Pre-Trip Communication: Screening Participants
Participants sign up for trips in different ways, depending on the CMC group. Many participants contact leaders directly to sign up; therefore it is important for those leaders to have skills in screening participants’ readiness to participate. The following are key areas to consider when talking with potential participants:
Fitness: Participants should be physically (including conditioning and stamina) and medically fit enough to enjoy the trip and not compromise their or the group’s safety.
Experience: Participants should have the technical expertise appropriate for the type of trip, such as off-trail travel, or climbing.
Equipment: Participants should have the necessary equipment to participate in the trip safely, such as food and water, or sturdy footwear.
Expectations: Purpose of trip (e.g., social hike vs. peak bagging)
Screening participants off of trips is not the goal. Instead, the goal is to determine whether the trip is right for them. Consider framing the questions with, “In order to assess whether this is the right trip for you, I want to ask you a couple of questions.
Asking a few good, open-ended questions solicits more information while putting the potential participants at ease. Open-ended questions tend to be the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” questions. They ask for more information than a simple YES or NO.
The goal of these questions is to determine whether the trip is a good fit for participants physically. Here are some open-ended questions to help determine a participant’s conditioning and stamina:
- “What is your hiking [backpacking, skiing, climbing, etc.] experience and how recent is this experience?”
- “Please tell me which CMC Group you belong to and whether or not they have a trip classification system.” (If so, ask the participant’s classification.)
- “Are you able to hike w/your backpack at 750 feet elevation gain an hour?”
- “Are you experienced with scree and bouldering? Could you tell me about the experiences you have had with these two types of terrain?”
- “Have you ever been caught in a lightning storm or strong winds while attempting to summit a peak?” What was your experience? (Leaders: you can review the NOLS lightning guidelines under “leader information” on the CMC website.)
- “Could you tell me about a time when your group or you turned around due to a specific situation?”
- “How often do you do this activity?” If the participant has never done it before, ask, “What sort of exercise do you do to stay fit?” "When was the last time you did a 14er? 13er"
- “Have you done a hike of this length and duration before?”
- “How is your general physical condition? Do you have any allergies or have had major injuries in the past?”
- “Have you had surgery within the last six months?”
- “Are you willing to stay with the group, even if it's a slow pace for you, or we don't reach the destination?"
- “Could you describe for me a really good summit attempt experience you have had?”
- “Could describe for me a really bad summit attempt experience you have had?”
The goal of these questions is to help ensure that participants have the appropriate equipment for the activity (and not too much). A leader should use his or her creativity to describe to newer participants the value of and reasons for appropriate footwear, rain gear, etc. Speak of past experiences you’ve seen to reinforce your suggestions.
- “I see you are here in sandals/tennis shoes/jeans; have you done a similar hike wearing them before? Can you describe the last trip where you used these and how they functioned?”
- “Did everyone remember to pack food, water, etc.?” (See the Ten Essentials list.)
- “Have you used this backpack [boots, tent, sleeping bag, etc.] on a trip like this before, under what conditions, and how did it work for you?”
Steering participants to more appropriate trips
As a leader, it is best to get the participant invested in screening him- or herself off a trip. The leader should paint the real expectations of the trip and how the participant’s fitness or equipment may prevent him or her from having a safe and enjoyable trip. Here are some ways to discuss the suitability of the trip and to suggest alternative trips:
- “Generally this trip is more appropriate for people who are able to hike longer distances [for a longer time, at high elevations, in inclement conditions].”
- “I am concerned that this trip may be too long [hard, strenuous, etc.] for you and will not be enjoyable.”
- “Though this hike does not seem like a good fit for you, Mary is doing a great hike on Sunday that I think you might enjoy.”
- “I know that this weight in your pack is okay right now, but think how it will feel 10 miles in and 1,500 feet higher."