With a tangible passion for all things wild and cold. Nico brings a professional approach to guiding, assessing, adventuring and looking ridiculously good while he does it.
We catch up with Nico while on a rare break in Northern Patagonia.
Thanks for joining us Nico. We're super excited to learn more about what makes you tick.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Nicolas (Nico) Danyau. I am a nomadic spirit roaming this planet and I am addicted to mountains.
I grew up in the wine country of Chile but I spent the last 6 years living in the USA. Today I am back in Northern Patagonia finally growing roots, after 13 years exploring the world.
What is your current role in the expedition industry?
With more than 80 expeditions in Polar Regions, today I am a PTGA Assessor & Senior Polar Guide dedicating most of my time to training and development, which is what I love the most. When guiding, I work as a Mountain Guide, Expedition Photographer, Naturalist, Zodiac Driver, Rifle Handler & Bear Guard.
What's your background?
I hold a Degree in Ecotourism Project Management. I guided in Patagonia for many years and at the same time I was deeply involved in outdoor education by leading wilderness expeditions focused on leadership development with the Wharton School of Business and Vertical. After that I spent a full year living in Tibet, where I worked in sustainability with Banyan Tree Hotels and a big part of the job was related to training and development of the local communities of the Ringha valley in Shangri-La. Today I work in the Polar Regions with two amazing companies: Antarctica 21 and Silversea.
How did you get your start in the industry?
The first time I stepped foot in Antarctica was in 2012 while guiding a leadership expedition with The Wharton School of Business in 2012. Then I was invited as a mountaineer and climber to attempt the first ascent of The Sharp Peak in Livingston Island, the mountain in the old logo of Antarctica 21.
Having been a guide for 6 years by then, I had no idea about the expedition cruise industry until this point and this is how I met the expedition team. From that point until now, the Polar Regions has become a core part of my life.
What is the best thing about expedition guiding?
My biggest passion in life is to live simply and travel to the most remote corners of the planet and explore these places through mountaineering, rock climbing and spending time in nature. Understanding ecosystems and wildlife behaviours is, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy nature.
Expedition guiding gives me the opportunity to travel to these places and to share my knowledge with people from all over the world.
I have to recognise that I love getting paid to travel to the most remote corners of the world but to be very honest, it is sharing time with my team of expedition guides after accomplishing a difficult landing where we could have never done it without each other.
What’s your favourite expedition destination?
It’s impossible to pick only one, but definitely Antarctica - South Georgia and Greenland.
What aspect of guiding are you most passionate about?
Being part of a team dedicated fully and passionately for a common goal. If I would be in the same places by myself, it wouldn’t make any sense. When I am part of a high performing team, I feel I am part of something so much bigger than myself. I feel I have purpose. I depend on my team and my team depends on me. It is like the most genuine friendship, but you get paid for it!
Knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself starting out?
I would tell myself at 18: “Nico, listen to me and listen carefully. There is a world of possibilities further south, even further south from Patagonia.” But because I know myself and that would have not been enough to get my attention, I would need to add some intense drama like: “Aim further south than the furious 50s, but remember below 40°S, there is no law, but below 50°S, there is no God.” Hahahaha I can see myself with open eyes, paying full attention and nodding my head !
What is the thing that surprised you most about guiding?
I think it is the fact that you have to learn on the go. There are so many components of expedition guiding that there is no way you know them all before getting there.
For example, I was a mountain guide and a photographer but had no idea about driving zodiacs or anything related to life on board expedition ships. By then I knew nothing about sailing. I new all about terrestrial navigation but nothing about charts and costal environments. I knew so much about wildlife in the areas I had spent years learning about, but nothing about wildlife in Polar Regions… So there was so, so much to learn on the go.
What skills/ knowledge do you rate the most important for modern guides?
Related to soft skills: Confidence and humility, cultural and and emotional intelligence, situational awareness, risk management, leadership and followership.
Related to hard skills: Wilderness First Response, Driving zodiacs, Navigation, Radio and Communications, Thematic interpretation.
For those looking to join the industry, what advice would you give?
Know a little bit of everything but become an expert at one thing. Get solid experience and hopefully certifications. Hopefully get guiding experience even if your expertise is science, history or biology.
Find someone out there who works in the industry and reach out. They will be more than one willing to share some advice!
For those looking to continue advancing their expedition career, what advice would you give?
Get out of your comfort zone. Go on your own adventure, a challenging one. The kind of adventure where the risks are really high, but you can manage with knowledge, experience and a wild heart. Get on a Multi-day kayaking or rafting expedition with some friends, go climb that mountain that you always look at but have never dare to attempt, go plan a good road trip that involves a good amount of planning.
Normally, the more time away from comfort and technology, the bigger the challenge.
What is the biggest learning moment from your time in the industry?
After a whole season working down in Antarctica, my team had the opportunity to debrief the season with all senior guides and we went trough the Standard Operation Procedures (SOP). There were so many things we wanted to change as guides because they didn’t feel right. When the conversation started, we all had different opinions and all conversations ended at “it depends”.
A dear friend was facilitating that debrief and she said: “There is no one answer. There is not only one way of doing things. But there should always be a strong reason behind your decision making process, specially if you ever get into an accident and have to defend yourself in court.”
Since then I always encourage guides to learn the “why of things” and not only the “what or how”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Working in the industry still. Dedicated to training and development. 3-4 months in the field and the rest of the year working from home. Hopefully with my own business in parallel.
What future trends do you think guides need to consider?
The expedition cruise industry is growing exponentially (aside from COVID-19) and there will be a need for professionals all across the industry. The more skilled and professional guides are, the better chances to get in.
Describe a “normal” day for you at work?
It’s always hard to get out of bed, but it is coffee time about 1.5 hours before stand by time. When you work on expedition ships, the job is 24/7 so the best quality time to spend with Sarah non-related to work is before breakfast. We give ourselves that gift everyday as a couple.
Breakfast is second coffee time! Normally shared with other expedition guides or a guest who might invite me to join them.
Getting ready and dressed up for the elements takes me about 7 minutes and you never want to be late to stand by time, it is disrespectful to the team!
Then we get to spend about 3.5 hours outside before we get back on board for lunch, a quick 12-15 minutes nap and back outside for another 3 hours.
It’s about 5 pm by now and it is time for Recap (time to learn about the plan for the next day, learn about what we saw today and what we will see the day after). Then it is time for dinner with guests and after dinner I normally go to rest (with the exception of one day in the trip that a few drinks and fun laughs are a must at the bar!)
What’s your favourite zodiac driving conditions?
I have two best conditions:
1.- Calm seas, fog and snow with zero visibility, so you need full attention to the environment and trust your navigation skills and your GPS ! And don’t you dare leave behind your zodiac buddy !
2.- Anything with more than 30 knots of wind. It requires your best guide and no mistakes.
If you could bring anyone on an expedition to Antarctica with you, who would it be and why?
My niece, Manuela, to open her eyes to the world of wilderness and to show her what I would have loved to see when I was a kid.
If you could have been on any expedition ever?
I would have loved to be with Yvon Chouinard, Douglas Tompkins, Rafael Tejada-Flores, Richard Dorworth & Christopher A. G. Jones in 1968 when they travelled for 6 months by land from California to Patagonia, and ended up climbing the third ascent of cerro Chaltén, also known as Fitz Roy in western culture.
The reason behind choosing this expedition is related to the journey from California to Patagonia, sharing quality time among friends, and because Fitz Roy is the most beautiful mountain in the world!
Thanks Nico for taking time to offer us some insights to his life as a professional guide.
You can follow Nico's adventures more here.
FB: Nicolas Danyau