The New ACC / The North Face Leadership Courses

(and why YOU should attend!)

by Zac Robinson and Cyril Shokoples

In 1997, the Alpine Club of Canada entered into an agreement with The North Face to help fund two, one-week-long national leadership courses (one summer, one winter). The North Face provided partial funding and an amazing array of free swag to course participants. Subsidies from the “ACC Leadership Development Fund” also helped defray the cost to participants. And the Sections also kicked in to cover much of whatever remained for their respective leaders. 

The idea was a good one. Everyone wanted to strengthen what everyone knew to be the backbone of the Club – our volunteer leaders at the Section level. And, today, fifteen years later, 300 participants from across the country have been fortunate to benefit from this amazing experience.

Up until recently “the focus of the Leadership Training Courses was to provide training for our active section trip leaders, GMC amateur rope leaders and national camp managers. Participants must have organized and led ACC trips and have considerable pertinent skills, especially those relevant to mountain activities. Alternatively, those who have managed ACC National camps may be considered.” In essence, the course was geared toward furthering the training of ACC members, who were already established in leadership roles either nationally or within various ACC Sections across the country.

…this has begun to change – and we want YOU to know about it.

The ACC/TNF courses are increasingly taking on a more “soft skills” leadership emphasis. Of course, the courses will still be taught at the Club’s General Mountaineering Camp in the summer and at a cozy backcountry ski lodge in the winter, but the mountains will provide the backdrop for leadership development, not solely the arena for hard-skill development. And instead of focusing on developing leaders who already have significant experience, the new focus will be on giving new and emerging club leaders a jump start.

Reasons for the shift? As a national program, we want the ACC/TNF courses to benefit as many sections of our national club as possible – full stop. We want it to benefit potential leaders from across the country. In the past, many members outside of western Canada would have a difficult time being accepted into the program due to their lack of climbing or skiing experience in alpine environments. And more importantly to the stated purpose of the course, there is limited opportunity to apply glacier travel and snow-science skills to the average ACC Section weekend outing in Toronto or Montreal. Whether you seek to organize Section trips to climb ice in Orient Bay, to go rock climbing at Bon Echo, or even a session in your local climbing gym – this course is now for YOU, the new local Section leader.  

Of course, this means there will be a slight shift in the prerequisites for applicants to the program. This does not mean that there will be a bias against those applicants who are already leading trips for their respective Sections – we welcome all applicants of all skill levels and backgrounds. However, the new emphasis will be on getting new or potential leaders involved, particularly those who have expressed a keen interest in organizing future activities for their Section.

We have already begun to implement the soft-skills leadership orientation to the curriculum, and some of the recent TNF participants have initially panicked! A big part of the reason that participants have attended the ACC/TNF courses was the development of hard skills. One participant recently stated, “I wouldn’t fly across the country simply to go to a soft skills course!” Well, fear not, we have retained a major hard-skill component that provided the backbone of past courses. But the amount of soft-skill homework, course content, and discussion during the course has greatly increased relative to the past , boosting the applicability of the course for those from all Sections.  

So, where does that leave you? If you are a future or current Section leader, are active in your Section, if you want to develop broadly applicable leadership skills in a group of ACC volunteers from across the country under exceptional professional instruction, and if you are keen to use the mountains of western Canada as your classroom, you would do well to apply to the new and improved ACC/TNF courses. You would also do well to get involved with your Section as a volunteer, in any capacity, as that will be looked at increasingly favourably during the selection process for ACC/TNF participants. Don’t forget, you need your Section’s endorsement!

Watch the ACC national website in the coming months for details on the new courses, plus the specifics of the new prerequisites, new application forms, and more. You may have to apply more than once to get on to the course, but don’t let that stop you. As it was in 1997, the experience remains unequaled.

Hope to see you in the hills!