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Welcome to BrashTalk #19, The Newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association.

In This Issue

Letter From the Chair: Annual Report

Dear Members & Guides,

What a year it has been! I must say, I miss the ice, as I am sure you do as well. I sincerely hope that you have found silver linings in what continues to be an uncertain atmosphere. Some good news is that a light is appearing at the end of the tunnel. Trips are beginning operate in the arctic – in Russia, in the glaciated parts of Alaska, and soon in the remote regions of Greenland. There are also positive whisperings coming from the Antarctic arena – trips seem destined to ramp up for this coming season, at least in some capacity.

Here at PTGA we have been making lemonade out of lemons. The recent pause in guiding has afforded us the opportunity to double-down on our efforts on all fronts in support of PTGA’s continuing growth. At our recent Annual General Meeting, the board identified many successes from the past year, ranging from onboarding new accredited provider companies to training additional assessors to a complete website redesign to strengthening our external communications and social media presence. The most notable success in my view, however, came thanks to you all. Guides from the world over have recognized and utilized PTGA’s online forums as a way to connect with each other, in an effort to both build community and enrich our understandings of everything a polar guide is and does. I believe we can all be proud of that. Thank you for participation and contributions.

We currently have enormous demand from guides and field staff for certification opportunities. Looking toward PTGA’s core competency as standards and assessment body, a continuing strategic goal set by the board is making assessments and training more available to you. We rely heavily on polar tourism operators to fill that role, primarily because workplace-based assessments are the easiest and most cost-effective way to become certified. This year we have onboarded additional companies, and guides working for them will soon be rewarded. We also continue to court other operators who are in a position to benefit from the PTGA framework. Not all operators, however, are yet aware of PTGA’s straightforward workplace-based framework. If you desire to become professionally certified and currently work for an operator who does not yet facilitate PTGA assessments, ask them to consider us. Your own voice is a powerful tool for creating momentum and building bridges.

Lastly, the board recognized at the AGM that there remains some public confusion as to exactly what PTGA is and does. Misconceptions and misunderstandings can be significant roadblocks to opening conversations and building relationships with polar operators and organizations of all types. We remain committed to improving understandings and opening more doors for professional guides. We’d appreciate you helping to spread the word too! Please have a brief look at “PTGA 101” below and help us get the correct message across.

Stay cool out there and feel free to reach out to us anytime.

Colby Brokvist
Chair, PTGA Board

PTGA 101 : Awareness & Messaging

As PTGA’s membership continues to grow and expand, more guides and operators are curious as to what PTGA is and does. Below is a quick summary and we’d greatly appreciate you helping to spread the word.


A guide standards and assessment organization:
PTGA develops standards for polar guiding skills and provides a performance testing framework that qualifies guides at a level of minimum professional competency. PTGA also provides a series of advanced awards for higher-risk activities. Learn More

A community forum for professional guides and polar staff:
PTGA’s vision statement identifies the importance of fostering a culture of learning and sharing amongst the guide community and we provide a variety of online forums to make that possible. Join Us

PTGA Is Not:

A training organization:
PTGA’s framework can be adopted by independent organizations and operators to both teach and assess aspiring guides, based on our standards and qualifications. Learn More

A guide advocacy organization:
PTGA’s charter and status as a 501-c(6) Non-profit Organization specifically prohibits PTGA from acting as a union or as third-party advocacy during guide/operator negotiations or disputes.

Svalbard Guide Standards

PTGA recently attended an online meeting with Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Justice regarding the proposed Svalbard Guide Standards. This initial meeting, organized by the Ministry, was an effort to hear initial input from key stakeholders and get a feel for their ideas and concerns.

PTGA collaborated with AECO and the Svalbard Guides Association prior to the meeting because our concerns about a Svalbard run system are very much the same. As a professional standards and assessment organization, PTGA’s intended purpose in this conversation is solely focused on the qualities and practicalities of Norway’s proposed standards. We aim to be a helpful and experienced voice as Norway develops their scheme. What follows below is meant to inform you, our members and guides, of the key points we feel are of importance at this time.

We believe any fair guide standard regulations need to be:

Accessible to all guides working in polar Norway, including Cost-effective training and assessment opportunities that are readily Available to local and international guides alike.

Compatible with the current needs of the Norwegian Government as well as with existing standards in other polar and expedition tourism destinations.

Transferrable in terms of Equivalency and Reciprocity, whereby compatible professional qualifications will be accepted between various polar destinations and operators.

Practical in terms of providing an appropriate grace period for guides and operators to comply with the Norwegian Government’s new standards whilst still operating trips, thus allowing the opportunity to build capacity, train and certify guides without incurring the loss of ability to operate in Svalbard as compliance is achieved.

A major concern for PTGA (in representing our membership and association charter) is to ensure that Norway recognizes other competent forms of qualification in addition to their own standard. PTGA feels that with our specifically designed polar award scheme, ISO audited awards, workplace-based assessments, and general support of the industry, PTGA awards should be recognized and accepted. It should be understood that PTGA in no way seeks to be a sole provider of polar guiding awards; rather the PTGA framework is one highly applicable and effective option for Norway or any other governing body.

We feel it is very important to stay tuned in to this issue if you guide anywhere in the north. Please keep us posted if you become aware of anything we should know about.

Speaker Series 2021

The 2021 PTGA Guides Inside speaker series is still running and has been incredibly successful! Thanks again to all of our presenters and moderators for sharing your hard-earned expertise.

If you missed any of the live sessions, you can find them archived at the Polar Guides Facebook Group. Here’s what’s new:

Zodiac Tricky Situations Alex Cowan & Pam Le Noury
Private Guiding Rob McCallum & Kelvin Murray w/ Graham Charles
Inside AECO Frigg Jørgensen & Troels Jacobsen w/ Pat Lurcock
Svalbard in Transition Franka Leiterer & Calle Schönning
Situational Management Cam Walker & Graham Charles
Guest-led Guiding Heather Thorkleson & Lauren Farmer
Stepping into the EL Role Florence Kuyper, Solan Jensen, Laurie DeVincenzo w/ Ben Jackson

Coming up tomorrow our last session in this iteration – Turbo Charge Your Talks with Jim Mayer

An enormous thanks again to Lauren Farmer for running the front end of this series for the PTGA, being up at all hours to make them fit with north/south hemisphere presenters and delivering another sensational educational series.

Online Assessors Training Course Pilot

In early June we ran the first Assessor training course using an online platform. We offered the program places to staff from our Accredited Provider companies who are actively using the PTGA assessment scheme and qualifications framework. It was a great success and we plan to offer more of these programs through the latter part of 2021 for other Senior Polar Guides who are keen and meet the prerequisites. Please reach out if you are interested!

Congratulations to all who participated: Lauren Farmer, Alex Cowan, Florence Kuyper, Maria Cashin, Dave Begg, Alex Chavenne, Robin Aiello, Fridrick Fridrickson, Calle Schonning, Stephi Walker.

New Accredited Provider

May 7, 2021 – Intrepid Travel and the PTGA are excited to announce Intrepid’s new status as an Accredited Provider for the PTGA. In this role, Intrepid Travel will adopt the PGTA’s ISO accredited Workplace Based Assessment program. Intrepid has already sent staff to PTGA’s Assessor training course. Expedition staff members who are new to the industry will be trained and mentored within Intrepid’s own program but can now undertake PTGA assessments at work and earn key qualifications through this vital third party endorsement of industry standards.
Intrepid Travel has met all the Accredited Provider requirements with their mentor and training program aimed at comprehensive staff development. The company is heralding in a post-Covid era in polar tourism and expedition cruising by proving to industry and their guests that they value training and development of staff for the good of the company, guests and the environment. We welcome them to our growing family of Corporate members.

Library Addition : Telling Compelling Stories

Following on from the superb presentation by Ian Johnson last year, he has turned his talk into a Guide’s Guide for ease of use and reference. View the entire PDF Library Here.

Behind the Scenes: PTGA Website Redesign

In response to your feedback we’ve redesigned the website. It is now much easier to navigate and easier to locate learning materials and Pro Deal information. We appreciate your feedback so keep it coming. View the PTGA Website Here.

Patagonia Pro Deal

Sadly we have lost Patagonia as a Pro Deal. They have redefined what sort of professional guiding they are willing to support and the crux issue for PTGA guides is that it must involve ‘non motorised transport’. For those of you who had managed to get in earlier, purchase while you can!

Training and Development

Zodiac Skills – Towing Alongside – by Rusty S Hackle

When a Zodiac breaks down it is sometimes necessary to tow it back to the ship. Probably everyone knows how to tow a Zodiac astern, using the towed boat’s bow line attached to your transom. But trying to put that disabled Zodiac alongside a jetty, gangway or marina deck is challenging and this is where the alongside tow is valuable.

Tie the boat up parallel to your own Zodiac. Carabiners are helpful, or you could use paddles. The crucial technique is to make sure that the towed Zodiac is forward of the towing boat. If you don’t have the towed boat far enough forward you won’t be able to steer the unit effectively. Tilt the engine of the towed boat up.


Make sure the boat you are towing is well forward of the boat you are driving.

You should now have a unit of two boats that is a little ungainly but which can still be steered and controlled well. If the towed boat is empty you can plane like this, but it’s wet, makes worrying noises, and is probably putting a lot of strain on the grab lines! This towing technique can also allow one driver to work on fixing the engine while the other drives the Zodiac cruise and does all the interpretation for both boats.

As always with new skills, don’t try this for the first time when you actually need it or you have a boat full of guests. Practise it first, work out what does and doesn’t work, and try to look like a super slick pro when you do it.

Guano Happens

No Fun
A few years back I was leading a yacht-based trip on the Antarctic Peninsula. One of my guests had heard about the ‘penguin slide’ at Neko Harbor and he asked specifically if we could make a stop there. I obliged and worked it into our schedule, with the usual caveats related to weather and local conditions.

The day we arrived at Neko was very cold. The snow consistency was firm to frozen and some clients walked with poles to help with stability. After visiting the penguins, we went up to the overlook and sliding area. Upon inspection, I found the slides to be icy and frozen on top. I immediately deemed it unsafe. The slide would be too fast and the conditions wouldn’t allow for any speed control on the short but steep descent. It would be very easy to succumb to a mechanical injury.

I had to tell the guests that sliding would not be possible that day. Most were fine with that, recognizing the circumstance. The one guest who requested this destination, however, became argumentative. His friends had visited this site before and talked up the slide and he didn’t want to return home without having experienced it for himself too. I felt It was more about the bragging rights for him than the experience. After many minutes of offering perspective and repeating my decision (all rooted in observable facts and conservative risk management), he succumbed and we walked back to the beach.

Once back on the boat, the guest complained to the boat captain and essentially asked him for permission to go back and slide – a classic “if mom says no then go ask dad” scenario. After a knowing glance my way, the captain simply stated that if the EL had made a decision due to safety then it was the right decision to make.

I see this situation as a near-miss. I still feel that I made the correct decision for the group that day. Even a simple break or strain would have resulted in not being able to participate in most activities for the remaining week of the trip, with implications for the group as a whole.

Willingness to alter or cancel a planned activity is a hallmark of superior risk management. In this case, the guide arrived to the sliding site to find icy conditions not conducive to a safe sliding experience on what we know is a steep hill in a distinctly remote region of the world. While these types of calls are always subjective, it appears that the guide made a sound, conservative decision based on the conditions and location. More importantly, the guide demonstrated a willingness to change the plan after identifying and assessing any potential risks associated with the current local conditions.

Commitment is a common trap related to risk management. Taken in this case from the client’s perspective, he knew when he arrived that he intended on sliding. His need to complete his objective blinded him from being able to assess the current conditions objectively, and to appreciate the guide’s decision.

The client may also lack the perspective of the guide; being in a novel and complex environment translates to being unable to recognize that the conditions were unfit that day. There is great value in traveling with a guide who is more experienced and can make these types of difficult decisions – it’s up to us as guides to take that responsibility seriously.

We appreciate that everyone has their own tolerance for risk. With that in mind, another hallmark of exceptional risk management is calibrating everyone’s expectations at the trip’s onset as part of your initial trip orientation. In this case, for instance, the guide would hopefully have called out that Antarctica is remote, that it is dangerous in myriad ways, that definitive medical care can be days away, and that everyone’s safety and enjoyment is contingent on sound and conservative decision-making. When all guests understand the particular challenges native to Antarctic travel, it is easier to have the tough decisions make sense to clients once in the field. It is always better to broach this topic proactively early on, rather than reactively in the field when real-time emotions and desires are involved.

Lastly, the guide mentioned his colleague, the captain of the yacht. What we witness here is a trusting and respectful relationship that contributed to effectively managing the problematic client. It appears that the captain did not request any additional information or engage the guest in discussion. Instead, there was a simple acknowledgement of the EL’s expertise which ended the situation then and there.

Being willing to trust and support one another is among the most valued qualities of a colleague. Even if the captain himself questioned the guide’s decision internally (unlikely), it was not brought up in front of the guest. The act of support instilled additional confidence not only for the decision at hand, but for the guide’s overall expertise and authority. The ensuing strength of the EL-captain relationship, as well as the authority of the EL, will last well beyond this particular circumstance, contributing to easier leadership throughout the remaining portions of the trip.