‘The most beautiful job in the world? To be out in the mountains. To do what others pay money for, and earn money in the process. Sounds like a dream, doesn't it? But what do you have to do for it? And does the fun really come without a down side?‘
In part 2 of this 4-part series, certified mountain and ski guide Susi Süßmeier, takes us through some of the lesser known aspects of this dream job.
Words by Susi Süßmeier. Cover photo by Boris Textor.
Becoming a Guide Part 2: the other side of the coin
"That's great! You’ve turned your hobby into a profession!"
Is it really my hobby to go up the Grossglockner with clients again in summer, or to hike the E5 long-distance hiking trail? In most cases probably not. As a hobby, I do mountain sports differently than when I guide. As a mountain guide, I am a service provider, the needs and safety of the clients are the focus. You need a good feeling for people, a lot of patience and often have to put your own interests aside. Guiding is a job, like any other profession! But, if it suits you, you surely have one of the most beautiful jobs in the world ...
And if you turn your hobby into a job, will it remain the hobby in the long term? Or do you look for something else for your own free time? After a week of high-alpine tours with clients who are technically below your own abilities and who you have perhaps already led, do you still have the motivation and, above all, the strength to realize your own mountain goals yourself during the week off? Or maybe after a long sleep you are drawn to leisurely sport or plaisir climbing in warm, sunny and cozy places and in the evening in your own comfortable, soft bed without snoring mountain companions?
"Great - you're always outside ..."
Right. But always. Even if you think to yourself: "Well, today I don't really like going outside the door, today is a day for the couch in front of the warm stove"
📷 Out in all weathers... (Pictures: Susi Süßmeier)
And then you are constantly on the move, it takes strength and always this risk….
The job demands a lot from the body. You need to be in good physical condition and health to cope well with a season. You have to keep fit all year round, according to what you want to lead. Wear and tear on the musculoskeletal system or illnesses due to exposure to the sun are definitely an occupational risk. And if you fail as a self-employed person due to illness, that means lost sales. Good insurance can at least cushion that a little.
Most of the workplaces are also far away from home, so there is often little time for friends, family and your own hobbies during the seasons.
The constant handling of risk and responsibility for others in a risky environment is an essential element of the job that sets the profession apart from many others. As detailed in Part 1, the risk can be minimized, but depending on the tour, there is always some residual risk. While it can be quite low on mountain hikes or simple glacier tours, there are mountains and guided tours which, despite all caution, present a higher residual risk. Often it is not the most difficult tour that can make things go wrong, but a little carelessness, a mistake, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And with all the exposure to potential risk, you are not only responsible for yourself, but also for the safety of your clients. Moreover, you need to ensure that they are not only safe, but also comfortable. For an unforgettable holiday experience you want clients to feel safe and comfortable at all times - at least if you want to go on tour with them again.
📷 Pictures: Susi Süßmeier, Mario Tiefenbrunner, Kim Menage
That may all sound pretty daunting now. But it's not that bad! On the contrary. If you feel good in the mountains and enjoy being with people, it's wonderful work. One should only be aware of the above beforehand. It is highly seasonal work that comes with intensive months of work and, in return, a lot of free time. As a mountain guide you are usually self-employed, you can organize your work yourself. Not every job is equally strenuous and demanding, a good mix is often what counts. And I see that as a great strength of the job: the variety and diversity that the job offers. From a leisurely hike or climbing trip to a demanding ascent of a particular mountain. Course or guided tour. And summer is very different from winter! I personally enjoy sharing the beauty of the mountains and my enthusiasm for mountain sports with my guests. This currently outweighs all of the downsides mentioned above, but I still keep an eye on them and try to counteract them. Be it through the selection of the tours that I lead and try to arrange them in such a way that my body gets enough regeneration or by planning enough time for my own alpine goals.
📷 Susi hiking, ice climbing, climbing and skiing (Photos: Susi Süßmeier, Julian Resch, Bernhard Hangl, Boris Textor).
During my studies I had the opportunity to train as a “Tyrolean mountain guide”. I sometimes financed my studies by leading alpine crossings and hikes for a tourist association. In my private life I found more and more pleasure in all different mountain sports disciplines and was lucky enough to be included in the expedition team of the German Alpine Club. In 2016, I easily had all the tours that you had to complete to prove your skills before the mountain guide entrance exam. Since I really enjoyed guiding hiking, it made sense to expand my area of expertise. In 2021 I completed my training as a state-certified mountain and ski guide. More about Susi