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Iceland is the paradise of any outdoor activity enthusiast

An interview with Gabriel Côté-Valiquette is the coordinator and lead instructor of the Adventure Sport Certificate at Keilir
Gabriel enjoying his time in Iceland
Gabriel enjoying his time in Iceland

Keilir is a member of the Visit Reykjanes team and Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark. Since 2013 they have offered the program Adventure Sport Certificate in Iceland in cooperation with Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Canada.

Gabriel Côté-Valiquette is the coordinator and lead instructor of the Adventure Sport Certificate at Keilir. Gabriel has been working in the adventure tourism industry for nine years in Eastern and Western Canada, the US, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, China, Nepal, and Iceland as a raft guide, whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, swiftwater rescue and hiking instructor. Gabriel is fluent in French, English, and Spanish, speaks some Chinese, and is learning Icelandic.

Gabriel’s involvement with the outdoors started at a young age with multi-day Canoe tripping in Northern Quebec and has led to many experiences internationally. After two seasons of work as a raft guide in Eastern Canada, Gabriel entered the Adventure Guide Diploma program at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), where he obtained a number of certifications. Gabriel continued his studies at TRU with a degree in tourism management, for which he spent a full year abroad on a student exchange - completing one semester in Chile and one in China.

What have you been doing?

Our program is a combination of field courses and classroom courses, taking place in different locations all around Iceland. Our team is composed of instructors from all over the world – mainly from Iceland and Canada. We try to have a mix of local and foreign instructors on each course. As the only full-time faculty, I teach most of them. In September and October I though Wilderness Travel, which is a hiking course, Sea Kayak 1, and Whitewater Kayak 1. The students also took a mountaineering course, which is the only course I didn’t teach – we hire fully certified mountain guides for our mountain program. In November and December I though the two Fall semester classroom courses: Guiding Leadership, which explores the role of guides in the wilderness environment, and The Adventure Tourism Industry, which is designed for students to get a thorough understanding of the adventure tourism industry in Iceland. 

I have been very busy since I’ve landed in Iceland in August. When I arrived I had to get up to date on the program and the courses before the start of the semester in September. My position requires good knowledge of the areas we use for our field courses and a good understanding of the industry; I have been doing a lot of travelling, research, and networking. During my time off, I have been busy reconnecting with my old classmates, exercising at the swimming pool, and exploring Reykjavik’s numerous 42° hot tubs.

Why Iceland is a good place to study adventure tourism?

Iceland offers the perfect playground to train adventure guides – it is incredibly easy here to access the pristine wilderness. Clear rivers, mountains and glaciers are all we need. Furthermore, the tourism industry in Iceland has been growing at an alarming rate. This growth has been incredibly beneficial to the economy, but has also led to other problems, such as a lack of educated guides to offer quality experiences to all those tourists. Our program’s purpose is to fill this gap – all of our graduates have found jobs upon their graduation and are leaders in their fields. For Icelanders who love the outdoors and want to make a career out of their hobbies, our program can jump start their careers. For international students, this is an incredible opportunity to study adventure tourism in the trendiest adventure travel destination in the world. 

What brought you to Iceland?

When I was a student at Thompson Rivers University, two of my classmates were from Iceland: Ragnar Þór Þrastarson, who is my predecessor in this job, and Þórður Bergsson. I remember being very intrigued by the stories they told us about their isolated Northern Island. From the moment I met them, I new that one day I would visit their home country. I tried to work here two summers ago, but it didn’t workout so I am very grateful to have finally made it to Iceland – I get to live here, which is even better than I had hoped. 

Last Christmas I did a trip down the Grand Canyon and after 20 days without Internet, the first email I read was that I was offered the opportunity to come to Iceland for this job. I was very thrilled and immediately started the long and perilous process of getting my visa approval. I am currently on my fourth month in Iceland and looking forward to spending the year 2016 in this beautiful country.

How do you find it here?

So far I really like Iceland; it is the paradise of any outdoor activity enthusiast. I have met lots of great people here and really look forward to become a “local”. I am constantly reminded of the advantages of living on a small isolated island; if you want to meet someone, it is very easy to find them. Whether it is the head of the tourism board or the owner of the largest tourism operator in Iceland, you can simply go and knock on their door; something that is not always possible in a big country like Canada.