Are You The Worst Guide Client Ever?

“Who’s the worst client you’ve ever had?” In all my years of guiding, this is one of the most popular questions I’m asked. It’s right up there with, “Have you ever climbed Mt Everest?” (No.) and “Have you ever slept on one of those platform things (a.k.a., a portaledge) on a rock face?” (Yes).

I think there’s great fascination in imagining the client who’s terrible in every way. The possibility that there’s a person out there who’s an arrogant, out of shape, under-skilled, bumbling failure in a world that requires fitness, stamina and boldness—or at least that’s the perception—is apparently quite compelling. I suspect this question of the “worst client ever” is a popular one because everyone wants to hear an entertaining story about how disgusted I might have been by another guest’s lack of expertise, ability or interpersonal skills. But I also think most people have a secret fear that perhaps they could be the worse client ever, and if they know what traits it takes to get there, conceivably such a fate could be avoided.

Fortunately for me, I have no stories about someone, anyone, who was such a disaster it warrants a story or anecdotal warning. Most of my guests are pretty great and I have yet to meet someone who breaks all the rules to become a de facto legend of terribleness. However, if you’d like to come closer to the category of best client ever, here are some honest suggestions:

Don’t haggle on price; this is not the flea market. Guiding is a professional career. Many guides have gone through extensive training and testing and yet, many of us still live near the federal poverty level. Guides take home only a percentage of what you pay, the rest goes toward insurance, equipment, permits, licenses, fees, infrastructure, and administration. Also, you get what you pay for; be wary of really good bargains on guiding or instruction.

Please, please, don’t overstate your abilities. A guide does not expect you to be an expert. In fact, we are completely prepared to work with you regardless of skill and we appreciate humility. Overstating your abilities is misleading and can result in inappropriate objectives, exposing both you and your guide to unnecessary hazard and risk.

Arrive on time, not early. We know you might be really excited about your day out, but arriving more than 10 minutes early may cut into your guides time plan for such things as guide meetings, weather and avalanche observations, or simply that extra cup of coffee amidst a stretch of many early mornings and long days out. Arriving late with no notice isn’t any better.

Guides are not porters.  There is often a perception that the guide should carry all the gear. And we will, if you’re struggling. However, fit, experienced clients can expect to carry some of the shared equipment. Don’t worry, our packs will still probably be heavier than yours.

Your guide will set the pace.  Whether you’re slow and steady or fast and fit, your guide will determine the pace at which you move as a team. Pacing and the agenda of the day will be dictated by the less skilled, or slower, person in a group. So if you’re out with a friend, spouse, partner, or family member who isn’t as fast and skilled, the day will be tailored more to them and less to you. Choose your partners wisely!

Your guide has the final call on safety decisions. Again, a good guide will involve you in the decision making process, but it is ultimately the guides job to manage risk, manage expectations, and make good decisions. What this means is that even if you really, really want to ski that sweet looking line just around the corner, if your guide deems it unsafe or inappropriate, please don’t argue. Side note: Guides are not infallible and if a decision makes you feel uncomfortable, say something.

Let us coil the rope. Though you’re probably just trying to be helpful, coiling a 70-meter rope around your arm as if it were an extension cord creates more work for the guide when we’re forced to untangle that mess. Unless you’ve coiled hundreds of ropes and are skilled in a variety of coiling techniques, just let your guide do the coiling. We’re really good at it and quite fast—just watch!

Tipping.  I know, I know, this is what you’ve all been waiting for and the answer is multi-part!

  1. Should you? Short answer: yes, do it. Long answer: we might say things like, “Tips are never expected, but always appreciated,” but that’s not entirely accurate. Let’s be honest, we do sort of expect to be tipped; it helps the bottom line a lot and can be the difference that makes the guiding lifestyle just a little bit less stressful.                                                              
  2. How much? The same as any other service industry, 15 to 20 percent of your total fee.
  3. I forgot to bring cash, can I tip you later? No! Here’s the thing about the whole “can I tip you later” thing: a lot of you are going to forget. Trust me, I’ve fallen for this before and I still know exactly who you are and what you promised. When you’re preparing for your day of guided climbing (or skiing, rafting, fishing, etc.), plan to bring your tip money with you. If your day was truly terrible and the guide met none of your expectations, you can rethink whether you want to tip them or not.

Refer your guide to your friends. If you had a good day out, enjoyed your guide, thought they were skilled, professional, and friendly, hire them again. And recommend them to your friends! Guiding is most sustainable and most fun when we get to climb with you again and again.