In this new article series I Want That Job! I'll be interviewing people from various professions within the climbing world. If you think your job is a dream come true (it has to be climbing related) and if you're willing to be interviewed - then drop me a line. Likewise if you can think of a job that you'd like to have - suggest it in the forums and I'll try and track someone down.
First up is Tim Neill. Tim is the Head of Rock Climbing at Plas y Brenin, the National Mountain Centre in North Wales. Tim is a regular face on the North Wales climbing scene, his friendly and open attitude and his endless passion for climbing make him everyone's first choice for a climbing partner. Working at Plas y Brenin is, for many Instructors and Guides, the ultimate aim. To be in charge of the Rock Climbing department sounds like the best job of all. Is it all cruising to Tremadog, climbing the best routes and eating ice-cream in the sunshine? I caught up with Tim at the Galt y Glyn hotel in Llanberis for a pizza and a pint to find out more:
Name: Tim Neill
PYB Senior Instructor, responsible for the Rock Climbing Department and Alpine mountaineering work
A Senior Instructor starts off at about 30K
Perks and holidays/time off:
Holidays are plenty, I get 2 days off for every 5 worked, and if I need unpaid leave for expeditions or whatever, I can usually sort that if I let the boss know in time. Also we get well looked after by Mountain Equipment and Scarpa, and have a good relationship with DMM and Lyon Equipment.
I'm a committed all round climber first of all. In the last year I've climbed big walls, winter and summer alpine EDs, ski toured, climbed trad E6, sport 7c, Scottish winter VII, hundreds of brill V-Diffs, and even done a bit of bouldering! Also I'm an MIC Holder and an IFMGA Guide.
Describe your job:
Essentially, I work on the normal course programme for the centre, whether it's Scottish winter, Alpine based, or at home in North Wales. Normally I'll be the coordinating instructor on the given course, making sure the students and other staff are doing the most appropriate things and having a good time. I'll often support new staff, who are finding their feet, with what is often an intimidating job. I do a lot of NGB Award training which I love, and a lot of assessing, which I don't. Beyond that, I help develop new courses, make sure we have enough rack and ropes etc, write staff guidance notes, and front things up for the Centre regarding rock climbing, eg BMC International Meets or local events.
How did you get the job?
Good question! I'd been at PYB for 9 yrs on and off and some positions came up as senior staff were going part time or moving on. The interview was full-on, with opinions and views of the bigger picture of climbing being much more weighted than grades, certificates and badges.
What attracted you to the job in the first place?
When I started at PYB, Twid (Mike Turner) had this job and he always seemed to make the best of the opportunities that it presented. So for a young instructor whose life revolved around climbing, it was the obvious goal. Basically, the job involves developing peoples' climbing, mostly trad and multi-pitch, and working with either beginners or committed climbers who want to lead their first Extremes. How good is that!
How long have you been in the job now? How long do you see yourself continuing?
I've done this job for 3 ½ years now, I'll probably do it for 6 in total.
Describe your average day at work? And the average week?
I wake up thinking about the weather, our students' needs, the rest of the staff and where we should go to get the best from the day. I go to work, tell everyone the plan then go climbing or mountaineering etc. I always try to maximise the practical content (ie go climbing as much as possible) but intersperse this with learning and some fun. If it's in Wales, we always get back for 5pm for tea and cakes (a PYB tradition). Twice a week or so I have to give an evening lecture or practical session, and if I'm working on a Mountain Leader course there might be an overnight expedition. If I'm in Scotland, the day is almost the same but starts earlier and ends later. If I'm in the Alps, I get a better tan. There's no average week, sometimes I work for 5 days on the trot, sometime for 10 or more. Sometimes the weather plays ball (mostly), but sometimes it makes it really tough.
Is it how you/other people imagine it to be?
It's not every climbers' perfect job, as I've seen good climbers lose their own passion and turn into “Instructors”. I'm lucky in that I don't seem to lose my psyche to climb, and I'm always keen to go out after work in the summer, or on my 2 days off a week in winter. Whilst working, your focus has to be on your clients at the end of the day, and work time is their time, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the climbing!
The best day? The worst day?
Best days for me are often taking up-for-it clients on really classic routes in really cool places. One day I took this great bloke up Vector, Extraction, Plum, Weaver, then Grim Wall Direct and we had a pint in the Pen-y-Gwryd pub on the way home. Or, it's when you spend time passing on what you know and you see someone make definite improvements in their climbing. A really good day for me will end up with a pushy route in the Llanberis Pass with a mate after work, then a pint at the Vaynol. The worst days are when it's pissing down, or on an assessment when someone's having a grim time. Imagine walking into the Ben on an OK forecast, and when you arrive in the Corrie you realise it's all wrong. Having a qualification doesn't mean you can see through cloud and spindrift, and statistically, you're more likely to get avalanched. However, some of the most “instructional” days involve turning back!
Why is it great being a Senior Instructor at Plas y Brenin, and why is it rubbish?
I meet really interesting people all the time. They might be a top climber cruising through the MIA, or a committed walker having just walked the Great Divide solo - so the ML is literally a hike. All my colleagues continually impress and inspire me, and are always up for something, somewhere. If it was rubbish I'd do something else. However, most of the time I don't rate walking in the dark, rain, white-outs, or snow-holing, crevasses, seracs and cornices.
Do you 'love' your job?
If a young person said to you 'I want to be an instructor at PYB, like you' – what would you say? Recommend it? Warn them off? Laugh?!
I'd totally recommend it. Work enough to allow you to climb and travel as much as possible, as all future work and qualifications are based on experience, especially at National Centres like PYB. It's easiest to get this experience when all the time in the world is yours. What little work you do should be with lots of different people, employers and clients, as you've got to be a “people” person. Don't get fazed by assessments, just be ready, and most importantly, keep on climbing after you get the pass. Be an all-rounder, as it stops you becoming a climbing bigot.
Any tips and advice on how to get to where you've got to?
See above. Get a full time job at the last possible moment.
Any friends through work?
I'm lucky to work with some of my best mates. Also, I met my wife when she was on one of my courses, in one of my less professional moments.
Any amazing stories?
The funniest things are the jokes that clients tell you on the crag, or when you find out they're actors, fighter pilots or pole dancers. Heli-skiing as an Aspirant Guide, spending a week in Scotland climbing pristine Grade 4/5s with 2 blokes aged 68 and 70, climbing E4 at work, working with Allen Fyffe, stuff like that. I try not to have epics at work.
And finally - What's your dream job?
I'd like to be a House Husband, but I can't see that ever occurring! Grimer's job at the BMC sounds cool, researching your fave crags for the next guidebook. Maybe my job part-time, as a job–share (the other person can work all the wet and windy days!).
Tim Neill lives in Snowdonia with his wife Lou. He is a committed Rock Climber, Alpinist and Pizza Eater. If you are ever staying at Plas y Brenin then it is likely that Tim will be running your course, or running amok in the building. Tim is very generous with his PYB lunches, don't be shy in asking to share his sandwiches! You can read Tim's Staff Profile on the Plas y Brenin website.
About Plas y Brenin:
At Plas y Brenin we like to think that we offer training opportunities that give you the best opportunity to make the most of your skills and ambitions. Our staff are amongst the most experienced, committed and competent outdoor enthusiasts you could ever hope to meet and it is their unique talents that make a visit to Plas y Brenin so special. Whether you want a residential course, an update on the weather and climbing conditions, a bar meal and a chat or a qualification that could help you in your work you will find it here at the National Mountain Centre.
On our website www.pyb.co.uk you will find information about all the courses and facilities that PyB offers. To book just contact us directly, or print off a copy of our booking form and fax or post it to us.
Plas y Brenin is managed by the Mountain Training Trust. MTT is a registered charity, set up by the British Mountaineering Council, the Mountain leader Training Board, and the United Kingdom Mountain Training Board, specifically to run the centre. Plas y Brenin is under the direct management of the organisations whose members are the key users of the centre and its facilities.