Morgan McGlashon was only half a season into her guiding career with Exum Mountain Guides, widely considered the most prestigious mountain guiding company in the country, when word of an avalanche incident came in over her radio and Teton County Search and Rescue flew into the canyon. On February 22, she was guiding a group of two on 25 Short, the go-to peak for accessible skiing Grand Teton National Park. In between their ski laps in the trees, in a couloir on the north side of the mountain (and in much more consequential terrain), an avalanche swept a 33-year-old local snowboarder to his death. It was the third avalanche death in the Tetons that week.
“It’s one thing to acknowledge that in the backcountry, and as a guide, your decisions are life-and-death decisions, but on that day, it was really put on display for both me and my clients,” McGlashon says. “They truly are life-and-death decisions.”
At 26, McGlashon is Exum’s youngest ski guide and one of only two guides under 30 (the other is 29). She is also one of only five female guides at North America’s oldest guiding company. Within the decade, she hopes to earn full certification by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations—an achievement fewer than 15 women in the United States have earned.
McGlashon grew up in Jackson and was raised by a single mom who put her daughter in the most affordable childcare she had access to: ski school at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Morgan ski raced through high school, then, at age 18, she skied Grand Teton, becoming the youngest woman to ski the peak. It changed her entire worldview. She took an avalanche course, started skiing in the backcountry, and began climbing.
She competed on the Freeskiing World Tour through college at Middlebury, where she earned a degree in environmental studies and geology. Over the years, McGlashon pushed her ski mountaineering in the Alps, the Andes, the Cascades, Iceland, and beyond. After graduation, McGlashon returned to Jackson. She didn’t buy a ski pass and instead committed to skiing the backcountry, always seeking out partners she could learn from. McGlashon was 23 years old, conducting fieldwork for the USGS during the day, bartending at night, and pondering her next move.
That’s when she got to know Jessica Baker, an Exum Mountain Guide who had apprenticed for legends like Rod Newcomb and Peter Lev when she joined the storied operation in 2006. McGlashon emailed Baker, expressing an interest in guiding and seeking a mentor. Two years later, in January 2019, she hopped on a last-minute opportunity to tail guide one of Baker’s hut trips in British Columbia, which, McGlashon says, was a turning point.
“The big stepping-stone is when you meet women in the field who are willing to share and support you,” Baker says. “That’s when the magic starts happening.”
For the past two years, Baker and McGlashon have worked together, skiing, tail guiding, and working through rock and ski AMGA courses.
“She’s smart,” Baker says. “You have to be a thoughtful multitasker to manage a thousand things and smile. And Morgan is tough—physically and mentally. I’ve seen her at the gym, on the skin track, and in the mountains, and I know how resilient she is.”
A year ago, at the trailhead parking lot, Baker introduced McGlashon to Nat Patridge, Exum’s president and lead guide. Baker told him that McGlashon was going to be his next female guide. Exum has a reputation for relying on references from its senior guides over résumés and accreditations. In the fall of 2020, after COVID-19 dashed McGlashon’s hopes of joining Exum for its summer season, Baker again tenaciously petitioned on her behalf. Conditionally, McGlashon was allowed to start shadowing guides. She was told she might start working in March, but the shadowing resulted in above-average feedback. McGlashon was hired and given a generous amount of autonomy right away.
In her first season, McGlashon’s clients have included everyone from a group of 50-year-old women from New York City to a ski club of 15 teenage boys to students in an Intro to Ski Mountaineering course. In between, she’s skied as much as possible with professional skiers, like her friend Hadley Hammer and Michelle Parker, also a certified guide. In January, when Parker met a small-statured young woman who was effortlessly breaking trail on a skin track in Grand Teton National Park, she recognized competence.
Two days later, on a bluebird day with ideal conditions, the duo skied two lines in the alpine that were new even to McGlashon.
“I felt like I had met a true equal,” Parker says. “We were perfectly capable of going out together and exploring and skiing safely. It’s epic to see a young female in the guiding space—it lights me up inside.”
What made you want to pursue guiding?
Morgan McGlashon: I always thought they were the people who knew the most about the mountains and were the most capable of moving efficiently through them. It wasn’t just a cool career, but a cool community to be a part of. I wasn’t sure what the path looked like. It felt vague and unachievable.
What helped you find that path?
I was really lucky to have a lot of mentors. I went to the guides I knew and skied with them. Jess Baker helped facilitate my goals. She put me on a path. Between her and some other guide friends, I found support, advice, feedback, and opportunity.
Did you have any reservations?
Lots of people told me it was hard to make a living. It’s a volatile career. It’s a stressful environment. A lot of people were offering the downsides. They certainly exist. But I had strong role models who were making it work and making a living and doing really cool things. I was optimistic that I could also figure it out. I still clung to the romantic idea of being an expert in traveling in the mountains and being a really good partner.
Was there a breakthrough moment where you felt sure guiding was what you wanted to pursue?
I followed Jess in the Selkirks for a week. I learned a ton. I had never done any guiding, and I didn’t know what it looked like in practice. I mostly learned there’s a huge difference between skiing for yourself and skiing for other people. I had always just set a skin track; I had never learned how. I learned about how to manage a group and manage expectations. I was also assessing snow in a new place.
I told Jess I would love to keep guiding, but I don’t know what to do next. Jess kept offering opportunities. She would let me come tail guide in Grand Teton National Park. I would mock-guide her and pretend she was my client. She told me I needed to get on Nat’s [Exum owner] radar.
How is being one of the few female guides in the area different for you than for men?
Everyone comes around by the end of the day, but there is a different feeling in the parking lot—like you have to earn your respect instead of it being inherent. Through talking with other female guides, I’ve learned tips and tricks on how to do that. For instance, how you coil a rope matters a lot. It’s just optics, but if you’re efficient and clean, it’s a fast and silent way to put your client at ease.
Having grown up in the Tetons, what made you decided to start your career in your home mountain range?
I am who I am because of the Tetons. Ski mountaineering isn’t something most young women get to do. Having access to those mountains has been a crucial part of my growth, passion, and inspiration. The Tetons have everything from low-angle powder to interesting high-alpine objectives. It’s not as intense as Chamonix or Alaska. It’s just 40 miles long by seven miles wide, and it’s a perfect little mountain range built for beautiful progression.
You’re just getting started, but I imagine you already have goals you’re working toward as a guide. What’s next?
There are many people who have done so much for me and helped me turn my dream into reality. I hope to give that back to other people who want to pursue it. Guiding other young people and women is a cool thing. I want to give other women confidence and competence in the backcountry and make it a more accessible place for anyone who wants to be there—that’s where I’d love my energy to go.
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