An Interview with Author, Colby Brokvist

How did you get started with adventure guiding?

The idea was actually someone else’s! A career in guiding was suggested by a fellow through-hiker while I was backpacking the Appalachian Trail one summer. The funny thing about long trail hiking (weeks to months on end) is that a person sort of runs out of things to think about that relate to their everyday lives, such as work projects, what color to repaint the kitchen, and things like that. Once you’re a week or more removed from those environments, there’s a tendency for people to become more present. They start paying attention to what’s around them and reflecting on their experience, leading to new questions and things to think about. So, this fellow hiker had all sorts of questions about wildflowers, edible plants, National Forests vs National Parks, and things like that. Having a background in environmental sciences and having been a keen naturalist in my youth, I knew the answers to many of his questions. And so, I (and my hiking companion) became the go-to guys for learning about the natural environments everyone was traveling through. Over a campfire one night, the fellow hiker suggested that it was a lot of fun to travel with us and suggested we become backpacking guides. I never knew that guiding was a real career but it sure sounded great and I was very disenchanted by my recent work as an environmental tech in the construction business. So, I set out to California and reinvented my life around guiding!

Can you talk about an experience on a trip that was particularly formative for you?

The transformation from competent outdoor recreator to professional guide is incremental. I think for every guide there is a moment or trip where they realize they have fully solidified their skill set and management practices thanks to a challenging circumstance to overcome. For me, it was a medical evacuation of an ill guest and correlated management of my group during and after the incident. Upon ascending a mountain pass, one guest went from cheery and energetic to suddenly collapsing and having difficulty breathing. It was apparent from my medical examination that he was likely suffering from an acute onset of HAPE, and possibly had a slight heart attack too. Though the moment was scary for all of us, I found that thanks to my professional medical and group management training, pre-trip contingency planning, and having all the right equipment, communication devices, and office support in place, the situation was resolved efficiently and expediently. The patient was evacuated via helicopter and he recovered in a nearby hospital. The remaining guests required clear direction and continued care for the remainder of the trip. They ultimately complimented my ability to handle and resolve a complex crisis situation and make good decisions for both the patient and themselves. They indicated that they would have had no idea of what to do if they were on their own. This having occurred reasonably early in my career, I felt like I had really proved my worth as a professional within a complex and scary situation. All of my training, preparation, and previous experience came together, likely saving the patient’s life according to his doctor. The brightest part of this story is that five days after the incident, the group exited the trailhead and we were met by the fully recovered patient – he turned up with beers and buckets of fried chicken for everyone!

What advice do you have for someone who is considering a career in professional guiding?

When I ask enthusiastic candidates why they want to be a guide the answer almost always revolves around their personal interest in outdoor pursuits and the eschewing of 9-5 office life. That’s great (I feel the same way), but it misses the point. Guiding isn’t about the guide, their interests, or aspirations. Guiding is about recognizing the interests and aspirations of the guests and providing a remarkable experience for them. Successful guides are able to focus on customer service and make decisions for the benefit of their guests, and often times that means leaving one’s own interests and ambitions aside.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the things that a lay person might not realize goes into planning and executing a trip to Antarctica?

Antarctica! Be ready for a real adventure! Antarctica requires a healthy dose of flexibility and adaptability. The two biggest challenges are logistics and risk management. Antarctica is incredibly remote and the weather for sailing and flying is fickle and volatile. That means it’s almost impossible to fully plan a trip out. Rather, key operational components can strategically be put into place and then you have to finesse weather delays, supply chain issues, and such. On the risk management end, operational risks must be well accounted for during planning, and contingencies at all levels are a must. If you try to force a square peg into a round hole, you’ll just end up wasting time and not accomplishing much, such as missing out on opportunities for rewarding activities. On every Antartica trip I’ve been on Plans B, D, D, etc. are enacted regularly. Rarely does something go entirely as envisioned, but that’s all part of the charm of Antarctic travel. It is incredibly rewarding.

What made you want to write this book?

The adventure tourism industry has been growing rapidly in the past decade and companies are needing to quickly fill guide roles with qualified people. That’s a tall order for a work environment that is often difficult to train people in since there is so little time and space for candor, mentorship and instruction when paying guests are present. It is also expensive to bring groups of people together outside of scheduled trips to train them as professional-level guides. I’ve had it in the back of my mind for a while that a textbook would be a great way to reach and train people who are inspired to be guides and offer them a door into the industry

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic travel came to a stand-still. I was stuck at home in quarantine and unable to work as a guide. Fortunately, I found work giving online training webinars and classes, which is something I’ve been involved with for many years now, but that only took up a small portion of my week. Then, on a zoom social event one evening a friend jokingly said “I guess it’s time to write my novel”. That struck a chord with me given the explosive growth of the travel industry. So, I decided to dedicate my time in quarantine and compile all of my previous training materials into what became The Professional Guide’s Handbook.

What was the process of writing the book like for you?

It was actually somewhat easier than I expected. Having had experience in designing and facilitating guide training programs previously, I had a pretty good feel for what’s most important and helpful to guides working in the field. Once the outline was created, the book essentially wrote itself. The biggest challenge for me was reworking things that I had written previously – revoicing and reorganizing to fit the overall format of the book and offer consistency between chapters. I also did plenty of extra research on some topics in order for each section to be thorough and as robust as the others. But the most difficult thing was parting with sentences that I was emotionally attached to during the editing process!

Do you have any trips coming up that you’re particularly excited about?

I’m excited to get back to Greenland! Covid made travel to this remote region of the world especially difficult. When I return in July it will have been three years since I stepped foot there and witnessed the enormous ice sheet and glaciers. I have friends in the Greenlandic community that I’m anxious to see again and the long-lasting sunrises and sunsets are just magical.

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