1. Home
  2. /
  3. Polar Tourism
  4. /
  5. Brash Talk #12


Welcome to Brash Talk #12 the newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association. We hope your season is going well where ever you are. We hope you get some down time between Arctic and Antarctic seasons and a chance to catch up on life as a busy polar guide. Plenty to cover in this issue so please explore it and catch up on all our news.

Traveling home from your Arctic season? Don’t forget to use that layover (or delayed flight or lost luggage) time to grab a coffee or glass of wine and update your Log.

In This Issue:

  • Presidents Pontifications – What is Workplace-Based Assessment and why did PTGA choose this model?
  • AntArctic Stories Podcasts
  • Putting PTGA Qualifications or Status on Hold
  • Virtual Learning Environment
  • Scuttlebutt
    • Guides guides
    • Member Survey
    • Pro Deals
  • What is the IPGA?
  • Board Changes
  • Gear For Sale
  • Correction from Brash Talk #11
  • Guano Happens
  • New Status Guides

Presidents Pontifications – What is Workplace Based Assessment (WPBA)

There are a number of reasons the PTGA chose Workplace-Based Assessment as the model for our assessments in-house.

We looked around the world at the wide range of commonly used options to test people for skills performance at work. When we measured them against the unique and specific challenges of the polar tourism industry  all other options could not meet our criteria. The challenges we had to find solutions for were:

  • Very little fixed geography. Polar shipping is constantly on the move.
  • Remote and expensive geographical constraints. Any polar tourism operation whether land or sea based is remote and expensive to get to.
  • Rapid staff turnover and short contracts.
  • Global human resource inventory.
  • An industry that has no time to stop and do testing.
  • Polar issues that need to be tested in polar conditions.

We decided the WPBA model and our In-House Assessor program offered the best solutions to address these. Of course, nothing is ever perfect and there are compromises that are acknowledged and made. In this piece I’d like to address why the system works and also some of the issues people are most commonly critical of.

Workplace-based assessing happens in the workplace (no surprises there!). It allows an assessment candidate to continue doing their job while being tested and for that job to keep going. This part is great but it  also needs an assessor who is also at work but has the capacity and competence to not only do their own job but watch in a discerning manner what the candidate is doing and to have a number of ‘tools’ at their disposal to be able to test and check contingencies after the fact. In any syllabus style assessment not all elements of a test will always happen in an average day (towing a zodiac, MOB etc) so an assessor must find time at work to test these elements in as fair as possible manner.

So – for ship-based polar tourism this whole process needs:

  • Candidates willing and ready to be tested and who understand the rules of engagement.
  • Assessors who are trained in the communication models, testing procedures, briefing procedures, grievance procedures and administrative requirements of the PTGA.
  • A staff cadre who value what is going on and accept that a candidate under assessment may have to ‘’pop away’ from time to time to address some issues and work through the feedback processes.
  • A Company, EL and Operations Managers who accept the schemes validity and value and who will work collaboratively with Assessors and candidates to help where ever they can to create opportunities.

The main benefits of WPBA for the polar tourism industry are:

  1. It’s real. This is its greatest strength. Candidates are not tested on hypothetical knowledge, weird scenarios, online tests or a 5-miniute tick box. They are observed ‘doing their jobs’ holistically as professional guides. This allows all the ‘other’ stuff that happens in polar guiding to add depth to the picture; the weather turns really bad mid-hike, dealing with sticky questions/attitudes from guests, dealing with rapidly changing logistics from an EL. This is the gold in the process. IThere is no better way to assess a guides ‘guiding’ skills than to see them for real.
  2. These are polar qualifications and many of them require testing in polar environments which makes testing anywhere else impossible. Movement around sensitive wildlife, driving zodiacs in heavy brash, changing plans on a dime because of weather or ambiguous logistics, actual adherence and compliance to IAATO/AECO regulations instead of simply a knowledge test are all examples of real-life competencies that we are testing and these things need the polar environment and observed performance for our tests to be valid.
  3. Polar tourism will not and cannot stop. With expensive running costs a ship cannot stop for a few days while a group of staff gets competency tested. Expensive and limited accommodation availability in high Arctic towns means land based operations can’t just spend a few extra days doing assessments.
  4. Candidates don’t have to go to a fixed place to be tested. Makes the process financially viable when your staff are from all over the globe. A Company has to fly them (at great cost) to their place of work so why not test them there?
  5. Tests can be partially finished then picked up in another contract with another assessor. This allows for the rapid turnover of staff and short contracts.
  6. Candidates and assessors get to engage in a formal manner over skills and issues that concern them both.

All of these benefits are the solutions we required.

The commonly claimed weaknesses with the system include :

  1. This system puts co-workers or even cabin mates in possible conflict or ‘easy on your mates’ situations.
  2. Assessors and candidates are both from the same company and it is in the company’s interest to just have them ‘pass’ people quickly and efficiently.
  3. That Assessors in the same Company will just create their own separate culture and interpretation of the PTGA rules.
  4. That assessors, who may not be the most experienced person on the ship, may end up having to assess someone who is a mega expert.

These are all valid points. Given the benefits and very real geographical and cost constraints of using external assessors (people who have been flown in specifically for the job of assessing people) we have chosen to build structures and systems in place to deal with these issues. These systems and structures were critical to the PTGA succeeding with our ISO audit – something that has never been done before in the polar tourism industry. I’d like to deal with each of the weaknesses separately and outline the strategies the PTGA has put in place:

1. The system puts co-workers or even cabin mates in possible conflict or ‘easy on your mates’ situations.
Yes this is possible. Assessors are trained and coached that if they see any potential for this conflict they cannot take on the assessment. There is no obligation from either party if they perceive a possible issue. Pre-assessment briefings and disclosures account for this and allow people to identify it.

2. Assessors and candidates are both from the same company and it is in the company’s interest to just have them ‘pass’ people quickly and efficiently 
When assessors are assessing they are representing the PTGA. They are moderated by the PTGA and all Post Assessment Reports are scrutinized to avoid this happening.

3. Assessors in the same Company will just create their own separate culture and interpretation of the PTGA rules.
All PTGA Assessors have to feed information into forums where ALL PTGA assessors get to comment and give feedback on a particular decision our outcome so that all assessors can continue to evolve with the evolution of industry standards. All assessments generate a Post Assessment Report which is reviewed by the PTGA and if interpretations are incorrect or a culture is developing we will deal with it using the mechanism in our Memorandum of Understanding with that company. Assessors must attend a number of Assessor Forums each year to keep their licence current.

4. Assessors, who may not be the most experienced person on the ship or polar company, may end up having to assess someone who is an acknowledged topic expert.

PTGA Assessors may only assess topics and areas that they have competence in themselves AND that they feel confident in, regardless of their competence. A regular discussion topic here is Presentation Skills where an Assessor may not be a full time or professional presenter has to assess someone who is. Presentation Skills PQ has less to do with the content of a presentation and more to do with the ‘skills’ of being a good presenter (download the Presentation Skills PQ and read it). We work with this because it would be impossible for every time someone wanted to be assessed in this PQ we would have to have an assessor who was more knowledgeable about the content than the person presenting – this is clearly a ludicrous proposition. An assessor is looking at things like: was there an introduction, does the candidate speak clearly, do they respond to questions, is there a conclusion and narrative flow (see Presentation Skills PQ). These are the elements being measured and any assessor who has competence themselves and confidence can assess even a world expert in their Presentation Skills. Prior to this, and as a final contingency, any Assessor or Candidate can decline to test or be tested by someone who they are not comfortable with.

I you have thoughts or opinions on this please feel free to engage with us.

AntArctic Stories Podcast

Looking for some polar podcasts to listen to on your long journeys to/from the Arctic this season? We had this piece in the last issue of Brash Talk but the podcasts are still going and they are excellent.

AntArctic Stories is a podcast that takes you behind the scenes into the rich world of people who live, work, and undertake daring expeditions in the polar regions. Check it out at:


Putting Qualifications or Status on Hold

If you are taking a break from guiding or direct industry involvement (trying another job/career, having family etc) and let your membership lapse (therefore your qualifications are no longer active or acknowledged) then you may put your qualifications ‘on hold’ until you require them in future.

Qualifications can be put on hold for a maximum of four years from the date you sat your assessments or last revalidated.

It is your responsibility to apply to PTGA requesting that your qualifications and status be put on hold. Please contact us with the dates you would like your qualifications/status on hold from/to. This must be done in advance and won’t be granted retrospectively.

If less than four years has elapsed since your assessment or last revalidation and you decide to re-join the industry and PTGA, you will have to provide a strong portfolio of evidence to prove your continued currency. In addition an Assessor will need to acknowledge overall competence in the work place and identify any specific deficits which may need formal testing.

If a qualification has been on hold for more than four years, you will be required to re-sit the assessment.

Virtual Learning Environment

We have received useful feedback on our Virtual Learning Environment modules and made some good changes. We are very close to being able to launch and our goal is the next couple of weeks. We’d like to add one more topic that is physical science based (climate, geology, or subset of biological interest). So if you have expertise in any of these areas and would be prepared to help us get another topic primer on line please drop us a line at info@polartourismguides.com


Guides guides

We have published the first in our ‘Guides guides’ series (Insurance). They are published in the PTGA website and for members only so you will need to log in and look under the Resources tab.

Member Survey

We are going to send out a member survey in the next month or so. We’d really appreciate your input to this as it will help us set course for the next 12 months. Keep an eye out for it in your inbox.


ExpertVoice (formerly Experticity) will accept PTGA Guide Certificates. Gain access to hundreds of brands through this community. Go to https://www.expertvoice.com and follow instructions to create an account. You will need to choose a group – enter ‘Outdoor Guide’ and you will be prompted to upload a copy of your PTGA Guide certificate. Do that and you are in.

We’d love to hear what your favorite piece of gear is so we can try and get the company that makes it to join us with more Pro Deals. Drop a line and let us know.

What is the IPGA?

Some of you will have come across the International Polar Guides Association (IPGA) in your travels on line or trying to Google polar guiding or the PTGA. Here is a brief overview of what it is, and isn’t and why there are two organisations like this. This article is not about measuring one against the other, they have similarites but mostly are distinctly different and service different partas of the indusrty.

The IPGA was established as a non-profit entity in Canada in 2011 to service the community of guides who were involved mostly in sledding and ski trips to North and South Poles and/or across the Greenland ice cap. They represent a relatively small group of guides who work mostly at the far end of the continuum of what we call polar guiding. Their Board and visible membership represents a virtual who’s who of inspirational polar sled and ski journeys. Many of these people are now involved in guiding clients across ice caps, to the Poles or more commonly on the many ‘Last Degree’ trips skiing the last 60nm to the north or south poles.

IPGA guides represent a very real section of the industry and subset of the PTGA arena. We realize it can be confusing when the language of polar guiding used by the PTGA and IPGA seems so similar. Here are some of the key differences:

IPGA – Charter: The International Polar Guides Association (IPGA) is a not-for-profit worldwide body founded by active polar guides to facilitate the development and preservation of high quality professional guiding in polar-ice environments.

PTGA – Charter: To provide an internationally recognized process of performance testing and qualification for guides across all platforms of polar guiding. The PTGA is a US based non-profit Professional Industry Association (ISO 21102: 2018 compliant) servicing the skills competency and measurement needs of polar tourism and expedition cruise operators, outfitters, field staff and polar guides across ALL platforms of polar guiding and tourism for the benefit of all stakeholders and the environments we represent.

IPGA – Area: An IPGA Polar Guide is able to guide in any land-ice polar environment where surface travel is the primary mode, and mountaineering skills are transitory in nature. Polar Guides typically, but not exclusively, operate in Antarctica/South Pole, in Greenland and other terrestrial Arctic locations. A Polar Guide is not endorsed to guide on sea-ice.

A Master Polar Guide is able to guide in any polar environment where surface travel is the primary mode, and mountaineering skills are transitory in nature. Master Polar Guides typically, but not exclusively, operate on the Arctic Ocean/North Pole, in Antarctica/South Pole, in Greenland and other Arctic locations. A Master Polar Guide is endorsed to guide on land-ice and sea-ice.

IPGA does not endorse guides that operate in environments where ice is secondary to other mediums, such as open water or mountains.

PTGA – Area: By definition the polar regions we represent guides in consist of the ice-covered Arctic Ocean and surrounding land, including all of Greenland and Spitsbergen, the northern parts of Alaska, Canada, Norway and Russia in the north and Sth Georgia and the Sth Sandwich Islands, the NZ and Australian sub Antarctic islands and the entire continent of Antarctica.

As you can see, the PTGA Charter and operation covers a much broader range of operation and geography.

PTGA offers an ISO accredited performance testing and qualification model with all the systems (syllabi, assessors, pedagogy, testing methodology and administrative structures to make all this viable) that allow it to work. The IPGA issue endorsements after an application is reviewed by a review panel. Some external qualifications (Emergency Care, Firearms and Crevasse Travel/Rescue) are required to achieve status.

We do share the same title by calling our practitioners ‘polar guides’ and there seems few options to work around this. There is no doubt this can be confusing for people. The IPGA structure has two levels: Polar Guide and Master Polar Guide against the PTGA: Polar Guide and Senior Polar Guide. The IPGA application requirements are general and the review process and measurements and judgments are not transparent. The PTGA’s Qualification Framework and syllabi are totally transparent and available for any guide to see what is required and what is tested and expected.

The PTGA accepts proven performance measurements from other qualification systems that use skills required by our definition of a polar guide. We believe it is important to acknowledge skills and qualifications from other programs because we are catering to a truly international membership. To that end, if an IPGA endorsed Guide or Master Guide applied for Cross Crediting into the PTGA system there are a number of shared skills and external qualifications that would be recognizable by the PTGA. The IPGA does not currently recognize shared skills, qualifications or measured competencies a PTGA guide might have.

The IPGA represents a specific and smaller subset of what the PTGA considers polar guiding. The PTGA (as per its charter) represents polar guides across all platforms of polar guiding in all polar environments. By definition this could include anyone who operates the kind of expeditions IPGA guides run (also see our PQ – Lead a Polar Expedition). Ultimately the two organizations operate very differently and service mostly different memberships. While there may be confusion around the term and status of Polar Guide as it is used by the IPGA and PTGA there would seem to be very few situations where this would be an issue.

Both organizations will continue to do what they do.

New Board Member – Colby Brokvist

Colby was voted in from a group of 5 nominees (the most to date). When not working as an Expedition Leader in the field, Colby is the EL Manager for Natural Habitat’s polar bear expeditions in the Canadian Arctic, and is a lead instructor and developer of guide training programs for the company.

He has led expeditions in the Arctic, Antarctica, Patagonia, and throughout North America since 2004. The brunt of his polar experience has been working from small yachts in Antarctica and remote camps in Canada and Greenland with Natural Habitat Adventures. He is excited about the future of the PTGA, what it offers guides and its potential for development right now.

Formerly, Colby spent six years as the General Manager of Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, where he oversaw daily operations, guide training curriculums, program development, risk management planning, and marketing initiatives. His past experiences also include work as a mountain guide, backcountry sea kayaking guide, and photography instructor. Colby’s free time is dedicated to exploring the world’s wild places, and advocating for wilderness stewardship. He calls Boulder, Colorado home.

New Advisory Board Member – Carolyn Wiseman

We are expanding our Advisory Board and Carolyn Wiseman is one of the first placements we have made.

Carolyn is a seasoned HR professional with extensive experience in training, assessments, work health and safety and corporate governance. Born and bred on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, her love of the ocean led to a decade-long stint at Surf Life Saving where she contributed to the development of a framework for training and assessing volunteer lifesavers.   Being responsible for the development of a training program designed to assist surf clubs in managing their work health and safety needs led her to providing specialist advice in this area to various Associations and Boards.

Now the Expedition Team Senior Manager at Aurora Expeditions, Carolyn recently returned from Antarctica where she saw first-hand the skills and professionalism of the polar tourism guiding community. An avid supporter of training and professional standards, Carolyn looks forward to sharing her expertise and experience with the PTGA.

She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business,  post graduate qualifications in Management and has completed the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Foundation Course. When she’s not working, you’ll find Carolyn participating in the surf club community at her local beach.

Gear for sale

We still have NRS ligtweight and low profile throw bags (a must for a modern guide) $32 + postage.

BCA short probes ideal for poking around in the snow at Neko, Brown, Orne or Portal Pt crevasses to see what’s going on. If you are in charge of leading hikes you really should have a short probe in your kit. $30 + postage.

Corrections in Polar guide numbers from #11

We run a live counter at the end of each Brash Talk of PTGA Members, Senior Guides and Polar Guides. A number was missed in the last issue and Polar Guides was put at ‘1’ when it should have been 19.


Guano Happens

This is an interesting experience and rather than having any causal factors to review it is a cautionary tale and registered incident so is worthy of sharing and being reminded that walrus are unpredictable, powerful and armed with anti-zodiac swords. This incident also reinforces the value of operating with a partner when out in ambiguous conditions.

I was EL and driver during a Zodiac cruise in eastern Svalbard. There were swimming walrus with calves thinly spread across the whole area of the excursion so I was regularly warning staff to maintain a safe distance from them. Winds were approximately 15-20 knots and the water was murky with sediment.

As I was returning to the ship I was at full throttle with the intention of getting up on plane when three adult walrus surfaced simultaneously on my port side, almost touching the Zodiac. They were swimming in the same direction as me and at the same speed. All three rolled onto their sides to face the boat and raked their tusks through the port tubes before fleeing. The whole event took about 3-4 seconds. The whole port side of the zodiac collapsed instantly and the passengers on that side threw themselves forward onto the floor. My ‘buddy boat’ came alongside immediately and took all ten passengers before redistributing to other boats who were arriving.
I was able to drive back to the ship unassisted with a pronounced list, the floor awash and the helm hard over to counter the drag of the empty tubes! When the boat was lifted onto the ship, five individual tears of up to 50cm in length were found across two chambers.
*If you have had any close calls you would like to share with your fellow polar guides to help everyone learn from mistakes or polar weirdness please drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you. Everything is treated confidentially and neither individuals or the companies they work for are identified. The sole purpose of this column is sharing incidents and education.


PTGA Members – 280
Senior Polar Guides – 94
Polar Guides – 23

Congratulations to our most recent members reviewed through the RCC, Cross Credit scheme or assessment.

Polar Guide – Frankie Gamble, Christoph Bialek, David Jaffe, Steffan Danino
Senior Polar Guide – Dave Begg, Luciano Bernacchi, Martin McGrath, Mario Spring, 

Have a safe and fun season.