TRU adventure guide alumna breaks ski industry barrier

Christine Feleki became the first fully certified ACMG ski guide who is both a woman and a splitboarder, and successfully completed the exam on a splitboard in January

Christine Feleki, the ACMG’s first fully certified female split board guide, shredding some deep powder. Photo by Robin O’Neill

A predominantly male industry has just welcomed the first ever fully certified female splitboard guide after Christine Feleki successfully passed her Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) full ski guide exam on a splitboard earlier this year.

Feleki’s path to becoming the first female splitboard guide was anything but easy given that a full ski guide certification is no simple undertaking in and of itself, nevermind the fact that doing so on a splitboard is uncommon and had never been done by a woman.

The ACMG lays out the ski guiding certification so candidates who build a successful resumé with personal days out, related work or practicum experience, and required avalanche training, typically finish the full guide’s exam in five years.

Feleki took six years to complete her journey which was riddled with injuries; she needed two attempts at the apprentice ski guide certification, and then of course a worldwide pandemic postponed her full guide’s exam last year. 

Industry barriers

Feleki also ran into difficulties both associated with being a splitboarder, and being a female in a male dominated industry.

“I’m super lucky that there were many females in front of me,” said Feleki. “They had to go through a lot more of the problems that we think of with sexism and certain cultures in our industry than I’ve had to.” 

Feleki has first hand experience in the evolvement of the industry, describing that currently it’s a time of more inclusivity and progressive conversation around sexism and misogyny, but there’s room for improvement.

“I’ve personally had a positive experience, but I know that’s not the case for some of the other females that have gone through it.”

She was able to compartmentalize struggles surrounding sexism, and said that even though the difficulties could have been due to her sex, she didn’t allow herself to think of it in those terms as she was worried it would affect her focus.

“It’s freaking 2020 and if someone can’t accept that I’m a female in the industry, it’s not my problem,” she said.

She has even been accused of getting guiding jobs because of her appearance and not because of her skill by other ski guide candidates.

“I think that was bullshit because I worked hard and did a good job. I’ve even had [discrepancies] with guests once in a while, but once they’ve done a run with me it kind of went away.” 

In general, Feleki said she sees an industry that is getting better, more inclusive, and welcomes women with fairly open arms.

“There’s still some old school mentalities out there and old culture that’s still lingering, but it’s becoming a lot less tolerated.”

She said she believes a portion of the problem arises from a broader perception of a confident guide, how confidence is typically portrayed, and the differences in how that is presented and perceived by men versus women.

“There’s been times when I’ve had feedback on my guiding style that [even though it] was totally correct, I was told I wasn’t displaying confidence in that role because of the word choice I used, or the fact I was making a decision by including my group, which was seen as less confident. I think that kind of thing happens a lot in our industry,” Feleki explained.

She also has received pushback due to being a female splitboarder, and there were times where she was asked to ski instead of snowboard just so she could land a job to gain the experience she needed, even though her male counterparts were not asked to do the same.

“[Eventually] I thought, I’m a splitboarder, this is what I’m doing, I don’t plan on skiing any longer so I’d say either hire me as a snowboarder or don’t hire me at all,” Feleki stated. “That’s what I like to use out there, and I want to make sure that I’m proficient and skilled enough to do so if I’m going to be leading people in this terrain.”

Feleki said there’s always been pushback and stigma against snowboarders in the industry, as it was not originally seen as a legitimate way to move in the mountains.

However, new technologies have made a lot of the strenuous aspects of splitboarding a little easier, she explained.

Another action shot of Feleki. Photo by Robin O’Neill.

She also accredited some of her success to the professional network she gained during her time at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).

Feleki leveraged the contacts she made to land several practicums and tail guiding positions which boosted her into a position to further her career.

“I probably would have had a harder time, especially as a female on a snowboard, trying to break into these ski industry jobs without them,” she said. “The great thing about TRU was the fact that when you’re out in the field, you’re working or being instructed by other guides that are in the industry, and if you leave an impression on them, then you have a reference as soon as you walk out that door.”

For those that are going through the TRU adventure guide diploma program she said to take advantage of the opportunities. 

“There won’t always be learning that you’re stoked on, but there’s still value in all of it, and showing up and doing the work gets noticed and [that] will help you in the long run.”

Now that Feleki has completed her goal, her focus is on the rest of the ski season where she can’t wait to get back out with clients on days where it all comes together.

“When there’s a big objective ahead that challenges the group you’re with, and you’re able to guide them through that terrain, I think that’s as big a success as summiting a big peak.”

As for aprés ski season, Feleki said she is looking forward to taking a breather, seeing friends, and focusing on other hobbies such as surfing where she won’t have to singularly focus on training for a guides exam, that is, when COVID-19 restrictions lift of course.

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