After five years of working as a backcountry guide in the Snowy Mountains Rohan still feels the thrill of sharing the off-piste terrain with others.


It’s not only the big mountains and incredible landscapes – the small moments count as well.

‘The other day people that I was touring with noticed ice on the trees that reflected the sunlight. I get to pass that every day and it’s something I might not notice, but seeing them see it brought joy to me as well.’

From prepping the gear and briefing the clients, to spending the day traversing and skiing locations like The Western Faces, it really is a dream job. If anything, Rohan just wishes the ski season went a little longer.

So what does it take to be a backcountry guide in Australia?

Turning a Passion Into a Career

Rohan’s one of the lucky ones who’s merged passion with pay slip, and he’s the first to admit that ‘getting paid to do what you love is pretty good’. If there’s ever been a case of pursuing your dream and being ready for opportunity – this might be it.

Rohan started backcountry touring in 2012 with some mates, before going on a few guided tours. He then started touring with his mate Doug, who worked alongside him in the ski patrol. When Doug decided to start up a backcountry guiding business he asked Rohan to be one of the guides.

Rohan has now worked for Snowy Mountain Backcountry Tours for five years, with the 2022 season seeing him set out on about 30 tours. The tours are for beginners right through to advanced – with the rugged Western Faces providing arguably the best steep skiing in Australia.

Read Rohan’s guide to Backcountry Skiing the Western Faces in Kosciuszko National Park.


What’s the Role of a Backcountry Guide?

So what does a day in the life of a backcountry guide really look like?

A touring day will start at about 7am for Rohan – getting into the touring headquarters and setting up backpacks, emergency equipment, and ski gear. He greets the guests and runs through a safety briefing and tour overview before they head out.

A day spent guiding a beginner tour is about six hours out in the field, teaching basic backcountry skills and touring lower-angled terrain. Advanced tours can be longer days, steeper terrain and – given the skiers have backcountry experience – the role of the guide is more about terrain management.

The tours finish up with a bit of discussion and debriefing about how the tour went, before sending the skiers on their way – typically with big grins on their faces.

Sharing People’s First Experience of the Backcountry

A guided tour is a great way to get out into the backcountry for the first time. While intermediate skiing skills are required, on a tour you can learn touring basics – such as equipment selection and techniques, route selection, and emergency response.

Rohan has found himself guiding people of all ages – ‘I think I’ve had anyone from 14 to nearly 70’ – and about half the people who join in have never toured before.

‘When you tell people, you’re gonna walk uphill, they think it’s gonna be so arduous, but many people are surprised that it’s actually not too bad. I find walking uphill fairly meditative – a lot of other people have told me that they find that as well.’

Plus, the effort required to get up the mountains only makes the ride back down that much sweeter. ‘You might only get one or two runs in a day of touring, but you’ll remember each turn that you made and each small thing that happened.’


Why is Backcountry Guiding a Great Career?

For Rohan, there are many reasons to keep touring the backcountry and sharing the experience by guiding others. He relishes taking people for their first time in the backcountry, visiting special places in the mountains, and teaching the basics for touring the varying terrain.

‘Seeing it through those people’s eyes for the first time, or seeing how they learn, gets me excited as well. When they get stoked, I’m happy as well.’

Another great part of the job is getting people outside to enjoy the outdoors and experiencing the beauty of the Snowy Mountains. ‘They might learn more about the outdoors and be inspired to take that home with them. Even if it’s just noticing nature around them or taking care of the environment more.’

While the 2023 season has been challenging because of the limited snow conditions, Rohan has a great attitude towards it all. ‘Just enjoy it while it’s here. You always wish there was more [snow].’

Read more: The Snowy Mountains Backcountry Showed Me The Effects of Climate Change First Hand

Experience is as Important as Qualifications

Being a backcountry guide is one of the jobs where experience really counts. Rohan spent ten years working in a ski patrol job – five of those before he started work as a guide. However, it was the experience of touring the backcountry – both recreationally with mates and on a couple of tours – that gave him an advantage in landing a guiding role.



Rohan’s advice for anyone else considering this as a career path is to start out by touring as much as possible. ‘Go with people that are knowledgeable and you can learn from, whether it be friends that are more experienced than you, or – if you do hire a guide – try and pick their brain of how and what you can learn.’

So what are you waiting for? If you’re a skier who dreams of heading off-piste – brush up on your ski skills and hit up Rohan for a tour of the backcountry. There might be a future career in it for you.


What Skills are Needed to be a Backcountry Guide in Australia?

According to Mountain Safety Collective, no formal ski guiding qualifications are required to operate backcountry tours in Australia. They recommend that guides should have avalanche safety, wilderness first aid, and outdoor leadership training with a proven track record of guiding in local terrain.

For Rohan, a lot of his first aid experience was gained through ski patrol. But before beginning his role as a backcountry guide he did a five-day course focused on guiding skills, group management, and teaching techniques.

He feels that having experience in the backcountry is as important as the certificates and qualifications. ‘Having a piece of paper to say you can do it is great, but putting it into practice is definitely necessary as well.’

What are the Challenges of Being a Backcountry Guide?

Backcountry guiding in Australia doesn’t come without challenges. The seasonality aspect is one of them. Rohan has only worked as a guide in Australia – guiding overseas requires a whole other set of skills and training – so it’s not a year-round gig.

There are limited companies that employ guides in Australia and the amount of work for those guides is determined by demand from customers – and limited by snow conditions.

Having said that, while it’s a small industry in Australia, it’s a passionate one. For anyone that loves skiing and wants to be able to guide in the backcountry, hopefully Rohan’s experience has provided the inspiration you needed to get you started on your journey!



Header image by @mydreamadventure