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Living the Dream: I’m a Backcountry Guide in Colorado

“We love these mountains, and we love sharing them with others.”

By Julie Vick on July 10, 2019

Crested Butte CO
Crested Butte / Dave Kozlowski/CBMR

Ever dreamed of ditching the 9-5 grind and spending your workdays out in nature? We talked to Janae, a backcountry guide in Crested Butte, CO, about how she made her dream a reality – and what this wild life is really like.  

Name: Janae Pritchett 

Age: 43

Occupation: Co-owner of Colorado Backcountry Guide Service

Location: Crested Butte, CO

Crested Butte CO
Crested Butte / Photo by Janae Pritchett

You didn’t grow up in Colorado. What brought you to Crested Butte?

A job. In 1998 I graduated from Yale and landed a summer job at Curecanti National Recreation Area, in Gunnison, monitoring fish populations and stream flows. At the end of the summer, I didn’t have my next move planned out so I headed up the valley to Crested Butte with my newfound friends to ski and contemplate what would come next. 

The launch into my teaching career kept me in Crested Butte. In 2000, I began teaching science and math at the Crested Butte Academy, and worked as a middle and high school math teacher for 10 years. During all those years as a teacher, I guided during the summer. My husband Ben who I met on the Search and Rescue team, also guided. Now, when I’m not running our guide service, I write math curriculum for a company in Washington D.C.

Crested Butte CO
Crested Butte / Dave Kozlowski/CBMR

How does Colorado Backcountry help visitors explore the area?

We started our guide service in 2006 primarily as a hiking guide service. Since that time, we’ve expanded to offer guided hiking, backpacking, peak climbs, mountain biking, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and hut trips. We also offer wildflower tours, mountain bike instruction and avalanche education courses. Our activities range from relaxing, scenic family outings to high-value skills clinics, adventurous day trips and multi-day mountain traverses. 

We love these mountains, and we love sharing them with others, responsibly and respectfully. Escaping the crowds to find those spectacular, remote areas is our favorite. We specialize in custom trips, scaling the day’s objectives to every client’s personal goals. My husband and I are scientists by training, as are several of our guides, so we bring a naturalist element to all of our outdoor adventures.

Crested Butte CO
Crested Butte / Photo by Janae Pritchett

Many people explore the mountains on their own, so we often get asked: “why should I hire a guide?”

The goal for our guides is not simply to show people the way but to give them the experience of a lifetime. We seek to inspire others to love the outdoors and to protect it. Every person on our intimate team of hand-picked guides has lived in the Crested Butte area for a long time and is deeply familiar with the local backcountry.  

Wild West Experiences You Can Only Have in Colorado

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I don’t think a typical workday exists in my world. A day might involve waking before sunrise to meet clients for a full-day backcountry adventure, or grabbing cones and obstacles for teaching mountain bike skills clinics, or reading the avalanche report before heading out to lead women’s backcountry days, or grocery shopping for backpacking trips, or answering emails and phone calls. I’m pretty sure the same day never happens twice.

Crested Butte CO
Crested Butte / Tom Stillo/CBMR

What do you like about living in Crested Butte?

There is so much to love about living in Crested Butte. I love the supportive and passionate community. If any person in my family ever needed anything, the community would rally to help. 

The town of Crested Butte, devoid of stop lights and four-lane roads, is authentic and quaint. It boasts fantastic food and shopping with almost all locally-owned stores. I love that my townie bike, and not my car, is my primary mode of transportation.

Crested Butte loves visitors, particularly those who are committed to protecting the public lands that surround our town. The backcountry surrounding Crested Butte is vast. There is so much exploring to be done here for people of all ages and athletic abilities, from those who prefer nature strolls to the uber-athletes. Every time of year there is some wilderness adventure to be had. 

Also, wildflowers, of course. It’s hard to beat walking or biking through miles and miles of brilliant wildflowers during the summer months.

Crested Butte CO
Crested Butte / Kurt Schmidt/CBMR

Crested Butte is known for its wildflowers. What are some of your favorite flowers in the area?

I love them all! I particularly love that if you know where to look, wildflower season lasts for many months. With a little effort, you can follow the flowers from the lower elevations in May to the highest summits in September. In the spring, I love pasque flowers and glacier lilies. In the summer, I love them all. What’s not to love about walking or biking through fields of flowers three to eight feet tall? They all make me smile!

Crested Butte CO
Crested Butte / Dave Kozlowski/CBMR

Any advice for people wanting to get into guiding?

Many people want to be guides. Determine what is going to set you apart from others. Offer to volunteer or intern with various guide services so that you can learn about how they operate and if you’re a good fit. Intimately know both your activity and the location where you plan to do it. 

The best guides I’ve ever seen are all highly educated people who have a wealth of knowledge to share. They’re highly skilled in their discipline, incredibly good at dealing with people, remarkably patient, and can keep their cool when the unexpected and even the unthinkable happens in the backcountry. Most types of guiding are requiring more and more certifications and training, so stay up to date on what type of training you may need to do. Have fun, ask questions, and go for it!

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