“There’s evolution to be had when you’re a guide at Windigo!”

Coming to Windigo in 2015 with experience in the field, Marie-Elise has spent entire seasons guiding tours in the Rockies. Being a guide is a job she knows by heart and it’s only natural that she now holds a custom-made position.

In the winter, from the office in Montreal, Marie-Élise is responsible for recruiting adventure guides and coordinating operations in the West for the summer season. In early May, this ski and climbing enthusiast flew to Canmore to train her recruits and oversee logistics. From the Guide House in Alberta, the HR Guide Manager & Senior Operations Manager is the leader of the tribe, a mentor, trainer, solid listener, and guardian of order!

Before leaving, Marie-Elise talks to us about the guide job at Windigo, its specificities, but also her expectations in terms of recruitment and candidate profile.  



Hi Marie-Elise! First, can you explain us the difference between being a “guide” and being an “adventure guide”?

The big difference is the environment in which you will interact!

An adventure guide will find himself in remote or semi-remote locations (slack country) so you’re going to be out in the wilderness for a day, a few hours walk from a road or a parking lot. It is the environment you are in that brings different risks than those present in the city.

A city guide is not an adventure guide in the sense that it is a job that requires different knowledge and skills in terms of risk management and also regarding knowledge of wildlife since you are out hiking most of the time. Your interpretations are focused on the natural environment, more than on history or architecture for example.



What is specific to being a guide at Windigo?

We need versatile guides because most of our trips are both urban and natural! Although we have canoe tours where the guides go into the woods on their own and come out at the end of the trip, most of our trips will include stops in popular cities like Banff or Vancouver.

A guide on our trips will also be a city guide, in addition to being a hiking guide, a driver guide, a chef and a camp leader!

The other important point is related to the Windigo formula and values. The clients who come on our tours know that they must participate in some way. The guide is not a servant, he is not the one who will do all the work. He is the designer, and then it is up to him to coordinate all the tasks of the camp. Our clients are on vacation and doesn’t want to have to think about what’s coming next, but as far as cutting vegetables while drinking a glass of wine is concerned or setting up and taking down their tent, that’s up to them. All of this creates a special group atmosphere because the clients get involved, especially on the camping tours.

Synergy takes all its place, we come to create a functional group, a sort of small family. When people get involved in a project, it brings them closer together. We are lucky to be able to do this as a guide, to have this role in a group or in an adventure and to create unforgettable experiences. That’s what makes guiding at Windigo so special!





Is there a pool of loyal guides at Windigo and are there opportunities for growth?

Unfortunately, the pandemic has reshuffled the deck quite a bit and some loyal guides have moved on. Nevertheless, the community is big and beautiful, we have people who have been guiding for us for 10 years. I would say that the guides come back to Windigo for two main reasons: the strong feeling of belonging to a family and the possibilities of evolving. They don’t get tired of guiding with us because there are other projects to consider for the next season.



We have a great strength on the production and sale because we are a team of professionals who know the field, all very passionate. The trips we create are fun to do and fun to guide! The feeling of belonging is present with a community of guides that was created in the West before Covid. They know each other, it’s their world and it also keeps guides coming back because they love their work and part of their identity is associated with the Windigo family. It’s strong!



Now, our asset is also a great variety of tours offered. As a result, a green guide, who has never guided or seen a client in his life because he is just out of school, can start with a less demanding clientele, a little younger, on tours that call for guides of his experience but also of his energy.



The experience weighs in the balance but, there is also the capacity to do back-to-back departures which is not the same at 20 years old or 30 years old… I don’t have the energy to do 150 to 200 days of guiding per year! (laughs). For this beginner guide, it is possible to go and get different types of tours, more and more demanding, more difficult, whether it is by the hikes or the knowledge of the area. You can start out as a discovery camping guide and end your career doing days with high-risk management, intense hiking, and ultra-high knowledge of the destination.



You can be an experienced guide and go straight into difficulty or be a beginner and work your way up in tour intensity. It is also an option to go on a tour with a lot of interpretation to talk about the place and share your knowledge with a clientele that expects it and is curious. These will be more upscale trips, in the discovery.



There is evolution to be had at Windigo! There is something for all profiles and sensibilities.



marie elise ski


As you said, the pandemic has turned the world of tourism upside down and has not spared the guides… What do you take away from this post-Covid world? 

I see that those who came back to guiding are those who did not see themselves elsewhere! The return of the guides after the pandemic is the return of those who were in their place and who really wanted to be there, to do this job. This is essential and valuable in terms of motivation.



For a young person who would like to become an adventure guide, what are the appropriate studies?

The quickest way is to do an AEC, right after high school. This is a technical and professional training of one year VS doing 3 years of CEGEP in Natural sciences or HR courses.

After one year, you are ready to be on the job market. These young people arrive with their certification to guide, they will only have to obtain the 4B license. This is the commercial driver’s license required to drive the mini-bus and transport our groups of 12 clients. It is quite simple to obtain in Quebec.



Do you consider driving to be THE most difficult part of the Windigo tours?

I would say that the riskiest activity on any tour is the driving! It’s important to understand. It is THE prerequisite to work with us because our guides are all driver guides. The other prerequisite is to be 21 years old to drive the minibuses because it is a requirement from our insurance companies. Finally, I think it’s good for us because it requires a certain amount of life experience and maturity to be a good guide at Windigo.

We operate mainly in Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia. Depending on the provinces in Canada, they are more or less demanding on obtaining a class 4B license. Some provinces require both a theory and practical exam after taking a course.

In Quebec, it is a theory test with choice of answers. To ensure that our guides do their pre-trip vehicle inspection correctly and that they respect the road regulations, they must be properly trained to compensate for this gap that exists between the provinces.





When we talk about training at Windigo, what are we really talking about?

Training is very important because we have a large volume of trips and a great need in human resources. There are two sides: theoretical and practical training.



We start with an online training that explains what the values are carried by Windigo, the ethics, the code of conduct, what we expect from our guides. And then also how things happen before the departure, your relationship with the Operation Manager… It’s a theoretical training that sets the record straight on our expectations and requirements, we train them on our procedures.



Then we give specific training according to the agencies we work for. Windigo is a white brand, we represent various agencies in the field, and it is important that our guides can reflect these values. Logistically speaking, we keep the same guides on the tours for the same agencies, it makes sense for them and for us, but it happens that a guide is on tours for different agencies. You must be able to represent them properly.



In the second step, I move on to the field training with two possibilities. For a beginner guide, we do shadow training, meaning that we associate a beginner guide with an experienced guide. He will be able to acquire his knowledge of the field and the way to proceed with a mentor who will take him under his wing and passed on his knowledge. We have more and more trips that are guided by two people and it is excellent. Learning this way is the best way possible!



The other option is a 3-day field training with me that covers absolutely EVERYTHING: we practice the speeches at the beginning of the day, how to pass on the information to my travelers, how to lead a hike, how to present a meal, how to explain to the clients the correct way to put up and take down a tent, we practice driving the van with the trailers….



During this training, I give information about the interpretation of the place we are going to visit, but above all we will give the necessary tools for the guide to do it himself. A guide is hired for his skills but also for his knowledge of the destination. A guide is like a teacher! It is up to him or her to find out what interests him or her and how to transmit it.



marie elise kayak


Finally, do you have to be a guide yourself to recruit and train guides properly?

As far as I’m concerned, I’m probably going to be quicker to identify a candidate’s weaknesses and strengths, to know where they’re going to be good.  This is an asset and I think that few people would be able to do our jobs without having spent a minimum of their career in the field, confronted directly with the realities and difficulties.

I have 12 years of experience as a guide and trainer, which allows me to pass on something consistent to our guides. The entire Operations team was in the field beforehand, so we understand how and what to do to support them. This is our strength at Windigo.



What are the essential soft skills of a Windigo guide?

In interviews, I always ask this question, “What do you think is most important between the skills and abilities of a guide VS a guide who is fun and enjoyable?”

The answer I look for is that one is necessary and will make the trip go well VS the other will make the difference and make the trip memorable! We want our clients to have an unforgettable experience with someone who will make an impression on them. It’s not always the most extroverted personalities that win, there are many other human qualities: being a good listener, making others feel at ease… I often tell my guides that my knowledge of the fauna and flora has not always been my strength, but I do have a taste for fun and this shows in my way of being and guiding.

I have guide profiles that are not as fun as you might expect, but they know so much about the destination. They are resourceful, interesting, and reassuring enough to make the experience unforgettable. 

It takes human qualities for sure, but they are not always the same and it doesn’t matter if they are always the same. I expect a lot of stretch and interpersonal skills, if I fall asleep in an interview, it’s not a good sign (laughs)! However, I keep an open mind. I’m looking for people who can make travelers feel comfortable enough to be themselves and live their trip to the fullest. Humans with the ability to bring a group cohesion that makes strangers become a little family after a week spent together.





If I follow you, Windigo guides have the freedom to color the trip in their own way and let their personality shine through…

Exactly! If we had to give a book with all the information, it would not be fun for them. It’s important that they value what attracts them, what interests them, because that’s what will make them interesting in the eyes of our clients.

Our job is to give them the tools they need to be well prepared, but it is important that they keep their own identity! For example, the guides are required to provide meals for the clients during the tour. To help them, we will provide them with a big book of recipes, then it will be up to them to make their own according to what they like. We really want the creation to come from them and for them to express their colors through their choices.

Bringing your own atmosphere through your own philosophy by being an adventure leader is a powerful and rewarding feeling. Guiding at Windigo is a unique experience.



To conclude, what would you day to a potential recruit?

If you have an appetite for adventure, you are caring and like to share your interests, please get in touch with us as you might be a future Windigo guide!

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