Words by Morgan Dinsdale | Posted December 22, 2016
His personality fills the room as he walks through the lodge doors. Larger than life, the ever-smiling Craig McGee, Manager of CMH Nomads, is the kind of character that would give Huck Finn a run for his money in keeping Tom Sawyer on his toes. He’s part adventurer, part dreamer. At 40, his list of mountaineering and guiding accomplishments are as remarkable as his smile, so wide it makes his eyes squint. Despite his relatively young age Craig’s already worked as a professional ski guide for twenty years. In many ways he’s a Nomad himself. An avid traveller, he’s journeyed the world in search of new routes and first descents, from the Himalayans to Patagonia and it’s fitting that he lead a ski program where its limitless boundaries demand the strong of spirit and adventurous of heart.
Craig seems most at home in the mountains. He grew up mountain biking and skiing the small mountains surrounding his hometown of Tsawwassen, BC, a little ocean town just south of Vancouver. “I grew up on a mountain bike and then I started skiing when I was 12,” he says of the two sports that first brought him into the mountains. “As soon as I had skis on my feet I was hooked.” Immediately after high school, craving a larger mountain playground, Craig moved to Whistler at 17 with his bike and skis. Uninterested in the party scene, he dove head first into backcountry skiing. By age 20 he was guiding and on his way to becoming one of the best.
“I’m not sure where I got the idea to become a ski guide,” he says thinking back on earlier years.“ It was more of a natural progression for me to go deeper into the mountains than anything else.” He lived and trained with Keith Reid, internationally recognized ACMG/IFMGA mountain guide and two-term past president of the ACMG, who at the time was pushing the boundaries of rock climbing and backcountry ski touring along British Columbia’s coastline.
“Keith has always been the godfather of the coast, putting up some of the hardest climbs back then and skiing some of the most visionary lines,” he says of his teacher who is almost 20 years his senior. “Even though we were both doing the guides exams at the same time he was always a mentor for me.” The two spent countless days in the mountains together – skiing, climbing and exploring the possibilities that mountaineering provided in the immense backcountry surrounding Whistler.
That early exploration led Craig around the globe. “I travelled the world in search of new routes because I was in love with the unknown of it all,” he says of his years spent adventuring the wild mountains of the world. “Now that my wife and I are based in Banff, I couldn’t be happier just being in these mountains where I can continue to push myself and dream of the next big adventure across such a vast landscape.”
Craig came to CMH at twenty-four, initially working at CMH Monashees and then CMH Adamants where he met and was mentored by Erich Unterberger, CMH’s current Manager of Guiding Operations. Craig credits Erich with a pivotal role in shaping him into the guide he is today. “I was a young and cocky guide but Erich recognized my potential and my adventurous spirit,” he says of his second great mentor. “I learned more from him than I could have ever imagined.” He’s brought these lessons and many of his own to the leadership of CMH Nomads.
Alongside guiding partner John Newsome they’ve created a unique approach to premier heli-skiing; a tailored adventure in a terrain so expansive it’s almost incomprehensible with over a million acres of skiable terrain, from which Craig, John and guests select the optimal experiences for the day. Craig sees Nomads as an open forum for collaboration with its guests in every way. “We lift up and say to the guests, what do you want to ski? Where do you want to go? Because we can really tailor Nomads to them and to where the best skiing will be on any given day. The thought of skiing through an area that is 1.2 million acres is pretty exceptional.”
Despite a lifetime of accomplishments, Craig’s passion lies in sharing his love of the mountains with others. He loves to ski – and he wants to take you along for the ride. “I grew up becoming a guide, being in the mountains pushing my limits and challenging myself. That’s what has always sustained me,” he says of his career so far. “But getting to take people out into the mountains, watching the smiles across their faces as they take in the views, and hearing their laughter with each turn made through the snow, that’s kept my love of the mountains very much alive.”
Perhaps a result of his mentorship experiences, Craig’s pay-it-forward style is even more important to him now that he is making his mark leading CMH Nomads. He has created and led many ACMG guiding courses over the past ten years and is an ACMG examiner, a pivotal role in the development of the next generation of mountain guides. “Beyond just being the right thing to do, watching the next generation of guides keeps me sharp,” he says of his role. “Guiding isn’t black and white, it’s a lot of grey and when you go out with these aspiring guides they often handle situations in slightly different ways. You’ve got a lot to teach them, but they’ve also got a lot to teach you. They keep your perspective fresh because you have to let them get close to situations that could be really hazardous in order to let them make decisions. It keeps me sharp.”
Craig’s teaching mantra spills over to his guiding. He’s one of the best when it comes to teaching new techniques for snow conditions to those unfamiliar with the nuances of deep powder skiing. Caring, compassionate and, most importantly, a good listener, Craig never forgets a name or a face and is always focused on creating the most engaging, world-class experience possible. His experience also brings along a sense of safety. Important when he’s often found taking guests down new slopes to create the adrenaline-filled adventure he knows kindred spirits crave.
No one makes 8+ hours in the mountains as wildly memorable as Craig McGee. “He’s the kind of guy who you want to follow down a first descent. He’s the kind of guy you trust,” says Tom Arrix, two-time guest of CMH Nomads. “Craig makes every moment about as much fun as it can possibly be, fully engaged in making our dreams a reality as much as we are. He knows how to keep it safe. He knows how to make it special. And he knows how to rip it up.” Fully absorbed in the challenge of the terrain, the beauty of the setting and the joy of life – there’s a joie de vivre about Craig that soaks up into your soul. He’s a world-class ski guide leading a world-class program, but more than anything, he’s a man who loves to be in the mountains.
For more on CMH Nomads click here.