The Abbot Hut
While working as a ski patroller at Marmot Basin in Jasper, Mark Ledwidge caught his first glimpse of Parks Canada’s warden service. By 1985 he began work as a public servant, not your typical nine to five, where the work was steady. And while not everyone in the warden service was certified, Ledwidge saw that the future of working in the program was to become a mountain guide.
Ledwidge was right.The certification standard set by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides was adopted by Parks Canada as far back as 1955 when the famed guide Walter Perren was hired. He started the mountain rescue program. It was obvious to him early on that a career in the mountain rescue program required guide certification. Ledwidge is a full acmg/ifmga certified guide and the head of Visitor Safety for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks. He says the shift from a general to a specialized team hasn’t come without some adapting and has been accused of elitism and pushing agendas. Knowing how to ski and climb is only half the battle. Just because someone’s a guide doesn’t mean they could accomplish a mountain rescue for an organization such as Parks. “We’re very selective in making sure we pick the right personalities,” Ledwidge adds. “One of the most satisfying things for me is the diversity. That’s what builds the team.” Just as a healthy forest supports trees of var ious ages, Ledwidge’s colleagues span four decades.The best part of hiring young, motivated individuals is the enthusiasm they bring with them.
“They have no exposure (to government) but br ing new ideas to the table,” he said. “It’s rewarding how quickly they learn. I’m trying to step back and not schedule myself for rescue leader shifts too much. I was always fortunate and was given the opportunity to do things. That’s how you learn. Now it’s their turn.” Ledwidge remarks about his current role in mentoring new members of the team.
Ledwidge is practical yet funny at times. Sometimes he deals with technical rescues (avalanches and crevasse falls) and other times he deals with people who try their luck hiking trails in high heels, which results in injured ankles. Is the job as much fun as it sounds?
“There’s a perception that our job is glamorous,” he says. “But it’s like any job. There are good parts and not-so-good parts. The perks include extensive travel across the country with a var ied landscape. He’s been to over half the national parks in the country. Ledwidge says “the after math of some of the calls can be pretty ugly. It can be more difficult than dealing with the actual situation. Helping people to get through their tragedy is a big thing.” He hopes the work he does makes for a better time in the mountain parks for both tour ists and recreationists.
“We want to enhance people’s exper ience in the mountains.” Ledwidge explains. “It’s not just about surviving an adventure, we want them to come back and enjoy the parks time and time again.”
In February, Ledwidge was presented with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award – a significant piece of metal, unlike any he’s owned before. The medal celebrates Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary as monarch and is presented to members of the public service who have demonstrated outstanding service to Canadians. While a little uncomfortable and fidgety in pressed pants and a dress shirt, Ledwidge’s smile at the ceremony was genuine. Contrary to popular belief, guides clean up handsomely when they desire.
Ledwidge, who is soon to retire, says he likes what he does and enjoys going to work: the infectious energy from the younger guys is contagious. He cannot say for certain what will happen post-retirement.
“I don’t like the word retire. Whatever I do next doesn’t have to be totally related to what I’m doing now but I’m going to work. I’d even consider cutting lawns.” Ledwidge quips.
Above: Mark Ledwidge during a rescue on Castle Mountain in Banff National Park in 2012