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Welcome to BrashTalk #27 The Newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association

In This Issue:

  • Post-Antarctic Season Reflection 
  • PTGA Arctic Pre-Season Summit
  • New Affiliate Member – EYOS Expeditions 
  • Administration – Your TahDah Profile
    • How to load your First Aid Certificate into your PTGA Member Profile page
  • Guano Happens Reviews
  • Scuttlebutt
    • Assessor Training Course in November
    • Polar Guide Specific WFR Courses 
    • What is a Polar Guide (Aspirant)?
  • Training and Development: Theme Development for Thematic Interpretation
  • Guano Happens: Snowmobile Sidehill Near-miss
  • Meet Your Colleague: Kuba Potrawiak  

Post-Antarctic Season Reflection 

As the Antarctic season winds down, many of you are heading off into some well deserved rest while others are en route to other parts of the world for pre-Arctic contracts.

This was one of those seasons where we all wondered how it would pan out with the threat of the Avian Flu. Responsible visitation is core to PTGA’s values, and thanks to everyone for taking the IAATO Guidelines seriously, reporting concerns and doing their best to protect wildlife in the Antarctic.

From the office side, it looked like an incredible season. We received plenty of positive feedback from our Accredited Provider partners and others across the industry on the vital role PTGA guides play in high-performing teams and crafting unforgettable polar experiences for guests. Thank you as always for taking safety and risk management seriously, for operating within the bounds of your comfort zone and personal scope of training.

It is apparent now more than ever the importance of debriefing and feedback within teams to continue to develop and improve as individuals and a collective. We are proud to hear the PTGA feedback process has provided teams with the framework needed to unpack operations and identify areas for development. Debriefs can often be the only opportunity where a guide has a chance to speak up and share ideas related to risk management and situational awareness.

We appreciate how we all at PTGA have become a solid community of guides that welcomes collaboration and shares good practices across the polar industry. We now enter the time between seasons with renewed pride in our membership and gratitude for your professionalism out there in the field. With this edition of BrashTalk, we will update you on the latest happenings and give you a sneak peek of what’s ahead for the upcoming Arctic season.

PTGA Arctic Pre-Season Summit
April 21, 2024 18:00 UTC

Join us for our second Arctic Pre-Season Summit panel discussion where we bring our community together to discuss and highlight new information and knowledge before the season gets underway.

This summit will be especially relevant to guides’ interests, concerns and questions as you prepare for arctic work. We’ll walk through AECO’s updates and the newest Svalbard Environmental Guidelines, as well as discuss what’s new with Guide Standards.

Feel free to submit any questions you have via this form (link available here) and the panelists will include commentary during the discussions.

We have a fantastic panel for this session. Keep an eye out on our social media channels as they are introduced leading up to the event. No registration is required and the link to join the summit on Zoom will be sent prior to the event.

Alex Cowan – Moderator
Troels Jacobsen – AECO
Graham Charles – PTGA
Ben Jackson – Expedition Guide Academy
Jason Edmunds – Adventure Canada
Ida Olsson – Svalbard Guide and EL

New Affiliate Member

We welcome EYOS Expeditions to the PTGA family!

EYOS is the foremost provider of private expeditions to the global superyacht fleet, and a centre of expertise for planning and delivering customised technical expeditions across all oceans and all continents.  Our team have delivered hundreds of expeditions, established numerous world records and pioneered many world firsts.  We thrive on the challenge of curating highly customised expeditions for private clients, film makers, science institutions and government agencies, and provide expedition support as consultants to many of the leading commercial expedition companies.  EYOS are the design partners for the SeaXplorer range, the world’s first range of purpose built luxury expedition yachts.  EYOS is a proud member of IAATO, AECO, a founder of Yachts for Science and a partner to Nekton and Ocean census, and a keen supporter of PGTA.

Affiliate Membership Program
PTGA Affiliate members are leaders in the small operator sector of the industry. An Affiliate Member gains our endorsement by having more than 85% of their staff as PTGA status guides, actively developing staff qualification portfolios, and formally providing professional development opportunities.

How to load your First Aid Certificate into your PTGA Member Profile page 

You can easily load your 1st Aid Certificate in your PTGA Member profile page. The system will give you warnings when it is due to expire and you have an uploaded copy saved in case your laptop takes a dive on an airport floor en route to your next contract.

  1. Log into your PTGA Member profile.

  2. Click on the My Details tab.

  1. Click on the First Aid, Insurance and Policies sub-tab.


  1. On the right side of the page enter the details of your particular First Aid Certification type and expiry date.

  2. Click Browse in the upload area and select your certificate.

  3. Click on Save. You’re all set!

Guano Happens Compilation PDF

The most sought after item in BrashTalk are the Guano Happens columns. We have compiled all our Guano Happens reviews into one pdf that can be accessed directly from our website. For operators, this pdf makes an excellent resource for staff in your expedition office/space on board your vessel!

Wanted: Incident and Near Miss Recounts

Guano Happens is our most read section of Brash Talk – for good reason. As guides and guide community members we all know how important it is to learn from our colleagues about safety management. Learning from past events gives us the tools and pre-knowledge to avoid or mitigate the same or similar situation if/when we find ourselves in it. Open discourse, sharing near misses and reviewing incidents are indicators of a mature and healthy industry culture.

Share a past event here. They are always kept anonymous and we will never identify individuals or companies. There is no blame, only education and awareness using the basic facts.

Assessor Training Course in November

We are planning to run an Open Assessor Training Course in conjunction with the IAATO/AECO Field Staff Conference in early September. If you have the skills and temperament to take on the challenge of being an Assessor for the PTGA and are interested in this course, please drop us a line and get on the update list as we solidify dates and location. info@polartourismguides.com

 Polar Guide Specific WFR Courses
(discount for PTGA members)

For those looking to add to their certifications or needing a medical certification, the Outdoor Safety Academy will be offering a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course through AIDER November 9-17 in Patagonia, Argentina. OSA will provide a polar guide focused course so you will be able to relate the content to our work in the polar regions. PTGA Members who are interested in joining the course can receive a 15% discount. Space is limited so sign up soon.

Outdoor Safety Academy 
Dates: November  9 – 17 2024
Course Location: Pina Hachado, Neuquen, Cordillera de los Andes, Argentina
Price: $1400 PTGA members, $1650 non-members
(airport transfers, lodging and three meals per day are provided)
Contact: info@outdoorsaca.com or WhatsApp +54 91123408485

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What is a Polar Guide (Aspirant)?

The PTGA introduced a revised qualifications framework just prior to the start of the 2023/24 Antarctic season. In addition to updating the number of working days needed to become a Polar Guide and a Senior Polar Guide, the PTGA introduced a new status called Polar Guide (Aspirant) for those new to the industry and on the pathway to guide certification.

A Polar Guide (Aspirant) is a current PTGA member guide who has started gaining PTGA qualifications, logged time in the industry, embraces professionalism and is on a pathway toward Polar Guide status. We value the time and effort that guides are putting in toward full guide certification and this is our way of acknowledging your hard work and commitment. A Polar Guide (Aspirant) must have two or more foundation qualifications and more than 10 days polar guiding. PTGA Guide Certificates are still reserved exclusively for Polar Guides and Senior Polar Guides.

Training and Development – Theme Development for Thematic Interpretation
by Sarah Merusi

When it comes to thematic interpretation, the hardest part for me and I think I can speak for many guides here, is the construction of a theme. About five years ago, I had a chance to learn from a colleague, Aura Banda, who had learned directly from Sam Ham while guiding in the Galapagos. She gave such beautiful thematic interpretation and walked us all through the process of making a theme. She explained that constructing a theme takes the most effort and then the rest of the interpretation can flow smoothly from that theme. I then took on a personal challenge to come up with a few solid ideas and then spent the next years trying to refine them into themes for interpretation with guests.

To this day, I still feel like I could use some more work on these themes and was lucky to work with Ian Johnson recently, another legend in thematic interpretation, who has spent a great deal of time working with Sam Ham.

Ian took the time to help several of us guides work through our ideas, construct a theme and then further improve that theme as the basis for an interpretation session. I kept track of our process along the way. Ian and I thought this would be a great idea to share with fellow guides in the PTGA. I won’t go into detail on the background of thematic interpretation – this is meant as an example of how you can build on ideas to refine a theme.

Fur Seals: Masters of Survival
  • Humans hunted them to near extinction
  • Following the ban on sealing, they rebounded in numbers beyond pre-hunting
  • Now, they are so large a population we cannot land on beaches

Ian helped add the human element to each of these bullet points

  • Humans as Predators: humans hunted them to near extinction

  • Humans as Preservationists: following the band on sealing, they rebounded in numbers beyond pre-hunting

  • Humans as Polar Passengers: now we cannot land on beaches

We then tried to create a theme using all of the above information with the universal concept of survival: 

Theme Title: Through the Lens of Recovery: Fur seals faced extinction when we were at our worst, rebounded when we rediscovered our better selves, and now, see us through the lens of our cameras.

Notice how the human vs. fur seal relationship remains in each of the three statements, together they appear as a powerful theme. 

Guano Happens – Snowmobile Sidehill Near-miss

This edition of GH comes from Svalbard and is a great reminder as the season hits high gear in the north.

During a snowmobile trip in Svalbard, I had a group of six guests and a second guide doing his practice placement at the end of the group.

We came to the coastline with some sidehill driving ahead and I gave a briefing and reminder about leaning into the slope and driving more actively than before. The first sidehill part went perfectly fine, and then we came to a spot where the “normal” track goes uphill to cross a gully at its head a little bit further inland. The track usually is a little bit uphill and downhill and a little bit of sidehill driving when passing the gully, but nothing out of the ordinary.

When I was in that sidehill part passing the gully I thought that the hill was much steeper and you have to lean much more than in the previous years – maybe due to the amount of snow we had this year. This combined with the track going a little bit downhill on the other side was not too easy for first-time drivers.

The guest behind me was already in the sidehill part when I had these thoughts, and he was not leaning enough and he couldn’t stay on the track but drove downhill to avoid flipping and ended up twisting the throttle. Hence, he was speeding downhill off the track and towards the edge of the western side of the gully with a vertical drop of 8-10 metres. Luckily, he jumped off the scooter and was not injured. The snowmobile continued without him ghostriding a little further all the way to the edge. I thought the scooter would go over the edge but luckily it stopped just in time.

Nobody was hurt and no equipment damaged, but it was a near-miss. I stopped the rest of the group and I drove most of the snowmobiles through the difficult section once we had recovered and took a moment to diffuse the situation.

It was the second time I was driving the route this winter (first time in this direction), and when approaching it, it looked exactly like in my memory from the last few years. But, it felt different when I was on the slope.

Review Considerations
This was a near-miss and thankfully nothing happened. These are excellent narratives to share with fellow guides and there is always good learning to be had from the scenario. The guide offered these relevant review points:

I was missing some hints that things were different to the previous years and I was looking back to check that the guests were doing okay on the first part. I should have stopped straight away in the sidehill part and stopped the guests. As soon as I realised it was different I could have checked it out on my own before exposing the guests to it. Identifying the problem area and digging a track would have lessened the risk considerably. Dig more often than you think is necessary.

PTGA: We all need to be aware of the Familiarity heuristic trap. The guide had driven this route many times and was very familiar with the route. Changing conditions require awareness of the situation in the here-and-now. Keep your radar going all the time. “Stopping and checking” is a valid pro-guide response in many ambiguous guiding situations. It adds depth and current information to your situational awareness.

Meet Your Colleague – Kuba Potrawiak 

Kuba has been guiding in the polar industry for just over five years. He started early in his career as a glacier guide and gained significant experience working 14 seasons across six countries.

PTGA: Tell us how you got to be where you are?

Kuba: I was a 20-year-old city boy when I left Germany looking for adventure and the unknown. Once I reached New Zealand, I realized how much I love the outdoors and life there. My first guiding job was with Fox Glacier Guides. Luckily, the guide standards and training were outstanding and I had amazing mentors. This is where my passion for the ice started. After two years of guiding and training, I moved as a glacier guide to Iceland where I got to know a very good friend and PTGA Guide, Felipe Micheelsen. He worked in the Polar industry for a while and with his help in 2018 I connected with legendary Polar Guide Mariano Curiel who got me my first contract with Antarctica21.

PTGA: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the guiding scene since you have been actively involved?

Kuba: I started prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so now I feel more appreciation for the place and to not take the place and the people you meet for granted.

PTGA: What advice would you offer a new guide wanting to get a start in the industry these days?

Kuba: A good idea is to start training with an established company like the Expedition Guide Academy and I would recommend a Wilderness First Responder course as well. Training is the base, but work in the field is essential. Try to apply for various companies that offer further training, however always have a back up plan to gain more experience someplace else, in case you don’t get into polar guiding straight away. One other thing that new people might overlook is to be aware of the other side of the coin. As a guide, you work every day, no matter the weather, it’s not a typical 9 to 5 job. You’re away from family and friends for months.

PTGA: You work as a glacier guide in Norway and as a guide for A21. Could you compare and contrast the work? 

Kuba: The job in Norway on glaciers is land based and we take people on day tours. Sometimes we kayak or motorboat across the glacier lake. The work can be quite physical by walking/paddling many kilometres a day and cutting steps to have a route on the ice. Because it is just day tours you will always come back home to a staff accommodation and it is easy to disconnect.

The ship work is more dynamic by changing locations a couple times every day. Also you work more as a team with many departments on the ship. Because life and work is on the ship it is important to take time to rest. For me, it is key to keep a positive attitude and to have fun.

PTGA: You started with the PTGA very early on as a young man (still). Why did you get involved right from the start?

Kuba: I like the idea of an industry standard. I know many countries have organizations for mountain climbing for example. To have a community, share knowledge and improve safety overall made sense for me from the start that this is something our industry can learn from.

PTGA: Who are the key mentors who have helped you get to where you are today? 

Kuba: I was fortunate enough to start my polar career with amazing PTGA Guides and dear friends like Ben Jackson, Pernille Søegaard, Sandra Walser, Snowy, Kenn Magowan, Karin Lundstrom and David Berg to name a few. Each one would add something vital either through training or casual interactions on the ship.

PTGA: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self about a career in this industry?

Kuba: Take more photos! I’m not really into photography but it’s a great way to save memories. And more horizontal 16:9 photos that can be used for recaps!

PTGA: What do you see as the biggest challenges to the polar tourism industry over the next five years?

Kuba: Climate change and how we can be more sustainable for the environment. The amount of new ships and new guides. We need everyone on a good skill level to keep us and our guests safe.

PTGA: Is this a sustainable industry and does polar tourism really add any value?

Kuba: That’s a good question, I think there will always be people that want to see the polar regions. The demand is there but with rising inflation and bigger competition with more ships it will be a struggle for some companies to remain in this business.

The value that I hope we as polar guides can provide is a better understanding of our polar regions (and our world really), how important it is to conserve. I wish that on most ships there would be a program for young students from around the world to join those trips for free. This could help to plant the seed for the next generations. Wishful thinking, but we can always do more.

PTGA: What are your career goals in the industry?

Kuba: To stay open minded and learn from others. To have a good connection with my colleagues and be part of a high-performing team. For this year I want to improve my Surf landing skills and expand my knowledge on giving lectures in topics like geology.

PTGA: Who is your favourite polar explorer?

Kuba: Jonathan Walton and Nigel Milius! Both work as expedition guides on ships, however they have been working and living in the Antarctic for decades. Their experiences are extraordinary and both are some of the nicest and most humble people I know. I love hearing their stories.

PTGA Members – 643
Senior Polar Guides – 259
Polar Guides – 220
Polar Guide (Aspirant) 13
Provisional and Full Assessors – 47

Congratulations to our recent status guides:

Polar Guide (Aspirant): Jason Ransom, Xue Xia, Jenn Brown, Gerardo Guastavino, Maria Torti, Andrew Harpster, Jeff Bullied, George Cowan, Tamsin Both, Will Rogan, Ignacio Marino, Alexandra Nemeth, Alice McInnes

Polar Guide: Alvaro Barrientos, Fritz Hertel, Pelin Asfuroglu, Tomi Vainio, Brett Sanchez, Julien Cornet, Alex Williams, Damon Ramsey, Jessica Oosthuyse, Marcel Paul, Matthew Thorp, Werner de Kock, Hedda Andersen, Olena Bulych, Rodrigo Lira, Charlotte Taplin, Dani Abras, Jeannine McCormack, Tristan Kusel, Virgil Reglioni

Senior Polar Guide: Deniss Eltermans, Filip Brovkin, George Kennedy, Henrik Enckell, Marcelo Flores, Paolo Bellezze, Pippa Low, Russell Henry, Santiago Arias, Sara Catella, Todd Gooding, Francois Havenga, Sarah Pingel, Chloe Marechal

Be your best guide. See you next time.