Our Professionals – Your Guides
The backcountry is their office and they have learned many life lessons on the trail and from their gentle llama companions. We know that your guides are an important factor in the success of your adventure. As guides, we strive to reflect a genuine appreciation and respect for the delicate balance of the wilderness in a professional and personal manner. We have an established reputation for our congenial, conscientious, and sincere attitude towards guiding and the backcountry. It is our goal to enhance your trip by taking you off the beaten path to those hidden places, attempting the summit of a nearby peak or refreshing you with hearty meals and breads cooked in a wood burning stove or at a campsite.
Our backgrounds include nationally recognized outdoor schools and a broad mix of worldwide mountaineering experience. All guides have certifications in CPR and Wilderness First Aid. Their love of the backcountry is infectious and they are eager to show you some of their favorite places.
Donny Shefchik – Guide, Field Director
There is often one in the ranks who becomes timeless, who has been around forever, who remembers that hidden campsite from a solo trip 10 years previous. Paragon’s Field Director and Senior Guide, Donny Shefchik, may be that one. Time and miles can make someone aware of their surroundings, but passion separates the trail you follow.
Donny has been with Paragon Guides since 1985, and has had the pleasure of learning about the country, learning about himself and learning about guiding, with the help of a great group of people. A solid “Midwesterner” some might say, Northern Wisconsin is where he came from years ago. As a Junior Racing Coach and Certified Alpine Ski Instructor, he began developing a teaching and personal style that is evident in his guiding. However, the Rocky Mountains continued to work their magic and in 1979 he moved to Vail.
Backcountry skiing, Telemarking, Hiking, Climbing, Fly Fishing, Biking; the outdoor world had found another devout disciple. Donny’s enthusiasm and desire to share the rewards of the mountains, soon took him into guiding. Nordic certification, personal development training, wilderness medicine, Mountain Ski Guide Certification, and his mother’s gift for cooking have helped round out his guiding style. Travel has broadened his outdoor experience with backcountry and ski mountaineering trips in the Western U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan. The simplicity and beauty of the mountain environment has molded his life. Donny has helped to shape Paragon Guides, and in return has reaped the benefits of the mountains and the people who spend time in them.
Karen Peck – Company Manager
Karen has served as the ‘voice in the office’ and hub of Paragon’s trip logistics since 1990. She and her husband moved to Colorado from Minnesota in 1988 and worked at a high alpine guest ranch for a couple years before joining Paragon. A couple decades and 2 kids later, she is still here, even adding her daughter to the Paragon Llama Wrangler team. Karen is an avid hiker, cross-country skier, road cyclist, flat-water kayaker, hack photographer and a technology geek.
Will Elliott – Guide, Corporate Coordinator
Will Elliott grew up in the Paragon family, and has spent countless nights in the mountains. After graduating from the Denver University in 2005, Will moved back to the Vail Valley and resumed guiding ski mountaineering trips in the winter and rock climbing, camping, trekking, and mountain biking expeditions in the summer for Paragon Guides.
During the summer of 2005 Will, a Outward Bound alum, guided his first of many Outward Bound Wilderness adventures as a OB instructor. Continuing his education in Guiding, Will has earned certifications as a Wilderness First Responder, an AMGA Ski Guide, Avalanche , and as PSIA telemark instructor.
Will has traveled, climbed and skied in India, Canada, Argentina, Chile, and throughout the United States. He looks forward to all of the mountains that he has yet to explore. Will maintains his love and passion is for skiing, however, he also enjoys fishing, rock climbing, river rafting, hiking and most anything that involves the spirit of adventure.
Nick Vincent “Vince” – Guide, Media Coordinator
While growing up in the midwest, Nick or sometimes “Vince”, discovered his passion for the outdoors on the great lakes of Michigan and the ski slopes “up north” from his hometown of Lapeer. Vince haphazardly migrated to corporate America upon graduating from Central Michigan University in 2006. After a ski trip to Vail in 2007, he quickly decided to trade his khakis for Gore-Tex and moved to Denver the following year. Hooked on the mountains, he soon found himself as an intern at the Colorado Outward Bound School. After 5 seasons as an instructor, staff trainer, and semester proctor at COBS, Vince started to transition into guiding with backcountry skiing being his passion and focus.
Vince is pursuing AMGA certification within the ski discipline and completed Ski Guide Course in January 2016. He is a Wilderness First Responder and teaches AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Courses for Paragon and Colorado Mountain College. He has been on ski expeditions to Ecuador, Canada, and Alaska. Vince has been with us for 3 years and has recently taken on a more full-time role with the company as both a guide and office minion. He continues to work for COBS and enjoys bringing the mission and teachings of Outward Bound into his guiding.
Joe Schmitt – Guide
Joe has been guiding in the mountains of Colorado for the last 32 years. Joe’s formal education started out with his degree in Outdoor Recreation from Southern Illinois University. After that he worked 21 day wilderness programs around the country and finally landed in Colorado in 1984. Joe started guiding and eventually became the Executive director of a NPO wilderness based, personal growth program for inner city kids for the next 22 years. Now he splits his time over the course of the year running the Nordic program for Vail Resorts in the winter, leading the climbing program for a local non-profit, SOS, working with youth, and guiding full-time for Paragon Guides in the summers. His passions are hiking, climbing, exploring the natural environment, llama trekking, mountaineering, backpacking, and mountain biking. Joe truly enjoys the inner journey that the wilderness environment inspires though the use of meditation and movement. He is a long time believer in the power of the wilderness and what it brings to one’s self. He enjoys connecting with people of all ages, good stories and hardy laughs.
Ken Dammen – Guide
Ken was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, but now considers Eagle, Colorado his home. Ken holds a BS from Arizona State University. He enjoys mountain biking, backcountry skiing, climbing, hiking, and pretty much anything in between including guiding his family through the mountains. His new hobby is stand up paddle boarding which he often enjoys sitting down.
Ken started with Paragon in 2015 and is quickly becoming a very well rounded guide. He is a Wilderness First Responder and has taken his AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Certification. He is also a “Rappel Master” according to the FBI. We highly recommend asking him what that means. Ken guides because “I truly enjoy leading people into our backyard and showing them how fantastic the Colorado wilderness really is. It is rewarding to see others complete things they didn’t think they could do, like climbing a rock wall or finishing a tough hike.”
Ryland Gardner – Guide
Ryland ended up in CO after growing up in VA and yearning to ski and play in bigger mountains. He moved to Vail in 1985 and started working as a gondola attendant for VA on the old six person gondola. Since then a circuitous route took him to Jackson, WY from 1992 -1998 where he worked for the Teton Science School and assisted in the creation two beautiful human beings, his children. Ryland learned all he could about mountaineering and skiing from the Teton School of Hard Knocks and close calls. Ryland moved back to Vail and worked as the Director of Education for the fledgling Gore Range Natural Science School now known as Walking Mountains from 1998 – 2004. After a brief stint in Silverton as the Education Director for the Mountain Studies Institute, he landed in Boulder.
His main gigs now include guiding for Paragon, teaching for NOLS/WMI, and working as the Medical Coordinator and firefighter/EMT at Lyons Fire Protection District. Ryland has been with Paragon since 2001 and holds a MA in Natural Science and Environmental Education from Prescott College. He is a Wilderness EMT, has his AIARE Level 2 Avalanche Certification, is a Swift Water Rescue Technician and Wildland Firefighter.
Rochelle Ford – Guide
Rochelle has worked with Paragon since the winter of 2008. A native to Colorado she has lived in the area since she was a teenager. On skis or snowshoes she enjoys exploring the mountains near her place in Vail. Rochelle is certified as a Wilderness First Responder and has an AIARE Level 2 Avalanche certificate. She also has a degree in horticultural landscaping from CSU. She spends her time with her family, friends and her dogs. Rochelle is also probably funnier than you
Kurt Kincel – Guide
Kurt started his mountaineering career in the wooded hills of upstate New York. After a climbing trip through the Western states, the move to Colorado was inevitable. For more than a decade Colorado has been his “base camp” for further adventures both
guiding and personal pursuits, ranging from Canada to South America. His training has included Level III Avalanche and AMGA(American Mtn. Guides Assoc.), Kurt has been an OEC (Outdoor Emergency Care) technician for 16 years. Locally, Kurt has been involved with the Vail Mountain Search & Rescue team since 1999, and has worked as an Avalanche Training instructor at the Colorado Mountain College since 2001.
While not in the mountains Kurt can be found hanging around in the trees as a Certified Arborist or floating the rivers of canyon country in his handmade wooden dory.
Contact Paragon Guides today to join us on a backcountry adventure!