Meet Kel Rossiter: Climber, Skier, and Adventure Guide Extraordinaire

Kel out enjoying a beautiful bluebird day in the mountains.
Kel out enjoying a beautiful bluebird day in the mountains. Courtesy of Kel Rossiter
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Talking with Kel Rossiter, owner of Adventure Spirit Guides in Burlington, is like catching up with an old friend. His comfortable nature and friendly smile make conversation easy. With the bright sun streaming through the windows of the local coffee shop, Nunyuns, just a couple of doors down from his home and office, the talk quickly turns to climbing. Rock climbing tips turn into ice climbing stories, and then to tales of hiking and skiing mountains all over the world.

As he speaks of his varied adventures it's hard not to wonder, "Why?" What is the driving force behind getting different people outside, up mountains, and down mountains, day after day?

“There are so many beautiful things about teaching climbing and being outdoors,” says Rossiter. “For many of these people, this day of adventure will be the highlight of their week, month, or even year. And to be a part of that is pretty special.”

Kel Rossiter deeply hoping for a solid ice season in 2016.
Kel Rossiter deeply hoping for a solid ice season in 2016. Courtesy of Kel Rossiter

The more he talks about guiding and teaching, the more it becomes apparent, that while his experience and knowledge is vast, he is very sincere about being able to share this knowledge with others. Learning, for both himself and his clients, is just as important to him as getting outside and sharing in the outdoors in the first place.

“I love to work with learners of all stages and ages, some collegiate folks, others at different points in their lives, and others for whom rock climbing is at the edge of what they are doing. They may be scared, or have doubts, but it’s nice to be able to channel that motivation, and help them reach their personal objectives.”

Rossiter has already attained a Master’s degree in Outdoor Education, followed by a Doctorate in Educational Leadership, and is currently pursuing certification as an International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) guide. This level of training is the highest professional credential that can be attained by a guide, and is held by only about 110 others in the United States.  

“It’s the equivalent of getting a doctoral degree in the outdoor world in terms of time and money, as well as in the challenges you face along the way. As a student you are producing and applying the knowledge learned, rather than just consuming it.”

The training program itself has three tracks to complete—Rock, Alpine, and Ski—and each has a minimum of three stages, with Alpine and Ski requiring an additional three-level avalanche safety course. It takes most guides years upon years to complete.

“It requires around 95 days of training,” Rossiter says. “And for every one day of being taught you need five plus days of applying that knowledge in the field.” With Rock and Alpine under his belt (or perhaps harness would be more apropos here), Kel is currently working on completing training for his final track in skiing.

Skiing the backcountry at Jay Peak in Vermont.
Skiing the backcountry at Jay Peak in Vermont. Courtesy of Kel Rossiter

So why is it, that with all this training, around 200 days a year out in the field in places like Croatia, Slovenia, Ruth Gorge in Alaska, Mount Rainier, the San Juan Mountains, and Rocky Mountain National Park — and those are just few spots from this year alone — why is it that Vermont is home?

“I’ve always liked the idea of the guide who lives in the village and who has the village life, but who has the mountain life as well. Burlington offers that, especially with ice climbing. I get the village vibe with good ice climbing nearby,” he said. “And with the big mountains it can take a lot of time to get to your climb, whereas here, there is easy access to get on a bunch of good climbs in a day.”

With the Adirondacks right across the lake, Bolton crags right outside of downtown Burlington, Smuggler’s Notch, Lake Willoughby, the White Mountains and Mount Washington in New Hampshire under three hours away, and the Gunks in New York only four hours away, the opportunities for climbing rock and ice are extensive.

Ice climbing Glass Menagerie at Lake Willoughby. 
Ice climbing Glass Menagerie at Lake Willoughby.  Art Mooney

When asked to narrow down his favorite climbs in the area, Rossiter paused for the first, and only, time in the conversation. He has so many favorites and for many different reasons. 

“The best part of climbing is the fall and I’m happy to be back here for it,” he says. “For steep, beautiful crack climbing check out Poke-O-Moonshine in the Adirondacks. For ice, it’s Lake Willoughby. The ice legend, Joe Josephson once said that Willoughby was ‘the single greatest wall of ice on the planet.’ You can’t stop challenging yourself on Willoughby.”

As our conversation came to a close, there was talk of getting over to climb the classic route, Gamesmanship, a beautiful 5.8, five-pitch, crack climb with stunning fall views, over in the Adirondacks. For this writer, however, hand jams are not a favorite, so the challenges here were woefully evident. But, to Kel’s earlier point, you may be scared, you may have doubts; channel that motivation, and reach your goal. Climb on.

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