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How to Motivate

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How To Motivate
Photo by Andy Bardon.

Slogging up a snowfield, panting beneath a heavy pack, with a couple miles to the next camp. Flaming forearms on the rock, still three pitches from the summit. These moments are difficult to break through on your own—how do you keep a whole team moving? Even if you’re not an aspiring guide, keep these useful incentives in your head next time you or your partner starts struggling.

I often quote the great Barry Blanchard: “Remember, it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun!” I also remind them that they are paying me to make them suffer, and they may not like me now but they’ll thank me later!

—Anna Keeling

It’s super psychological. You have to read the person and make sure he is in the right place and that you’re pushing him just the right amount. Sometimes it’s looking people in the eyes and telling them, “You can do this.” Other times it’s telling them to “Man the f*** up.”

—Margaret Wheeler

Early starts help prevent the need to crack the whip. Positive reinforcement goes a long way toward keeping the stoke high. Take good care of them; make sure systems are safe and they are fed, hydrated, and comfortable.

—Howie Schwartz

Out-hiking your client or partner is a fast way to lose team confidence. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. I tend to talk softly most of the time—the Jedi mind trick of whispering “you can do it”—but sometimes I’ll set a challenge out and give them timed goals. They get rewarded with a nice chocolate treat or the like.

—Marc Beverly

The aesthetics of climbing and the surroundings tend to provide plenty of motivation. Choosing great objectives is about understanding abilities and enjoyment, and marrying this with the right terrain given the conditions. If I do a good job setting expectations and managing exertion, I usually don’t ever get to the “butt-kicking” phase. People always have more capacity to push themselves than they know, but pushing them in a reasonable way and providing good, realistic opportunities is the art of guiding. Setting reachable expectations and being clear about potential cruxes—be it exertion, movement, environmental, or exposure—lead to

successful outings.

—Peter Doucette

I try to instill in my clients the willingness to suffer. That’s what gets most people up mountains—that, and good weather. Many people are not used to feeling physically uncomfortable. Let them know it’s OK to feel tired, thirsty, hungry, hot, or cold; it’s all part of the game.

—Jeff Ward


  • Anna Keeling hails from New Zealand and has been active in adventure sports most of her life. She has lived in the U.S. for 15 years but is also a member of the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association, where she works to help promote guiding in her native country.

  • Margaret Wheeler was the second U.S. woman to complete the IFMGA certification, in 2006. She currently guides in the Northwest and is a board member and guide instructor for the AMGA.

  • Howie Schwartz is co-owner of Sierra Mountain Guides in California. He co-designed the avalanche-course curriculum at the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, and he currently teaches multiple levels of seminars.

  • Marc Beverly owns Beverly Mountain Guides based in New Mexico, and he authored a Santa Fe climbing guidebook. He has a Ph.D. in exercise science from the University of New Mexico.

  • Peter Doucette has climbed all over the world, from Mt. Foraker in Alaska to the Sichuan Province in China. He owns Mountain Sense Guides in New Hampshire and takes clients all over the Northeast.

  • Jeff Ward is co-owner of North Cascades Mountain Guides in Mazama, Washington. He is an instructor for the AMGA and also works for the Northwest Avalanche Center.

Digital Extra! Get more tips from America’s leading mountain guides on developing other key soft skills such as empathy, confidence, and passion in our iPad edition.