During March 2019 the NZAT held a trial in Queenstown for new members to join our mentoring program. This is something we do every three years. Details of what we are looking for from applicants can be found on our website. A run down of our previous 2016 trial can be found here.
There is no set criteria for what makes a great mountaineer. Therefore over the years through trial and error we have slowly refined our selection process based on our own experiences and observations.
The NZAT is looking for members who are both skilled climbers and can have a long term commitment to the group. Part of the success of the NZAT is the commitment of the members to climb together, train together and go on expeditions each year. As the team members get to know and understand each other over a long period of time, their success on expeditions greatly improves.
We have observed and believe that a climbing partnership of two mountaineers who know each other well and understand each others' strengths and weaknesses will out-perform a similar team of climbers with a higher skill level who don’t know or understand each other as well. This forms the starting point of what we look for in our current and future members: commitment to the group, motivation and attitude.
From our experiences, attitude is one of the key factors in what makes a successful mountaineer. A high degree of technical skill is nothing if it is not backed up by a positive attitude. As a group we believe we can achieve more with a less experienced climber who has a good attitude than a more skilled climbers who doesn’t want to put in much effort. This is one of the harder aspects of a person to gauge. However through the pre trial conversations combined with on the day observations at the trial we have found it fairly clear to figure out who the really motivated individuals are. This has been interesting as the stereotypical “Kiwi mountaineer” never likes to put their hand up or look like they are putting in lots of effort. Many of the climbers who we believe could benefit from being part of the Team often won’t even make the effort to attend the trail.
So in summary, commitment to front up, work together and put in effort to see both yourself and the group improve is the starting point of who we like to select. Why we place such a high value on this commitment is because of how it links to expedition planning. Imagine trying to plan trips where people want to join / pull out last minute or where you never know if your partner will actually front up for the expedition. By our Team members seeing first the commitment built to the group it makes the larger goals of successful expeditions easier to plan and organise.
You could describe the attributes above as the "soft skills". The other part of the Team trials is more to do with the “hard skills”: fitness and technical ability. As a small group we can only take on a limited number of new members. Therefore we worked through a list of tests based on physical attributes we think a good mountaineer needs.
Cardio fitness – this is the foundation for any successful mountaineer. It doesn’t matter if you are an expert rock climber if you aren't fit. If you are tired after wading deep snow or carrying a heavy pack to a climb, the odds are you won’t be able to climb at or near your best. Therefore for our trial we put a high emphasis on cardio ability. This involves pack walking, timed hill running and testing people's overall endurance over two long days of constant activity and climbing.
Climbing ability is one of the easier skills to measure. For the trial we focus on three key areas. Firstyl, dry tooling. Prospective members climb a selection of routes and are scored based on their performance. We consider the difficulty of the climb and the speed at which someone can get up the route. The ability to climb well with crampons and ice axes is a key skill for any expedition / winter alpine ascent or simply moving in the mountains when conditions do not allow you to rock climb.
For the rock climbing tests we focus on several key areas. Firstly your overall ability to climb at a certain level. i.e can you get up a grade 22 route for example. We would then make observations on technique , efficiency and speed. We also look over peoples' multipitch anchors and efficiency on longer moderate routes. This will normally be combined with some basic challenges i.e climbing in mountain boots or speed climbing. Over the course of several rock based challenges it comes fairly clear who can climb well and who is lacking in this area.
By the end of the trials weekend we start to develop a clear picture of a persons attitude, motivation to join the group, competitive spirit, fitness, climbing ability and their ability to get along with others. Out Team Captain Steve loads all the scores and observations into a spreadsheet for the rest of the members to look over. From there we narrow our selection down to the top 4 – 6 candidates.