Amanda Tutton is an adventure guide who is equally at ease hiking to Everest Base Camp as she is snowboarding down a New Zealand mountain. We asked her about her adventurous life, what it takes to become a guide and what draws her to a life where taking groups into the unknown is all part of the job.
What is your job and what does it involve?
I started working for Active Adventures in 2012. I did three summers as a Co-Guide, then completed my Class 2 and P driving licences so that I could work as a Lead Guide in New Zealand and Nepal. Although a co-guide is responsible for most of the catering and accommodation and a lead guide drives the bus and provides commentary, both guides work as a team, guiding clients safely on hiking trails, responding to any welfare needs and supporting everyone, every step of the way.
After a few years on the road guiding, I thought I should probably settle down a bit so I moved into the Active Adventures Operations Team for a year, but I missed working outside. I returned to part-time guiding for Active Adventures in the summer as well as working as the Lead Guide and Manager of Helibike NZ and ski patrolling in the winter.
How did you get started in the adventure industry?
Whilst at school my best friend encouraged me to join the school ski trip and learn to snowboard. That first week left me in tears. Not only was I black and blue from numerous falls but my friend ended up with six stiches after I’d crashed into her! I wasn’t completely discouraged (and my friend forgave me) so, after university I did a ski season working in France prior to joining the British Army. Somehow I improved enough to compete in the Army Snowboarding team.
When I travelled to New Zealand, I was a little bit lost after having my heart broken, but sometimes opportunities come in funny packages, and it actually motivated me to start pursuing the things I loved doing, one of which was snowboarding and outdoor pursuits. So I enrolled in an instructor training course at Coronet Peak, spent several weeks re-learning skills to pass my exams and then embarked on a career instructing in Japan and New Zealand.
After a few years I wanted a new challenge so undertook my Avalanche Stage 1 and Pre-Hospital Emergency Care (PHEC) courses to retrain as a patroller. It was certainly a new challenge and I spent the first few weeks terrified I would cause more harm than good. But, after plenty of practice the rewards of helping people and doing something I loved made it all worthwhile.
What is the appeal of guiding?
I think nature is one of the greatest healers and it always feels good for my soul to be outside amongst the mountains. When guiding, it’s not just about seeing incredible places but getting to experience them with others, educating people on the environment and seeing how they react to it.
Everyone is on their own journey through life, I meet all sorts of people at the start, middle and end of their journey: it may be one of celebration, success, hardship or grief. I listen to their stories and offer any support or encouragement I can give. I love seeing the joy on people’s faces when they get to realise their dreams, get to the top of the mountain, or even when they’re quietly reflecting on the beauty around them.
Can you describe a favourite moment?
On an Active Adventures trip to Everest Base Camp, I had a small group who had all successfully reached Base Camp the day before, but only one of the m chose to undertake the extra trip up to Kalar Patthar (5,500m). We set off at 3.30am to try and reach the summit for sunrise. Every step was painful, my head felt like a bowling ball and my lungs were struggling with the lack of oxygen, but we somehow found the will to force our weary bodies forward.
My client Keri was a beautiful soul and over the course of our trip had eventually revealed that she’d recently lost her husband and that the end of her marriage hadn’t always been the happiest, so she had embarked on the trip as a journey of self-discovery and healing. She was kind and funny, and joyfully embraced everything that Nepal had to offer.
It was one of those magical moments as we eventually reached the top, the sun crested over Everest and lit up the magnificent mountains. We sat our tired bodies down, satisfied in every possible way, and soaked it all in. Then Keri pressed play on her phone and started a little dance to ‘I’m on top of the world’ by Imagine Dragons, her smile said it all, she was so happy. It was one of the most beautiful things to behold and one of my favourite memories. That is why I love being a guide.
What about a least favourite moment?
There have certainly been plenty of challenging situations. For example, I’ve had to re-route trips because of storms washing away bridges on New Zealand’s West Coast, I’ve had to perform CPR and administer an epi-pen in the wilderness and I’ve put plenty of plasters on knees,. Luckily I’ve always had the support of an incredible co-guide to help talk through options and make decisions with.
Plus, at Active Adventures we have an amazing operations team that can provide an emergency response, and investigate or re-book any alternative options we may need. When guiding with Active Adventures, we generally have two guides per trip so that we can help each other to deal with varying needs of our group. Clients are always encouraged to go at their own pace, and we’re there to help them in any way we can.
How does the industry support adventurous women?
We are very fortunate in New Zealand that many schools embrace outdoor pursuits and in Otago in particular, many school kids even have the opportunity to undertake skiing or snowboarding as part of the school term.
We are also very lucky to have athletes like Alice Robinson and Zoi Sadowski- Synnott as role models to look up to. I think the biggest hurdle in equal opportunities is probably the cost; travelling to ski fields, buying ski passes, renting equipment and lessons are all quite expensive, especially when you first start. There are certainly deals out there and sponsorship opportunities, but it comes down to what you wish to spend your hard-earned money on, what you’re passionate about and how you want to spend your time adventuring.
The main thing is getting out there, whatever you choose to do and giving things a try, if you’ve got friends and/or a good support network around you to encourage and motivate you, even better.
What’s your advice for women considering snow sports for the first time?
Remember to have fun and that it’ll probably be a bit easier if you take a lesson!
I’ve seen countless arguments and tears on the slopes between couples trying to teach each other – if nothing else, taking lessons may save your relationship! Snowboarding can be difficult to learn so the fitter and more prepared you are the better (there’s a lot of pushing yourself up at the start!). But be sure to laugh lots and don’t give up too easily (if it was as hard as it is for the first few days, nobody would keep doing it). You’re also never too old to try something new.
What would you say to women considering a career in the adventure industry?
I was thinking about this as I was taking a guided trip across to the end of the Milford track the other day. There were three guides on the boat (all women), the boat driver was also a woman, then unfortunately our boat had a mechanical issue and we had to be rescued by another couple of boats, both drivers of which were women.
I’d never really taken the time to notice how many women work in the guiding industry and am impressed that there are probably more women in such roles than men. I don’t think gender ever needs to be an issue and if you want follow a career in guiding or seek bigger and bolder adventures, nothing is stopping you. The biggest thing is educating yourself, working hard, training, and preparing yourself for whatever you wish to achieve. Seek out opportunities, talk to others in the roles you aspire for, learn as much as you can, and believe in yourself.