You can now book a climbing or backcountry ski guide for this weekend with a few clicks on an app. Just don’t call it ‘the Uber of mountain guides.’
Jeff Phaneuf was on active duty in the US Marine Corps, stationed out of 29 Palms, in southern California. On his days off, he and his fellow Marines craved an adventure, like climbing a mountain or going fishing. But they often didn’t have time to plan anything. On one vacation, they flew to the US Virgin Islands in hopes of booking a fishing charter. They searched online and checked Facebook and Yelp, but they couldn’t find a local fishing boat available on short order.
“We ended up going around to the pubs, asking if anyone knew anyone with a fishing boat,” Phaneuf says. “I thought, this should be much easier. I remember that moment, thinking someone should fix this problem.”
Phaneuf tried to fix it himself. As a graduate student at Princeton University last year, he launched a now-defunct start-up called Adventurelist, a marketplace for guides to list upcoming trips and for people like Phaneuf to book an outing with a qualified guide who could handle the logistics. It got off the ground with a handful of guides, but the site never reached critical mass.
Phaneuf, who’s now the director of advocacy for No One Left Behind, a veteran service organization, closed Adventurelist in late 2021. But still, he sees a need for online marketplaces for adventure guiding. “I believe in the concept,” he says. “We need to be able to streamline access to guides for the benefit of everyone.”
Let’s say you want to go rock climbing in California’s Joshua Tree National Park or backcountry skiing on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, but you have no idea how to pull that off on your own. Hiring a guide is always a smart idea when you’re headed into the wilderness. With a guide, complicated route-planning and decision-making are taken care of by someone who knows the area well, and you’ll get to enjoy the experience in a safer, more responsible manner. The tricky part has always been finding the right guide.
In years past, if you wanted to hire a certified mountain guide, you’d ask around for a personal reference or take your chances on a Google search. In the US, the website for the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) has a hire a guide section, but it’s clunky at best. European countries make the process a bit easier, but still, it requires some know-how.
In short, if you don’t already know a trusted guide, good luck finding one.