My Story #9: Rhiannon Pritchard, Arctic Nature Guide and Academic

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In this series we will be sharing the stories of outdoor instructors, mountain guides and enthusiasts who work and play in the mountains. You can read previous posts here: 
My Story #1: Chris Ensoll, International Mountain Guide

My Story #2: John Kettle, Climbing & Mountain Biking Coach
My Story #3: Kelvyn James, International Mountain Leader

My Story #4: Anne Ensoll, Business Manager And Ex-Outdoor Instructor
My Story #5: Michael Curry, All-Round Outdoor Instructor and Business Owner

My Story #6: Esther Foster, Freelance Outdoor Instructor
My Story #7: Rob Pugh, Mountaineering Instructor and Stay-at-Home Dad

My Story #8: Colin Reilly, Outdoor Instructor & Church Pastor

Rhiannon Pritchard has a degree in Outdoor Leadership from the University of Cumbria. She holds the Mountain Leader Award, the Single Pitch Award, and she is a Local Cave & Mine Leader. She is an Arctic Nature Guide, and she currently lives in the north of Scotland, where she is also trying to be an academic.

What are your memories of adventures in the outdoors as a child or teenager?

Climbing trees with my sister, spending whole days monkeying around in the large oaks and chestnuts near our home in Wales and making pulley systems to get our sandwiches to the top of the tree. We would wait for the windiest days and scurry up to the very tips of 50ft conifers just to feel them sway dramatically in the gusts. I even set up a range of tree climbing certifications ranging from bronze skills award all the way up to Instructor level. My poor little sister got dragged into my many adventures… I think my fate has been sealed since then.

What do you remember about your outdoor adventures when you started doing them independently?

A sense of freedom….and wanting to know more. I’m always keen to learn a different way of doing something. I’ve always liked watching other people and seeing what I can do better.

When did it change from a hobby to a career?

I had just qualified as a carpenter with full intention of moving to Australia for the outdoor lifestyle, but the points system changed and I was no longer able to emigrate. I had to do something different and realised that all I really wanted was to work with people outdoors. An opportunity arose for me to join an instructor apprenticeship scheme at an activity centre so I jumped at it.

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What has your path been since then?

Lots of things have happened really. Working in activity centres made me want to understand what we were doing and widen my knowledge so I could be a valuable facilitator. So I ended up going back into academia and studied a degree in Outdoor Leadership at the University of Cumbria in Ambleside.  

Things have rather spiralled since then. I finally met a whole group of like minded people... friends for all adventures, caving, climbing, skiing, paddling…just getting out in the hills and enjoying ourselves really. Being based in such a wonderful area also gave me time to complete qualifications such as Mountain Leader, Single Pitch Award and Local Cave & Mine Leader Assessment, and timings of university meant that I could lead volunteer tourism expeditions abroad in the summers. Getting to inspire teenagers is pretty great…allowing them the opportunity to develop mentally and physically and see what they can achieve trekking for days at over 4000m when some have never been out in the mountains previously.

I have also had some rather special personal developmental experiences, with the university helping me attend an advanced polar training course in Svalbard in early 2015. This taster eventually led me into spending a year training, working and qualifying as an Arctic Nature Guide.

Now I’m back in the UK and living in Scotland for a while, which gives me access to the beautiful Cairngorms and I’m working towards my Winter Mountain Leader. I’m also completing a Master of Research degree in Social Anthropology based on Polar Tourism, and I’m trying to convince people to let me do a PhD (which would mean spending lots more time cold places up north). 

I’ll see where that goes..

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If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to work in the outdoors, what would it be?

Find what you love, take chances and work hard. I took a gamble working for pennies as an apprentice and I can’t say I pictured my work outdoors leading me to the Arctic! But my love of cold places eventually led to my favourite job - ski guiding across vast glaciated landscapes. I’ve tried really hard in the past few years to really make the most of my time and it now means I can continue to travel to inspiring places with wonderful people. Go chase some adventures!