Who among us hasn’t broken or stuck something on the trail, which, in retrospect, became a very clear lesson about what not to do? Many of us learned our 4WD skills the hard way, by trial and error, or by learning from watching others make costly mistakes. Most would agree there is tremendous value to receiving professional training. Paying for training up front may cost money, but it usually results in saving an exponential amount of money and time in the long run.
When I started working in the tour industry in the 1990s, typical commercial training consisted of “ride with this guy for a while to learn the ropes, go out and practice by yourself, and when you feel ready, take us on a tour and we’ll see how you do.” Needless to say, companies that operate like that have very high liability and vehicle repair bills.
When I was put in charge of training commercial tour guides, I looked around what was then an infant Internet, trying to find someone who offered professional 4WD training. I found a guy up in Colorado named Bill Burke, and also someone by the name of Jim Allen, who was writing a book called Four Wheeler’s Bible. Both have become valuable resources that I still rely on to this day. I sat down, took nuggets from their teachings, and knowledge I had gleaned from my own trial and error, and created checklists for training.
Over the years, that original checklist has been added to and massaged, but the basic principles have remained the same. It was many years before I began encountering other people who were developing 4WD training in other parts of the country, and though we are still few and far between, today’s social media and publish-your-own websites have made hanging out your proverbial business shingle far easier, and it can be difficult to search out quality providers.
Enter the International 4WD Trainers Association. Founded in 2008 by Bill Burke of Bill Burke’s 4-Wheeling America, his vision was to bring together 4WD trainers who had been training for years to create a consistent and credible standard for all 4WD trainers. I had the honor of testing to become certified into the association in 2011.
The testing procedure is grueling. It consists of five days of combined classroom and fieldwork in everything from adult education principles to 4WD recovery to in-field presentation skills. I cannot reveal all the testing techniques, but suffice to say that you cannot fake your way through it. It is designed to ferret out your weak points. Whether you pass, fail, or achieve probationary certification, you will learn more in those five days than most people learn in a lifetime.
Now, certified trainer members of the association can be found around the globe. The combined knowledge is astounding. I learn new techniques and find out about interesting new tools every time I have the honor of attending a Testing for Certification. It is always a wonderful treat when even the greenest recruit points out something that turns a light on for the most seasoned wheelers in the group.
It truly has become an annual pilgrimage for me. No matter how much experience one has, how much training one has received, or even given, the key is to never stop learning.