When god gives you lemons… YOU FIND A NEW GOD!!!

On 1st January 2017, The Mountain Training School closed its doors… allegedly.

The continued existence of MTS had always been a touch-and-go affair, but it seems like the chickens finally came home to roost at the bitter end of 2016. For years, the company had bounced from one catastrophe to another, never truly recuperating before the next hammerblow struck. In the end, it isn’t surprising that the school folded, rather that it lasted as long as it did.

That said, the abrupt termination of one’s employment is never a welcome development, particularly when it comes with a mere three days warning. Dozens of employees, students and applicants of the Mountain Training School rang in the New Year with these grim tidings, many of them several thousands of dollars out of pocket. Almost two months later, the situation remains unchanged.

But the rise and fall of MTS is a subject for another time, and by golly, what a hoot that will be… For now, let us talk about matters which are closer at hand, namely the plight of we erstwhile constituents of the company.

There’s not much else that can be said or done in times like these except to start looking for alternatives. For those who would continue to seek outdoor education, there are two things that must be noted:

  • Any deposits, gear purchases or other similar financial outlays made to the school should be considered forfeit until proven otherwise… the snows of yesteryear and all that.
  • There are few, if any, institutions which run a program even vaguely similar to that which MTS ran.

That’s not to say that there aren’t viable outdoor education alternatives in existence or that they don’t offer outcomes which are similar or perhaps better than those which could be obtained through the school. It only means that the depth of structured experience which was promoted by the school (the efficacy of which can be debated until the end of time) is difficult to locate in other programs.

Some alternatives might be:

  • NOLS or Outward Bound – Generally speaking, neither tackle the technical aspects of climbing and skiing in depth. That said, NOLS do offer semester-length courses and both offer a decent introduction to the outdoors at a reasonable price.
  • Himalayan Mountaineering Institute – I don’t know much about these guys and therefore can’t vouch for them, but they’ve been a hot topic over the last couple of years. Based in Darjeeling, India, HMI offers basic and advanced mountaineering courses for $800 (!) a throw. Unfortunately, they are booked out for 2017 and you will require a study visa as well. (https://www.hmidarjeeling.com/)
  • Hiring a Guide + AMGA Courses – This is often quoted throughout the industry as a panacea for all your outdoor educational needs, although in my opinion the reality is far different. The AMGA is an assessment and certification body, not a training body. Therefore, you need to seek training through an IFMGA certified guide or an instructional organisation which employs them. This is expensive, particularly if it’s not geographically convenient for you… but there’s no doubt that it’s some of the best training money can buy for those with deep pockets. (https://amga.com/)
  • Short Courses + Dirtbagging – Many companies offer short courses in mountaineering, rock climbing, skiing etc. Some examples include IMCS in New Hampshire (http://www.ime-usa.com/imcs/) and American Alpine Institute (http://www.alpineinstitute.com/). None run for very long (usually a week or so) and are therefore abridged versions of the complete skillsets you’ll eventually need. They’ll see you in good stead if combined with a few years of dedicated climbing/skiing (to wit, dirtbagging) and a smattering of other certifications (Avalanche 1&2, WFR, LNT, Vertical Rescue).
  • College Courses – Some colleges run outdoor education degrees, but many of these are largely focused on the education component at the expense of the outdoor element. Most have very limited field segments, which may compromise your goals depending on where your priorities lie. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile, just be sure that the learning outcomes of these programs fit your needs before committing.

Clear as mud? It’s all about weighing time consumption and cost versus outcomes. Obviously, it’s impossible to guarantee those outcomes, but take a look at the big picture and ask yourself if the course gets you closer to your ideal role or not. Below, I’ve made a graph that gives a bit of a comparison of the options listed above.

Disclaimer: This graph relies on no other data than cost, time, and my own opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Seeking employment is a different story, with more options to discover but less structure in their method of discovery. Some positions are advertised and applied for, others are the product of nepotism – as with most industries, it’s not what you know, but who you know.

Put your feelers out and try to get in contact with as many connections as possible. Something always turns up if you look hard enough. There are plenty of jobs in the outdoor industry, and anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t prepared to make any sacrifices or changes in their routine to secure employment, so fuck them.

That said, job seeking is hard work – indeed, it’s almost a full-time job in its own right. It took me a whole month to find employment, but I was able to accomplish it by piecing together a few various means.

First, I recommenced work with Co-efficient, a labour hire company of sorts that connects outdoor professionals with clients attempting to fill temporary vacancies. These clients usually take the form of school camp programs, which are hard work but can also be pretty fun and certainly quite varied. It’s pretty good money and very flexible, which is everything a guide could ask for.

Secondly, I managed to secure a climbing guide role with a Brisbane based company, Pinnacle Sports. The timing of their advertisement seeking new guide applications was serendipitous to the point of suspicious, a coincidence straight from the pages of a Dickens novel. I have been talking about possibly working with Pinnacle ever since my Intro to Mountaineering course in 2010, and the opportunity to do so happened to present itself just when my need was greatest. Mahalo.

Last, I have started a new project which I have teased a little on my FB page. The plan is to expand this blog into something more than a blog… You’ll soon see a full rebrand and relaunch of the page, a slightly more focused editorial direction, and a whole host of new contributors.

What we’re planning on building is something of a hybrid between blog, magazine and gallery with a focus on the everyday adventurer – a celebration of the moderate climbers and weekend warriors that comprise the bulk of our community.

The content will be curated like a magazine with two editors controlling the direction of the publication. However, it is somewhat “crowdsourced” in that contributors may freely apply to submit their art for consideration (subject to approval and editing). Essentially, it’s a “co-op” – contributors (ourselves included) provide writing and photography, we provide an avenue to share that art with the world.

If you’re interested in contributing, shoot me an email at ryansiacci@hotmail.com and I’ll send you some contributor guidelines.

Otherwise, I’d like to thank every reader here at Zen and the Art of Climbing for your support over the last two years and I hope I can count on it as we move forward. Let the good times roll.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
February 2017

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?