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Becoming a Mountain Guide: Thoughts from Freshly-Pinned IFMGA Guide Norie Kizaki

become a mountain guide norie kizaki

Becoming a Mountain Guide: A Conversation with Norie Kizaki

At Colorado Mountain School, we realize our guides have different goals and desires in addition to simply guiding with us. Many aspire to climb higher peaks, get certified as an AIARE instructor, a single pitch instructor, or go all the way to become an International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA) mountain guide.

Guides that fall into the IFMGA category are recognized around the world as the most highly trained and knowledgeable at their craft. It is no small feat to achieve this status, and so we had a conversation with one of our freshly-pinned IFMGA mountain guides, Norie Kizaki this fall.

become a mountain guide Norie Kizaki
Norie Kizaki guiding with Colorado Mountain School in 2013.

How Norie Got Her Start

Born in rural, western Japan, Norie Kizaki was raised in the Buddhist monastery her family has administered for generations. A graduate of Tokyo’s prestigious Obirin University, Norie moved to Colorado in 1996 and earned a Master’s degree in International Intercultural Communications from Denver University. Leaving behind a successful consulting career, Norie turned her passion for climbing into her profession.

Norie is the first woman to complete the Mountain Guide Program while giving birth and raising a child, the first Japanese woman to achieve IFMGA status, and the first woman of color to become AMGA/IFMGA guide. She is also an AIARE Instructor and Certified Wilderness First Responder.

Norie in Summer 2021 at the IFMGA pin ceremony.

How do you begin to prepare to be a mountain guide and pass the IFMGA exams?

It is a bit difficult to say how I prepared.  It only took 13 years, one child, and 16 Covid negative tests :-).  

I had very limited time to train, but when I did, I focused on improving my physical as well as mental strength.  I needed to be as efficient and effective as possible.  

My preparation for the last two exams probably looked different from other people.  My exam preparation reflected the realities of being a working guide and working mother.  Waking up in the dark to do water carries by headlamp and return as my son was prepping for school. Timed laps on local, technical terrain rather than time away from family for scouting. 

norie kizaki become a mountain guide

Any new projects you’ll be working on with your IFMGA status? 

My “project” has not changed for the last one and a half years.  I went right back to keeping my family safe in this Covid world while making sure my son has plenty of playtime with other kids.  

Any new courses you’ll be teaching or guiding in new places?

I do not particularly have a new course.  But I am still hoping that Japan welcomes back tourists by winter so that I get to go back with my family and guide in Japan this winter. I also look forward to guiding in Europe and other beautiful places around the world.   

become a mountain guide norie kizaki

Recommendations for others that want to go through the process of becoming a certified mountain guide but also want a family?

If you are considering being a mother, I highly recommend it!  I would not have it otherwise.  If you think that it is challenging to go through exams/courses and be a mother, it definitely is.  However, you do not need to choose one or the other.  

If you have to choose one, my answer is easy and no one will criticize your decision.  At one point, I decided that having a child is more important in life.  And I am very fortunate to have him in life.  In the end, I will rather be remembered as a “caring mother” than an incredible mountain guide though both are surely nice. 🙂

mountain guide norie kizaki

It Takes a Village to Become a Mountain Guide

Thank you to all my mentors and Colorado Mountain School for supporting me through the process.  I must also thank my husband David Wolf for countless nights of single parenting while I am away.  I recognize that it was a big challenge especially in the world of COVID.  

I also want to congratulate my Colorado Mountain School co-workers who achieved the IFMGA status this season:

I am honored to be working side by side with all of you.  

Any advice for other mountain guides?

What did I learn from the entire process of becoming a mountain guide? Well, it took me 13 years. And, failing a course or an exam is such a small challenge in life. Failing or even passing an exam does not define you.  

I am a bit older and wiser than when I first started.  When you look at life as a whole, not doing great on courses and/or exams is really nothing compared to hardships you may experience in life.

So, don’t beat yourself up on mistakes you made in those courses.  If you are older and if you are a mother, you know what I am talking about :-).  

Learn more about Norie on her guide page, or contact her at

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