The Perpetually Stoked Ski Guide

No bad days with Marty Schaffer, a staple of the Monashee, BC, backcountry

Marquee Image: Marty Schaffer has spent his entire life in the mountains, guiding clients and looking at each day as better than the last. PHOTO: Bruno Long

Name: Marty Schaffer
Age: 30
Location: Revelstoke, BC
Occupation: Ski Guide
Roots: Ask Marty Schaffer what time it is as you’re scurrying around in the morning trying to get ready for a day in the mountains and he’ll respond: “The best time of your life!”

This 30-year-old Canadian ski guide is stoked. Always.

Schaffer grew up in Canmore, Alberta, while his parents ran the Blanket Glacier Chalet, a backcountry touring lodge deep within the snowy Monashees. Today, Schaffer lives in Revelstoke, BC, running his own guiding and camp operation, Capow!, which offers a fresh take on backcountry skiing and education by analyzing group dynamics and decision-making.

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“Marty literally grew up in the guiding world, working for his parents at Blanket Glacier Chalet,” explains longtime friend Chis Rubens. “He’s a natural-born leader with impeccable mountain skills. But, with Marty you aren’t being talked at. He will take that extra minute to explain something about the terrain that the group is moving through. He makes guiding fun, cool, and educational.”

One of the youngest snow-safety professionals in Canada, Marty Schaffer lets his youthful spirit fly. PHOTO: Bruno Long
One of the youngest snow-safety professionals in Canada, Marty Schaffer lets his youthful spirit fly. PHOTO: Bruno Long

Unlike heli skiing, ski touring is like love-making with your soul mate. You’re moving through the mountains connected; you experience that climax of a big run and it’s a much higher experience than pounding heli laps and the same thing over and over again.

I broke my back when I was 18. I was racing mountain bikes competitively and realized it can only take you so far. Right then, I decided to pursue a career in avalanche work. My first day on the job at Mount Norquay, I was handed an explosive… My eyes busted so big and I thought, ‘Whatever I need to do to make this my occupation, I’m going for it.’

I joke that I was tricked into guiding. I was in the field with my dad going skiing and there was always a small group that wanted to go a bit farther or take another lap. What an opportunity it is to show people your backyard. I’ve always been super driven, and even then I enjoyed the fulfillment of it all.

A lot of times guides are decision makers, but a lot of decisions made in the field are really group dynamics. I can read people instantly, and the locations where they can push themselves. I really enjoy watching people get empowered to progress their skill set without even knowing it. That’s why I do this.

I was one of the youngest avalanche professionals in Canada. You can’t do it any younger… Instead of post secondary school, I decided to take my Canadian Operations Level 1 and had to wait until I was 19. The next year I applied for my Level 2 and then moved to Lake Louise, Alberta. I’ve been a professional member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides for a decade and I’m still the youngest guy in the room.

Being a good avalanche forecaster won’t save your life; traveling safe will.

That power of becoming a guide is so inspiring in what you can do with people. It’s a job that’s constantly changing. But it demands respect, the backcountry environment and risks are real, and it isn’t something you can rush into. You learn to develop methods of dealing with uncertainty.

Nothing substitutes experience and respect for the mountains. After your courses, that’s when the learning really starts. An avalanche course isn’t necessary the be-all end-all.

A lot of my skiing and early working was in the Canadian Rockies surrounded by mentors and friends. Eric Hjorleifson and Chris Rubens were my ski buddies, and Kevin Hjertaas was our avalanche mentor. We learned a lot of respectful techniques there. The Rockies have an unstable snowpack and we learned best terrain practices. Snow is always going to be uncertain.

In a lot of ways, Capow! is the new age of what my parents were doing. It’s a vehicle of attracting like-minded folks for avalanche education and skiing. We’re guiding the backcountry movement through our camps and everyday guiding. For me, as a guide, every camp and trip we do I leave so inspired. A slogan we use is: It’s backcountry fun, seriously. It’s like hanging out with my buddies… I don’t ski recreationally anymore, maybe five days, but the thing with Capow! is that everyone that rolls through is becoming a friend.

I like to involve everyone in the decision-making. We all know that we as humans make mistakes. Instead of dictatorship, we can communicate and educate, and then the client can feel a part of something. It helps our clients respect what is going on, since there is a lot going on through a guide’s head.

Snow science will always be inexact. The progress is in the process of decision-making. I’m fascinated with this. It’s never ending. It’s beyond a Level 1 or 2 avalanche course. There is always another camp or something to learn and with Capow! we’re going to go out, learn, and go skiing.

Being a good avalanche forecaster won’t save your life; traveling safe will.
There is power in learning how to get to the best skiing. If you make a decision on intuition you’re really ultimately picking up on something that you didn’t realize from past experiences. Skiing the resort you learn terrible practices, you learn to ski comfortable in technical and complex terrain, but if you apply the same to the backcountry, it’s poor technique.

I love the way the industry is going with backcountry skiing. We’re going back to the roots. The industry is also spending money on education. Today, it’s cool to be educated.