What that AMGA Patch Stands for: The History of the American Mountain Guides Association

Ian Fowler AMGA mountain guide
Ian is an IFMGA Licensed Mountain Guide and an AIARE 1 Course Leader. He is also a Wilderness First Responder and Outdoor Emergency Care Technician. When the weather turns cold Ian can be found Ski Patrolling at Eldora Mountain Resort.
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History of the AMGA

The AMGA was set in motion in 1979 when a group of mountain guides in Jackson, Wyoming came together and created what was then called American Professional Mountain Guide Association (APMGA). Many famously refer to this as the “Moose Bar Charter,” named after the Moose Bar where it was penned on napkins by legends such as Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. The goal was to create a platform that built connections and resources between mountain guides not only in this country but across the world. 

The creation of this platform for mountain guides wasn’t all smooth sailing from the beginning. There was a lot of ebb and flow in its development. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 80s when the first two disciplines, Rock and Alpine, were nailed down. At that time, the third discipline, Ski, was still under development.

Madeline Sorkin AMGA Rock Guide and professional climber.

The IFMGA: International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations

The creation of a nationwide association for mountain guides was not a new concept. During their formation of standards and methods for examination, founders of the AMGA looked to programs in other countries such as Canada, Switzerland, and New Zealand. These were already established under the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), which was founded in 1965.

In 1986, the American Mountain Guide Association officially established a solid program that endorses guide services in the disciplines of Ski, Alpine, and Rock. Like any progressive organization, the development of the AMGA still evolves in order to better guide education and training to provide clients an unforgettable mountain experience!

Megan-Yingling-Climbing-Guide
Meet Megan Yingling, one of the newest members of CMS! Meg is a Wilderness First Responder, AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, and a certified Single Pitch Instructor.

Understanding the Levels of AMGA Qualifications

While the words “guide” and “instructor” are typically used interchangeably, not all guides and instructors should be treated equally. Both in terms of their qualifications and the terrain in which they work. The American Mountain Guide Association defines these words differently. And, has structured its programs accordingly: the Mountain Guide Program and Climbing Instructor Program. 

It’s worth calling out that this solely focuses on differentiating guides and instructors in the world of rock climbing. There are no AMGA Alpine or Ski instructor programs for the backcountry; only Mountain Guide programs. For those interested in learning ski movement skills at a ski resort, we recommend searching for a PSIA-AASI Member. In addition, some guides also moonlight as resort instructors and vice versa. 

The AMGA Climbing Instructor Program

The Climbing Instructor Program is a more entry-level program that enables instructors to teach and monitor rock climbing in Grade 1 (easy access), single-pitch terrain. Want to get started here? We teach an AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Program!

The AMGA Mountain Guide Program

The Mountain Guide program is a more rigorous, time-intensive program that allows guides to work with clients and students in more advanced and exposed terrain. There are different levels of qualifications within the Mountain Guide program that correspond with different terrain types.

Here are some of the symbols you may see displayed in a Colorado Mountain School guide’s bio that will indicate whether the guide has AMGA or IFMGA certifications, or both!

Final Thoughts: What to look for in a guide

So what does this mean for you? If you’re a beginner or are purely focused on walk-up single-pitch climbing, a Climbing Instructor can fit your needs nicely. As long as they have a high level of experience and supplemental training.

Are you aiming to go into more advanced terrain? Or would like instruction or supervision at a higher level of training? Seek out a mentor that has started or completed an AMGA Mountain Guide program.

Searching for an IFMGA guide? Read their bio. Look for the symbols above. Also look for their ‘pins’ like the one Ian Fowler, pictured below, proudly wears on every tour.

When in doubt, go with a higher level of qualification and experience!

Ian Fowler AMGA mountain guide
Ian is an IFMGA Licensed Mountain Guide and an AIARE 1 Course Leader. He is also a Wilderness First Responder and Outdoor Emergency Care Technician. When the weather turns cold Ian can be found Ski Patrolling at Eldora Mountain Resort.

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