Lisa Podlucky - glacier guide
What? A female guide? Really?
When we think about women in the tourism industry, people immediately think that we are just the pretty face behind the check-in counter, wrong…. us women we can do a lot more.
Beginning my career as a guide in the adventure tourism industry, I had a lot of backfire from many people saying “you’re not good enough” or “you need to be fitter and stronger”. I sat on those thoughts for a while and seriously considered whether my career choice was the right one. At that time, I had always thought that I had to please everyone else, and do what they wanted me to do. But one day I thought, well hold on…. Is it their life I want to live or my life?
I want to live my life.
Entering an industry that is predominantly made up of a higher male to female ratio, I did feel quite intimidated. As an ex-glacier guide on the Fox Glacier, I knew I couldn’t compete with the guys when it come to strength, but I knew I had other skills from previously being a sea kayak guide in the Abel Tasman National Park, that I could bring to glacier guiding.
To start off with I was trying to do things the way the guys did it, like step cutting or hoping around the glacier ice like a cat on a hot tin roof, but I found that I was tiring a lot faster, I was sore at the end of every day and getting exhausted from being out of my comfort zone by trying to be someone I’m not.
So, adjusting to using more technique I started to gain more understanding of what I had to do in order to survive a full summer season, and with that came more enjoyment of the environment I was in and able to share that with the mass arrange of customers we got through throughout the season.
Training felt customized for each individual guide, with senior staff considering our own personal learning styles which allowed for quicker succession throughout the first couple of weeks before finding and adjusting our own guiding styles to create our very own personalities as guides. For me being a visual and hands on learner that was great as I found it a lot easier to pick up the skills needed to be a guide.
At Fox Glacier Guiding, a lot of time and thought goes into the training for new guides to ensure they not only enjoy their time in Fox Glacier but also gain skills and qualifications recognised worldwide to expand their horizons and open new doors of opportunities.
From starting out as a Terminal Face Walking Guide and Helihike guide where the ground rules are set and taught a standard to maintain throughout any of the work you do, then progressing with skills needed to start Ice Climbing and Extreme Fox Tours where you’re taught rope skills and tools to teach clients the progression of these trips so at the end of their day trip they feel empowered that they learnt new skills and are proud of themselves for pushing themselves out of their comfort zone all whilst being in the hands of their experienced guide.
For guides looking to have a mixture of skills from guiding on the ice to guiding mountaineering trips, just on the back doorstep of the township and sitting on the towering cliffs above the Fox Glacier, sits New Zealand’s oldest Alpine hut (on its original foundations) Chancellor Hut. From single day mountaineering trips to an overnighter, guides challenge themselves in gaining skills needed for alpine guiding on Chancellor Dome – and being to use those skills to guide in other amazing places in the world.
Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?For all those women out there, these opportunities are well worthwhile. Living and working in a very diverse environment from wet, cold, windy, sunny or overcast days. You never stop learning to better yourselves or your techniques.
Meeting so many amazing people from all around the world, the next day is never the same as the one before. Adjusting and finding different ways to guide is a rewarding and challenging task and sure not every day is going to be a walk in the park. And it shouldn’t be anyway – guiding requires you to always be on the lookout for new hazards or how you can help clients to make them feel supported and encouraged, or looking for ways to challenge people in a positive, fun and safe way.
From the number of hazards to be found from driving down the road in a bus or flying in a helicopter or walking around the changing terrain of the glacier as a female it can be very difficult to get a message across when you needed to.
We can all understand that for around 95% of the clients we get through each year have never ever been or seen a glacier before and may not always understand the potential hazards that are surrounding them during their trip, so when it comes to their safety without impacting on the quality of their trip can sometimes be a challenge – while adding in there that most of the time you’re dealing with people who have a limited understanding of English.
In the outdoors and in everyday life you are always faced with people with all sorts of backgrounds and beliefs, religion etc… that should not change anything in the way that you treat them. Everyone is here to enjoy a trip on the glacier and experience the feeling guides get from being up there every day. Sure, you may need to dig out different guiding styles to get messages across which is not always easy, but it’s to gain that special rapport with them and give them an experience of a lifetime.
My tip is to learn a little about different cultures to find the best way to interact with your clients. Some cultures its not custom for people to take orders or instructions from females. But knowing a little of their culture I was able to use these techniques to talk to my clients without being disrespectful or come across as frustrated.
I find being a female guide or a female that has a role in the outdoor industry, that we sometimes get quite a few surprise faces or questions like “are you going to be our guide?” or “wow, you must be strong to carry a heavy backpack and cut steps with the axe”. I think a lot of people’s expectation or understanding of going on a guided trip is that it is mainly taken by males, as they are ‘stronger in everything’, ‘know how to deal with different situations’, or ‘they know more.’ But in actual fact us women we hold our own with the men.
I don’t think that it changes their level of trust in the most sense, but if its not in your culture to take instructions from a woman then I could see that they wouldn’t have the same amount of trust.I would say, that we are very inspirational people who show that women can do a lot more than looking after the kids or housework.
With more and more women getting into the industry and I find it inspiring at the range of women getting into these jobs and offering their skills to a workplace. Some of the female I worked with come from vast backgrounds (such as an Antarctica field crew member and Air New Zealand Safety video star, to instructors to mountaineers to students and many more) and countries; from Australia to Canada to Germany to Taiwan and even the odd kiwi. From seasoned veterans to first time beginners everyone who passes through offers something unique to a business.
I hope to see in the future many more strong women join this fast-growing industry, to do something you enjoy doing. But doing it for your own reasons. Whether it’s doing it because you love and enjoy it, you do it to have an active lifestyle and not sit in an office all day and make your friends jealous, or because you love being with and meeting many amazing people from all corners of the world.
Your world’s your oyster, make the most out of it.