Words by Morgan Dinsdale | Posted December 1, 2016
When it comes to skiing steeps, few know the territory quite like Dave Gauley. Constantly pushing his limits to the max, Dave built his career skiing steeps. From Alaska to Chamonix to New Zealand, Dave has lead expeditions the world over and skied some of the biggest lines on the planet.
His career as a CMH ski guide began while completing his preparations for his most notable descent as a big mountain skier, Alaska’s Mt. Deborah’s West Face in 2000. Those tracks landed him on the cover of Powder Magazine and have been called the “biggest, wildest, most committing ski descent in North America.”
While finalizing his Mt. Deborah plans, Dave had an opportunity to go heli-skiing for the first time with a fellow extreme skier for a photo shoot to CMH’s Gothics. “I thought, this is what these guys get to ski everyday? And then they get to go home to all that delicious food and those views? Sounds good to me!” He was hooked.
Unlike most aspiring guides, many of whom come from backgrounds in ski patrolling, Dave knew only what his life as a professional extreme skier had taught him. “I had no idea what the expectations were … back then there was less standardization and the ACMG process was laid out completely different from today.”
Dave passed every exam he attempted on his first try, becoming a full ACMG/IFMGA Mountain Guide in five years – an immense accomplishment given the pass/fail rate at the time. “During my Assistant Ski Guide exam at the Bugaboos I believe only three out of 17 of us passed,” he says of the grueling process. “But my background gave me an eye for seeing the terrain and what could be skied in all sorts of conditions.”
Today, Dave has been working as a ski guide with CMH for 16 years. Since joining CMH he has guided at almost every CMH lodge, exploring the seemingly endless tenures with guests of all skiing abilities. In 2006 he became Assistant Area Manager at CMH’s Cariboos Lodge and this season he will take the helm as Area Manager at CMH McBride.
“Skiing steeper pitches in the trees or higher alpine, pushing the terrain and getting comfortable on your skis in these wild places, that’s an exhilarating feeling,” he says of the passion that’s influenced his guiding style. “Helping others find their confidence in steep terrain, granting a margin for error where I can help them develop their skills and learn how to handle various conditions, that’s really exciting!”
It was at CMH Cariboos that Dave spearheaded a program for those looking to push their skiing limits in some of the most challenging terrain available.
“My specialty is looking for terrain and seeing something new that maybe people haven’t seen before, to show them how it can be skied,” he says of CMH’s Steep Weeks. “They get a chance to ski terrain as steep and as challenging as any guest has ever wanted, where they are really involved with what they are going to ski. It’s my job to educate them on what’s going on in the snow and what their options are, given their skill and comfort level, so that their experience can be all about pushing their limits in a safe and encouraging environment.”
Dave often reflects on his own experiences pushing his limits on skis. His 3200 vertical foot descent of Mt. Deborah’s West Face in Alaska’s Hayes Range was within reach of only a handful of the world’s greatest skiers. Beginning at a staggering 60°, the steepest skiable angle, and extending through a cliff band it maintains 55 degrees for the remainder of the descent. Gauley’s ski counts as one of the most remarkable unassisted first descents of a remote peak in the history of skiing.
“Mt. Deborah was my ultimate descent,” he says of the intense concentration and immense skill required to accomplish the feat. “As an extreme steeps skier I had to find my limit, and I knew I would never need to look for it again after that experience. As a ski guide I love to help people find their limits, though I would never take anyone into terrain as extreme as that. We are not extreme skiing! But for so many of these skiers they are pushing their limits just as hard. Guiding guests has kept the fire alive for me all these years.”
Having shifted from pro athlete to professional ski guide, Dave commits his snowy days to ensuring others safely enjoy the offerings of the mountains. For this extreme skier, exploration into the mountains will never end. “It feels like anywhere there is to ski I’ve laid tracks,” he says of his lifetime skiing the world’s most iconic terrain, “But Canada is unique in that it’s such a massive, remote land; there are endless new lines to ski.
No matter how much you think you know the mountains, they will always remind you there’s something out there you haven’t experienced. Whether to ski for myself or to guide guests down I think I’ll always be out looking for that next line.