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Morgan McGlashon Goes Further into the Guiding World for NEXUS

Adam Wirth Photo

To put it lightly, Morgan McGlashon’s days are busy. The 27 year old Exum Mountain Guide spends her summers guiding groups up and down the Grand Teton, something that most folks would deem to be a once in a lifetime experience. In the winter, she continues to work for Exum as a mountain guide, avalanche instructor, supporting marketing coordinator and more. Her ski mountaineering, climbing treks through high alpine and human powered adventures have taken her all around the world. At just 18 years old she skied the Grand Teton, earning her the notable distinction of being the youngest woman to ever ski the peak. When she started at Exum in 2020, she was also the youngest guide to work there, and continues to be just one of five women to guide in the winter season at North America’s oldest and most prestigious guiding company.

Fond of difficult feats, Morgan would be the first to admit that getting to work at Exum was not an easy or necessarily defined road. Exum’s own website pulls a statement taken from Outside Magazine that states “It’s easier to get a Rhodes Scholarship than to get a job at Exum,” (to put that into perspective, getting into the scholarship program has a steep acceptance rate of 0.7%).

Even though her professional career in guiding is relatively new, it could be argued her guiding journey started much earlier. Growing up in Jackson Hole, she spent most of her time in high school ski racing and transitioned into the world of freeride competition, dabbling in events on the Freeride World Tour in college, while she studied Environmental Studies and Geology at Middlebury College in Vermont. A tenacious leader in the backcountry as well as a mean sourdough bread baker, Morgan has established herself in the Jackson community and just last winter had the chance to flex her skills for the camera, guiding skiers and nurses Lucy Sackbauer and Ingrid Stensvaag through the Tetons for the critically acclaimed film, NEXUS.

Morgan and I caught up on her journey of becoming a mountain guide, working in a male dominated field, creating projects with your friends doing what you love, and what it was like being a part of an all female ski production. If you want to be a guide, know what NEXUS is about or hear some of Morgan’s sage wisdom, read on.

Katie Lozancich Photo 

At what point did you get into guiding or consider it as a career?

I was always really psyched on backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering and being in this area of the country. I definitely went through a phase of questioning what I wanted to do. I was like, do I want to be a pro skier? Do I want to be a photographer? How do I do the things I want to do and still make this my life? At some point I realized that guiding was a job, and it clicked that it seemed like the path for me. I like teaching and taking people into the mountains. That was always something I liked even before I started guiding. My role in my friend group has always been my friends being like, “Oh, I want to go up the Grand,” and I'd be like, “I don't really know how to do that, but we could figure it out.”

Did anyone in particular help you get into guiding professionally?

I trained at this gym in Jackson where this guy Rob Shawl trained a ton of athletes and guides in the valley. That was where I met Jessica Baker when I was in high school, and she's a full-time guide. I feel like I knew that guiding was a thing, but getting there wasn't a clearly defined path. After I graduated college, I emailed Jessica and said, “I'm sort of interested in being a mountain guide, will you have coffee with me?” After we talked, she called me a few months later while she was guiding a hut trip in Canada. Somebody broke their leg and couldn't go, so she asked if I wanted to be a tail guide for her in Revelstoke. I happened to be in Revelstoke at the time, so of course I said yes.

I was probably 24, and it was sick. We went powder skiing for a week and I was like, this is a job? I totally want to do this. Afterwards, Jessica introduced me to Nat Patridge, who's one of the owners of Exum, and I pursued a job there for about two years. I was going to do whatever it took until I got hired. Eventually, Nat was like, “Okay, you can start working now.”

The process of getting to where you are, what did that entail?

A lot of it was also just getting someone to pay enough attention to you to feel like you're worthy of hiring. I think there might be easier paths than mine. If you want to just start guiding, there are a lot of guide services that need guides, just not so much for skiing. I think it’s harder to get hired as a ski guide. There are plenty of places to go and get guiding experience, but I didn't have any. I could have gone down that traditional path, but I wanted to stay in Jackson and work and live here.

Photo by Adam Wirth

Adam Wirth Photo

Leading up to where you are now, did you see a lot of women pursuing what you were, or did you feel alone in that? What was the ratio?

It's horrendous, but I also think it goes in waves. There are times and areas where there are more female guides, and then there are moments where you feel like you’re the only woman.  In some ways, it's nice, because it makes the community of female guides that does exist really close.

That’s a connection you see throughout NEXUS, the project you worked on this winter, too. It’s this undeniable yet semi-undesirable thread that brings women, who are a marginalized group at a professional level like yours in the outdoors space, together.

Totally, and that was a whole different experience too. Looking at my career, I have really incredible friends in that network of people who I can talk to about everything and understand how we all feel about certain things, but it also means that oftentimes you feel alone. I feel like the worst of it is being treated differently or poorly by other guides, or some clients you get treating you differently because you're a female.

Photo by Katie Lozancich

Katie Lozancich Photo

Do you have any examples of that from this summer?

Yeah, there are comments for sure. One day, I was with four dudes and another male co-worker. My co-worker was up ahead of me with two of the guests and I had the other two, and we’re almost to the top of the grand, and they start making really disrespectful, sexual comments to me. Which sucked because I don’t know how to react in that circumstance.

It’s like, I'm in charge of your life right now! What gives you the right, and how do you think that’s appropriate in any way shape or form? What if I just untie from this rope and walk away? I feel like it's also micro-aggressions and instances like that one that put me in this head space that’s not the one I need to be in. I need to be in a headspace that is focused, confident and paying attention to everything that's going on around us right now.

They’d also never make those comments to a male guide.

Exactly. After that, it just put me in a weird place. Those actions, words and micro-aggressions have a trickle down effect of how I'm able to perform. I think that's the worst part. However, there are parts that are really great. There are lots of people who want a female guide. Kids, dads and daughters and solo females… but the few bad ones you get are bad.

One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. It’s also easy to just say “Don’t think about it” or “Don’t let it bother you,” but there comes a point where it’s hard to not let it affect you. That shouldn’t be the norm.

In instances where that’s happened too, I wish I had a witty retort to throw back at them. In that instance in particular, I was so frustrated and taken off guard, I pretended like I didn't hear it and I just kept going, but then I got disappointed in myself for how I reacted. The reality is, I have so much training in the realm of technical, avalanche and rescue skills and at the end of the day, I wish I had more training in things like conflict resolution, managing micro-aggression or issues of equity. Those are the things I feel like I'm lacking in my training, the more human component.

Photo by Katie Lozancich

Katie Lozancich Photo

That should be at the forefront of training. Almost as important as all these other life saving technical skills.

It's important to be technically skilled at your job, but there are so many moments where I'm like, “What should I have said? How should I have handled that?” Same thing if I see it happening to someone else. Where do I interject and how do I interfere in a professional and appropriate manner? That's something I've been trying to work on.

Have you seen any examples of that kind of lesson plan in the outdoors industry?

Laura Gaylord at the Coombs Foundation is starting a backcountry program this winter and I volunteered to help. I did the volunteer training for it and I was like, we need this training for everyone. It's not that complicated. It explained what micro-aggression looks like, the difference between equity and equality, what diversity means and how to deal with affinity. Things like that are such a good starting point.

It should be normalized training everywhere.

One of the quotes that was at the beginning of the training was something like, a system of injustice is hard to recognize when it supports you. Basically if it works for you, why would you recognize the problems with it?

Totally. Keeping this experience in mind, I want to pivot to your involvement in Nexus. How did your role in that film as a guide come about?

Sophie Dannison, Katie Lozancich and Shannon Corsi had the idea for this project and Sophie's one of my best friends. When they were working to find funding and figuring out how to make it all happen. I connected Sophie with Brenton Reagan who is the Marketing Director for Exum because I knew they needed guiding and I wanted to guide them. Brenton then connected the NEXUS team with Arctery’x because Exum and Arctery’x have a partnership, and then Arctery’x became their title sponsor, which was dope.

Once we drew those bridges between Exum and NEXUS, that was the start of my involvement. I ended up guiding the nurse segment with Ingrid and Lucy and around that time, the skiing was so bad, but it was fun to get to all hang out and we tried really hard and did the best we could.

It was also great to work with Lucky and Ingrid. I’ve spent time with Lucy before and I went to college with her younger sister, Mary. Both were so influential in my life during that time, and filming with Lucy I had this affirming feeling of “yeah, Lucy’s the shit.” She’s so fun, has a great attitude, good at her job as a pro skier and she’s a nurse. It’s amazing.

Same thing with Ingrid, who’s a really impressive athlete. It’s cool to be surrounded by a group of people who are working really hard but also having a good time and have a good attitude. That’s hard to come by in the mountain community in general just because a lot of people become jaded. While filming NEXUS, I felt like everyone was psyched and there was no one being salty. Even when conditions sucked, everyone was just like, “that's okay, we're going to have fun.” One day we started and it was negative 20 degrees. It was f**king freezing and dark and the skiing was terrible. We all got up and walked around outside and tried not to freeze anyway and they made it fun. It's nice when you have people around you and their energies are like that.

Jane and Margo, who are also in the film, are the two longest standing employees at Exum. Jeff Dobronyi, who also used to work at Exum, connected Sophie to Jane and Margo. So, there were lots of connections between Exum and Nexus in general. 

Photo by Katie Lozancich

Katie Lozancich Photo

Being in the field with an all female production crew and team of female athletes, what was that environment like compared to your summer experiences or your not so great moments guiding?

I feel like when you're in that kind of environment surrounded by a bunch of women in this outdoor space, it’s a different vibe. It was really fun for me because I got to work with my friends, and when that works out, it’s special. I loved watching how skilled and dedicated Sophie is. Even when things weren’t going well or we were skiing a challenging section or people were uninspired and we didn't have a plan, seeing how she handled those situations was awesome to see as her friend. That was probably the best part for me, it just made me appreciate her so much more than I already do.

What you were saying earlier about wishing you had more training in conflict resolution for instances like this summer at Exum, was that topic on your mind at all working with this group for NEXUS, or was it even noticeable? Did you feel like there was a need for that type of training or worry that those bad moments would happen?

I hadn't thought about that at all until you just said that. I think that's a really cool realization. That wasn’t a part of the experience at all, which is so incredibly epic. I was able to almost put that part aside and focus more on what I'm supposed to be doing. There weren’t these instances of feeling like I was being treated differently or treated like I was incompetent. It was just being treated as a friend and as the guide, and that was my role.

I don’t want to say this for all men, but I feel like I've been in professional situations where the group is majority male, and you almost have to communicate in a different way just to be heard, and then for them to accept you, your thoughts, your leadership skills and ideas than you would with a group of women. In a group of majority women, I’m personally less intimidated to ask questions or hold back because of a fear of being judged.

I feel like that's exactly it. Something I've talked to with other people, especially in the guiding world, is that you inherently take on these masculine qualities to bring this air of confidence into situations to fit in or be accepted. I deserve to be here, but playing this game in order to fit in or be treated with the same respect as my male peers detracts from what my natural personality is, and that’s hard. Naturally, my personality isn’t “I know everything and I’m in charge here.” That attitude works because you want people to feel safe and they want to know that you're skilled and capable of making decisions in difficult situations, but that's not my natural personality. I am a little more reserved and don't bring that same attitude, even though I have those necessary skill sets. It feels a little forced when I'm trying to convince people of that. It's not that I'm not confident or capable, I just have a different way of communicating it. 

Photo by Katie Lozancich

Katie Lozancich Photo

I think that attitude is so valuable, because being with someone who is a leader in the mountains, it’s important for the less knowledgeable participants to know the risks and understand the consequences and start to evaluate things on their own, because that’s learning. Even though you’re a professional, you’re probably transparent about not acting like you know everything, because having that attitude is where it gets dangerous.

When I see that stereotypically masculine attitude, it often comes off as condescending. It takes agency away from people participating. Yes, I am your leader and your guide, and maybe it’s different in a pressure setting when someone's making dangerous choices. I want to keep people safe and I will make the best decision for the group, take action and interfere when I need to, but I also don't want to assume that someone can't do something right, doesn't know something or doesn't see something without letting them have the opportunity to do that for themselves first.

If a young girl came up to you and wanted to become a guide, what advice would you give her?

Advice that lots of people give but is hard to interpret is to find mentorship. I’m supposed to meet someone that knows more than me and it’s this natural thing, and they share their knowledge and information - but it’s more complicated than just having that happen.

If you see someone out in the world doing what you want to be doing, it’s ok to send them an email and offer to get them coffee and ask them questions. I’m honored when somebody does that to me. People in general like knowing that younger people admire what they’re doing. Even if they don’t know who you are, it doesn’t matter. It’s a scary and intimidating thing to do, but finding out how other people got to where they are can help clarify a path.

Don’t be afraid to send it. Whether it’s an email or a phone call. Getting a phone call is definitely harder to ignore. Otherwise, spend a lot of time doing the thing. Part of how I think I got to where I am is that I really loved backcountry skiing and spent a lot of time walking around in the mountains recreationally and backcountry skiing on my own. Part of my success early on was that I knew my way around the Tetons really well, because that’s what I was doing before I started guiding. Those were years where I thought I wasn't doing anything because I was lost and didn’t have a path, but I spent a lot of time doing what I love and now it’s paying off. Same with learning about snow or terrain. Part of the step I had to take to be a full time guide was to get psyched on rock climbing and learn how to be better at it, but incorporating all of the skills and knowing that working on all those things, even if you aren’t employed to do so, will pay off.

When you started out, did you have any doubts or reservations?

So many! I still do. There are still plenty of days where I'm like, how do I make it work? Am I going to continue to have enough work, am I doing the right thing, should I be doing something else?

When those thoughts come to mind, how do you deal with them?

Going skiing or climbing for me, rather than doing it for work reminds me why I'm doing what I’m doing, and why I love it.

Katie Lozancich Photo

Would you be a part of something like NEXUS again? What were the most rewarding parts?

Yes absolutely. I think getting to see Jane and Margo signing autographs was a huge highlight for me. I loved watching all these people that are accomplished in their own right, like Zahan Billimora or Adam Fabrikant walking up to a table and getting Jane and Margo to sign a ski poster with Michelle Parker on the front of it. Seeing your friends do well and making things to share with the world is a cool thing. A lot of what I do is help facilitate an experience for people, which I have to believe makes a difference or goes a long way, because if I didn’t, I probably shouldn't be doing what I'm doing, but it stays pretty insular. Versus, if you make a movie, so many people have seen NEXUS. I know from my own community, it’s been impactful. 

It’s so important to tell and listen to stories from different points of view. When I looked down the row after Michelle asked Brooklyn if she wanted to go and do another run up in AK, I saw people bent forward in their seats, clenching their fists and cheering for Brooklyn, whispering, “Come on, you got this, you got this.” It was awesome to see.

Quality skiing and talented skiing is a cool thing to see, but at this point in my life. It’s not a big part of why I’m still doing it. I feel like why I'm still doing it is for all the other reasons: It can make people happier, facilitate a good relationship with treating your body well or caring for the environment. We all love skiing, and to use it as a vessel to expose things that are deeper - what’s the hesitation to do that? Sure, there are plenty of ways to do that without skiing… but we all like skiing, so let’s ride that line.

NEXUS is now available to watch for free.

From The Column: Women in the Mountains

About The Author

She is really wonderful. I think she has great passion for this work. Someday, I will come here too. CERTAIN

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Great place. I want to go there too.

Awesome Place for Challenge,

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Oh my, but humans are strange.  All this over thinking, over analyzing, social justice warrior ing,  for the love of reality, just stfu and go skiing.  Ridiculous.

This is most impressive and the love for the sports is astounding. Her work definitely reflects this.

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Congratulations to Morgan McGlashon on their advancement in the guiding world for Nexus! Keep up the great work. Regards from Midland

Thanks for the advice. I have always wanted to try this but I’m a little afraid. I’m 40 now and I feel my opportunity to experiencing is going away. I will try to experiment it at the end of this year. I need to gather some money to rent all the equipment. Thanks for the article.

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Morgan is also one of five women to guide in the winter season at North America’s oldest and most prestigious guiding company. Morgan’s journey to becoming a mountain guide started when she was a teenager and trained at a gym in Jackson, where she met Jessica Baker, who is a full-time guide. Morgan pursued a job at Exum for about two years and eventually got hired by Nat Patridge, one of the owners of Exum. Morgan’s career as a mountain guide is challenging, and it was difficult for her to get hired initially. The guiding industry, especially for ski guiding, has a low ratio of women compared to men, but it goes in waves. Cincinnati SEO expert