Where's the best snow, how to handle people's expectations - and when to turn back. Also, pioneering peaks to discover the new wild ski destinations. It's all part of the job description for top French mountain guide, Mathieu Maynadier.
You've just celebrated your 10th year as a mountain guide so you were very young when you qualified. Did you always know that you wanted to be a guide?
I was born in the Hautes Alpes and have lived in the mountains all my life, growing up in Serre Chevalier. First, I was motivated to climb and ski - and the guiding came naturally. I started to do my ESF ski instructor education but soon I understood that my passion is for the mountains and climbing. So I switched and restarted training as a mountain guide. But I do not guide all year - I keep time for climbing and travelling. And it's still my ambition to obtain a ski instructor qualitification. As a guide, there are many opportunities to be a ski instructor. In the future, we will see more and more teaching off-piste.
I want to communicate the joy and the beauty of the mountains to my clients
What is the hardest part of a guide's job? Is it finding the best snow when the conditions are bad?
Yes, sometimes it's all about finding the best snow. But if you are stressed because the snow is bad it's often because you have missed that part of your job of explaining. I try to be very honest with my clients like this. If the conditions are not good, I tell them and they can cancel - or not. When I'm guiding I want to communicate the joy and the beauty of the mountains to my clients. So, if the conditions are bad, I would prefer to cancel and lose one day of work. Fortunately, I can afford to do this as I still have income from my sponsors - The North Face, Petzl, Scarpa and Julbo.
But skiing is not just about doing powder. You can have a very good time in the mountains even when the snow is not good. It's all about communication.
When did you realise that dealing with people is a major part of the job?
Immediately. But I like this. Dealing with people allows you to explain the different options and the reason for your choice.
After a client has scored, maybe, their best ever day in the mountains does that give you a buzz or do you merely think that’s another day when it all went well?
When I know I have made their day for them I am very happy. It's great when you know you have done your job well and you have made the best decisions.
I'm currently more focused on climbing and alpinism
Given the choice, powder day in La Grave or ice climbing in Erzurum, Turkey?
I enjoy the powder and, when it's finished, driving to the south for climbing. Actually, I'm currently more focused on climbing and alpinism but in the future I want to do more wild ski trips, such as pow in Pakistan. I have been to many places for climbing and mountaineering where I would like to return to go skiing.
What are some of the projects that you are working on?
This year is very busy . At the end of March we sailed to Greenland.
It's a big year for me with six months travelling
Then we visited the extreme south of Greenland to explore - for climbing but not for skiing. This will be in the Maewan Adventure Base worldwide advernture trip . In June, it's Pakistan on the border of India to climb a big wall. Then I go again on the Maewan Adventure Base for climbing in Baffin Island during July and August. And, next autumn, I'm off to north Nepal for mountaineering. So it's a big year for me with six months travelling.
Are you more fearful of the mountains when climbing new terrain you are not used to such as your overseas trips to the Himalyas when, maybe, you do not have the local knowledge and are far more exposed?
It's for sure when you don't know you pay more attention to all around you like the weather ,the map and what is happening. But it's important to keep in mind the words 'used to' are, also, dangerous.
Do you think the backcountry areas and places like La Grave are getting skied out more quickly than say 10 years ago?
I can't tell you, I'm too young! One thing for sure is that the kind of skier is changing. Now there are more 'freeskiers' with all the latest ski kit.
Freeskiing is becoming more and more popular
What skis do you ride?
The new K2 Pinnacle 105 are the ones I use for short ski tours and ski guiding. For a big La Grave powder day, I ride the K2 Petittor 122!
Are you impressed by any of the latest innovations in ski gear such as the Marker KingPin?
Everything is developing very fast and many brands now have some very good freeski gear. Lightweighter with high performance qualities is increasing as freeskiing is becoming more and more popular.
Knowledge and the 'pay attention' mindset are the most important gear
In your view are too many people skiing off piste unprepared without the right avy gear, - with all the gear but no idea?
I think many people are very well equiped but not very experienced. And, maybe, the gear gives them too much confidence. Ten years ago, just a few people were equiped with avy kit and airbags. Today, if you don't have the inflatable bag, everybody is looking at you like you are a crazy guy! I think having knowledge and the 'pay attention' mindset are the most important gear. But it's also important to reflect and decide for yourself, because you know whether and why you go or not.
Would you like to see certain lifts that give people access to potentially lethal slack country terrain only open to those with kit ?
No, I'm not for rules like that. It's very important to keep the mountains free. I think the most important thing is to inform and educate people to be able to choose for themselves if they go or not. The gear is not the problem.
With the spate of avalanches, this season, (2015-16) in your home area (Hautes Alpes) and the high number of fatalities, some of whom were very experienced, do you ever question, no matter how much skill and knowledge that you have, it is often just down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Yes, some very experienced skiers have had accidents, this winter, and this shows us how you can easily be taken by surprise But, if you look at them in detail, it's possible to explain most of the reasons. Maybe, sometimes, the people have made some small mistake and the problem, this.winter, has been that the conditions don't allowed you ANY mistakes. But if those experienced guys can make a mistake, then everybody can do the same - and me, too!
We have to keep in mind to always pay attention to conditions and weather and turn back if we don't have a good feeling. But decide for yourself! So, like this, you know why you go or not.
Catch up with Mathieu and his extreme adventures on Facebook