with the idea of becoming a professional skier and previously competed in the U.S. Freeskiing Championships at Crested Butte, but she eventually found that guiding was more her style. Kerr soon became one of the first dozen or so women in the U.S. to earn the full IFMGA certification. After stints working for Colorado’s Silverton Mountain and Wyoming’s Exum Mountain Guides, Kerr is now based in Ridgway, Colorado, where she guides custom trips throughout the Southwest for San Juan Mountain Guides (from $500 for a day trip).

Howie Schwartz

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(Photo: Courtesy Howie Schwartz)

The Sierra, California

There’s nobody who knows California’s eastern Sierra Nevada quite like Schwartz, owner and lead guide of Sierra Mountain Guides (from $250 for a day trip). A veteran in his field, he’s been guiding since 1993 and was one of the first 20 American guides to achieve IFMGA status, back in 2001. He helped create the curriculum for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education’s Avalanche Level 1 courses that people still take today. Schwartz calls Bishop, California, home, so if you’re looking for a backcountry outing anywhere near Mammoth Lakes, he’s your guy. 

Mike Soucy

The Front Range, Colorado

Soucy has been called a “true mountain professional” by those in the guiding world. Not only is he an IFMGA-certified guide, he’s also a pro-level avalanche-course instructor and an instructor for guides in training. Soucy has been guiding for Colorado Mountain School, based in Boulder, for over 15 years (price upon request). He leads human-powered ski outings in Canada, Alaska, the European Alps, and all over the Front Range, where he knows plenty of secret stashes to escape the crowds. “I take pride in teaching first-timers how to backcountry ski, all the way to leading people on their bucket-list trips off high peaks,” Soucy says.

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Filed To: ColoradoWashingtonCaliforniaWyomingIdahoJacksonNew HampshireSilvertonSkiing
Lead Photo: Courtesy Fredrik Marmsater