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How To Choose A Mountain Guide

Historically, training of professional mountain guides in the US has been loosely organized and inconsistently regulated. While some guide services conduct in-house training, few guides have had any formal, comprehensive training.

As a result, anyone can hang up a sign and claim to be a competent guide.

Only a few climbing areas in the United States, such as Joshua Tree National Park, require any training or evaluation in order to guide. Picture this: a guide and client are 600 feet off the ground, 500 feet from the top and a violent summer storm comes pounding in. Getting out of this potentially dangerous situation calls upon a guide's expertise and training. Although risk can never be eliminated, proper training can help minimize it. Climbing skills alone are not enough. Guiding experience and training, as well as evaluation of guiding-specific skills, are essential to maximize competency and greatly reduce potential hazards.

American Mountain Guides Association

Consumers expect formal training of a doctor or lawyer. Countries in the European Alps require completion of a vigorous training and examination program before leading a client on a rope. Shouldn't you ask the same from your American guide?

One of goals of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) is to raise the technical and professional standards of mountain guiding. Membership in the prestigious International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) has already confirmed that AMGA education and certification programs meet the worldwide standard. For the consumer, the tested AMGA standard can be the tool to help choose the right guide or guide service.

The AMGA is this country's only organization to ever promote a uniform, comprehensive, nationwide training program for mountain guides at the international level. Choosing a guide that is CERTIFIED by the AMGA ensures that the individual has demonstrated the minimum acceptable level of specific skills that separate the professional guide from the recreational climber. Each Certified guide has met an internationally recognized standard of expertise and professionalism and actively participates in continuing education throughout his or her career. In addition, an AMGA Certified guide meets or exceeds high standards in areas such as client care, risk management, first aid, avalanche awareness and high-angle rescue training. Further, someone who is a fully certified IFMGA Mountain Guide has permission to guide in nearly any IFMGA-member country, including Peru, New Zealand, Canada and most European nations.

The AMGA also has a program that ACCREDITS climbing schools. An Accredited company has passed a brief review of climbing activities, hiring policies, permits and insurance. Keep in mind, however, that Accreditation is a general review, not an in-depth evaluation of the company's guides or their skills.

How do you select the right guide?

Ask the following questions in addition to considering Certification and Accreditation.

  • Does the person or guide service have insurance?
  • Will the person or guide service provide a list of previous clients as a reference?
  • How long has the person been guiding or how long has the guide service been in operation?
  • Has the company had any accidents, and if so, why?
  • What are the company's medical training requirements?
  • What are the company's guide training requirements?
  • If the trip will take place outside the guide's home base, how familiar is he or she with the destination?

With all these points to contemplate, remember that there are qualified guides who are not Certified and qualified schools that are not Accredited. AMGA Certification and Accreditation, along with membership, are voluntary. For a list of AMGA Certified Guides and Accredited Companies send $1 and a SASE to AMGA Referrals or check out our website. For information about AMGA membership and our training programs, please send $4 for a course and membership catalog or get the info from our homepage. Our mailing address is 710 Tenth St., Suite 101, Golden, CO 80401 and our website address is:

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