A Year In The Life of a Ski Guide: A Look at ITCOG’s Backcountry Ski Trip Calendar

Wondering what In the Company of Guides is up to this year? We caught up with IFMGA guide and ITCOG founder Todd Passey to hear about his incredible annual ski trip schedule. Read up, dream big, and join him for the adventure of a lifetime.

The weather is getting cooler, snow’s starting to fall, and winter is on the horizon. Before we know it, slopes across the country—and further afield—will be blanketed in powder, and we couldn’t be more excited. Now that we all have skiing and snowboarding on the brain (although, to be honest, we have it on the brain 365 days a year), we thought it would be a great time to outline what the calendar year holds for Todd Passey, an IMFGA guide and the founder of In the Company of Guides. In this article, we’ll break down what his typical backcountry ski season looks like.

Why are we diving into Passey’s calendar? Well, first off, because it’s pretty rad, if we say so ourselves, and it’s fun to dream about a year filled with month after month of epic ski adventures. But most importantly, we want to give you a heads up so you can join In the Company of Guides on a ski or splitboard trip this year. To borrow a phrase from the late, great Warren Miller: “If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”

One thing to note: our trips are for small or private groups, and we often fill up and sell out. If you’re interested in embarking on one of our dream trips, don’t sleep on it!

Antarctica: November to January

When winter is in full force in the northern hemisphere, it’s actually the best time of year to head down to Antarctica. Why? Because it’s summer down south, which means longer days and better weather windows for skiing.

“I’ve spent 13 seasons in Antarctica, each season up to two and a half months long,” says Passey, who spent many of those months guiding a whopping 25 mountaineering expeditions on Mount Vincent—the continent’s highest peak and an obligatory stop for anyone hoping to complete the Seven Summits. And while he has always immensely enjoyed his time on Mount Vincent, he has a fondness for exploring lesser known summits.

“The coolest trips I’ve done are these exploratory ski trips and climbing trips in the Elsworth range in Antarctica, where we look at maps and take into account the history of the area—we research what has been skied and what has been climbed and what hasn’t. Then we go in and we fly around in a plane and we look at the routes and we climb and ski them. They’re not the biggest, gnarliest mountains in the world, but they’re breathtaking and remote mountains. Some great snow and some challenging snow, but overall it’s just a very unique, awesome experience.”

For skiers and snowboarders who want to achieve the exceedingly rare “first ascent” or “first descent,” Passey says that Antarctica is as good a place as any. “It’s pretty hard to get a first descent or first ascent anywhere in the world—and it’s only getting harder. Antarctica is one of the last places that you can still do it. In the past, clients and I have submitted first ascents and first peaks climbed to the American Alpine Journal. We even got to name peaks, submitting names to the Antarctic Survey to officially name these peaks. There are a couple other places—zones in Greenland, or remote zones in Alaska—but Antarctica is definitely one of the last great places to do this. I don’t know many people who’ve been able to name peaks.”

If you’re interested in an adventure of a lifetime to Antarctica, reach out directly. These trips don’t run every year (although one is running this season), as they require a great deal of planning and effort, but if you are serious about embarking on such an adventure, Passey is an experienced, seasoned guide who can make it happen. “Email me and we can start a conversation about it,” he says. (You can reach Todd via the ITCOG website)

Wasatch, Utah: December through March

Not all of Passey’s adventures in early winter are so far from home. In fact, some of the best backcountry skiing in the world is a snowball’s throw from his home at the base of Utah’s powder-blessed Wasatch.

“When I’m back from Antarctica, I guide in the Wasatch until March,” says Passey. In his home range, options are virtually unlimited, as clients can book private days or join avalanche and Mentorship courses.

Private Backcountry Ski Guiding in the Wasatch

“If you book a private guide for the day, we’ll do whatever is best for you that day,” says Passey. That might mean learning to use your touring gear on mellow slopes, stepping into steeper avalanche terrain, or using ropes, crampons, and ice axes to tackle trophy lines and technical couloirs. It all depends, emphasizes Passey, on the experience of the client or clients. “We can find the best snow and the best route for your ability and risk level out there. We can do anything from meadow hopping to the south face of Superior, or the Coal Pit Headwall, or the Hypodermic Needle.”

Avalanche Courses in the Wasatch:

In addition to private guiding, In the Company of Guides also runs avalanche courses in the Wasatch, which fill up very quickly. If you’re looking for an Avalanche 1 Course in the Wasatch, search course availability here and sign-up ASAP.

Mountain Mentorship Courses in the Wasatch

A few years back, Passey started a trailblazing, one-of-a-kind Mentorship course in the Wasatch that meets one day a week for four weeks. He realized that backcountry travelers wanted more guidance and education after Avalanche 1 courses, and customized a fluid itinerary that focuses on leadership, risk analysis, touring strategy, and backcountry decision-making. It’s been a big hit over the past couple of years.

“The idea of this Mentorship course is to take it further. To help skiers and splitboarders progress and learn how to execute all the steps of backcountry skiing,” explains Passey. “For some, it’s a step toward becoming a guide. For others, it’s a building block to help them safely take on bigger lines and objectives in the Wasatch on their own.”

Passionate about sharing avalanche safety and helping committed skiers and riders reach their big mountain goals, Passey purposefully made the course affordable: it costs $1000—much less than it costs to book a guide for four sessions. If you book multiple sessions, you can also get a $100 discount.

Of note, each course has a maximum of four slots. Skill level must be intermediate at a minimum—expectation is fit, competent skiers and splitboarders who have at least Avalanche 1 training.

Mountain Mentorship Session dates are as follows:

  • Session 1: Dec. 14th, 21st, 28th, and Jan. 4th  
  • Session 2: Jan. 11th, 18th, 25th, and Feb.1st  
  • Session 3: Feb. 8th, 15th, 22nd, and March 1st  
  • Session 4: This one is 4 consecutive days March 7th-10th

Alaska: March and April

Passey makes the pilgrimage to the big mountain mecca of Alaska each spring, and offers multiple types of trips in the region.

Hybrid Heli-Touring Trips in Valdez:

Hybrid trips like these aren’t just much cheaper than full-on heli weeks—which can run into the tens of thousands—but they also enable more flexibility to work around Alaska’s notoriously temperamental weather patterns. You’re not putting all of your chips on heli laps, and instead work around weather windows and get as much skiing in as possible. More than anything, though, Passey points out that Valdez should be high on any steep skier’s bucket list.

“Valdez is famous for a reason. It’s where the first big mountain comps took place. It’s a playground of steep couloirs, fluted ribs, and spines unlike anywhere in the world. Believe it or not, access actually rivals Salt Lake—it might be even better than the Wasatch. You can ski straight from the road up and then back down.”

A big piece of the puzzle that makes Valdez worth the trip? The snow. The snowpack, Passey explains, is “a mixture of maritime and inner mountain snowpacks. Storms comes in off the ocean carrying serious moisture, and they’re pushed up super quickly across these dramatic, steep mountains that rise right up out of the sea. And it’s super cold, too.” The combination yields light powder that’s a dream to ride yet dense enough to stick to the steeps.

When it’s on, Passey says, “You can ski steeper terrain than you might other places in pretty amazing conditions.” Your best bet of scoring those conditions is in late March and early April—which is exactly when In the Company of Guides runs its Valdez adventures.

Bushplane-Accessed Touring in Denali National Park

In the Company of Guides has another classic Alaskan pitstop on the calendar each spring: camping and couloir-crushing in Denali National Park. No heli operations are allowed into the National Park, and In the Company of Guides uses bush planes to shuttle group and gear into the Pika Glacier.

Once on the glacier, the team makes basecamp, and spends a week touring the surrounding peaks. The Pika is rich with rocky spires and prolonged couloirs—somewhat of a rarity in a state more famous for its spines and big mountain faces—and lines range from cruisy, 3500-foot powder ramps to steep, technical chutes. Factor in a stellar glacier camping experience, hearty meals shared in the cook tent, and the simple joys of an après beer while the skins dry in radiant Alaskan spring sunshine, and this truly is a trip of a lifetime.

April and May: Greenland and Norway

As spring picks up steam, it’s time for exploratory sailing trips. Usually, In the Company of Guides runs these trips out of Norway, but Passey also ran one recently in Greenland, too, pivoting due to COVID protocols.

Regardless of the destination, the accommodations are killer. “It’s a boat-based ski trip, and we’re based out of an awesome, 72-foot schooner. We can have eight people, with two guides,” says Passey.

According to Passey, there’s no better way to wrap up the ski season than these boat-based ski trips.  Nothing beats waking up on the water, venturing ashore, touring 2,000-foot couloirs, then shredding back down to the boat, where a hot meal and a cold beer await.

Get in Touch—And Let’s Go Skiing!

There you have it—the November to May plans of a IFMGA ski guide. We hope that these adventures help get you stoked for winter, and we invite you to get in touch in one of these ski trips sounds up your alley. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on the skin track!

Drew

Drew

A mountain-loving, powder-chasing, ink-slinging freelance journalist and copywriter.

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