The summer she was about to turn thirty, Sofia Forsman, a one-time law student from Sweden, found herself trekking the wilds of Alaska. She had finally achieved her objective to become a certified Canadian ski guide and was providing safety services for a lengthy television shoot. Five foot three and 125 pounds, she had to practically run to keep pace with her 180-pound and much taller guide-mate. “I think there’s a reason many female guides come across as intense,” Forsman says. “To walk at the same pace, I had to take twice as many steps. My cardio output was like running while he was walking. You have to be more disciplined. You must train harder. That’s a fact.”
A female guide in an alpha-dominated industry, Forsman is constantly evaluating where her decisions land along the fact-or-feelings continuum – are they findings-based? Or affected by her mood, an unresolved argument, or fear? She is most comfortable when she’s being analytical, rational … and certain. “I would have been a good lawyer. You can’t let your feelings for a client or a case decide how you act. It’s pretty black and white. It suited my personality. I like when things are fair and just.”
What she didn’t like about law school was the person she was morphing into. “I had extremely high expectations of myself and drove myself to be perfect.”
But somehow, between torts and contracts, she realized the outdoors brought out her best. She turned her back on her degree and headed to Austria for a season as a ski instructor, followed by another season of ski-bumming in Canada. In the little mountain town of Fernie, British Columbia, she met a much older Swedish snowboarder who pointed her toward an adventure tourism program. She graduated with a job waiting for her on the Lake Louise ski patrol in Alberta, but soon met Emelie Stenberg, the first Swedish woman to become a Canadian ski guide. Stenberg showed her yet another path forward – as a guide. “I feel so lucky she took me under her wing,” says Forsman.
Stenberg recalls some of Forsman’s first ski touring outings in Rogers Pass. “She was insecure, curious, with clunky old equipment, but a big smile on her face, eagerness to learn, and she ripped. Sofia has fire. I had no doubt she would be successful.”
For the next eight years, Forsman based herself in Revelstoke, British Columbia’s guiding hub, hustling to build her resumé and a viable life in the mountains. She picked up work with legendary outfits such as Icefall Lodge, Mica Heli and Valhalla Mountain Lodge. With an impressive work ethic and tenacity, she skied every day, in all conditions, and slowly honed her skills, strength, and understanding of snowpack.
But guiding comes with financial uncertainty. At the early peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, work dried up and her plans collapsed around her. Forsman wondered if she was facing a serious career SNAFU. No matter how hard she worked, every step she made towards her goal seemed to trigger a backslide twice as far. Her long-standing commitment to perfectionism just wasn’t enough. She’d tried to power through immigration hurdles, knee surgery, and being waitlisted twice for the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) guiding course by doubling down and working harder. But the pandemic toppled every carefully stacked card – the final guide’s exam and a scheduled knee surgery were cancelled. Then her long-term romantic relationship came to an end.
Perhaps it was time to return to Sweden, finish law school and get a “real” job?
Tested, resolved, and strengthened, Forsman completed her apprentice ski guide exam in 2022 — the first class made up entirely of female candidates and female instructors — a historic first for the sixty-year-old organization ACMG.
With her new ticket, Forsman established a home base in Squamish, B.C, discovered a bevy of intriguing opportunities, and immediately began to give back. She knew first-hand how cost-prohibitive it can be to get your education in the mountains. With her sponsor Rocky Mountain Underground (RMU) as a willing partner, Forsman developed a three-part “Backcountry Enabler Series” to teach fundamental safety skills to those who were eager to get beyond the ropes — and offered it for free. Those with the ability to pay can do so if they choose, or can contribute to the Lisa Korthals Memorial Fund, a scholarship to support women training to become cat or heliski guides created in memory of the Pemberton-based ski guide who lost her life in an avalanche in 2018 while guiding.
The Enabler Series also gave rise to an RMU Scholarship for aspiring ski guides, which provides guide training with Forsman, new skis, a sponsorship, a shadowing gig, and $2500 CAD in course fees and financial support.
“The setbacks and delays Sofia had to face would have tested anyone’s patience,” says Stenberg. “Despite them, or maybe because of them, she’s now an even stronger guide.”
And she’s making things better wherever she can.
Today, when she thinks about her alter ego, “Sofia the Lawyer”, ten years later, Forsman knows she has chosen the right path. “Guiding is a beautiful job. There’s so much personal growth to go with your career growth. I was always such a high achiever, but I’ve finally learned I need to be okay with what I get served … and make the best of it.”