Why Hire a Certified Mountain Guide

Matt Lipscomb, AMGA Certified Ski Guide, Colorado Mountain School
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Choosing the Best Guide for Your Adventure

With so many new people trying rock climbing, backcountry skiing, or mountaineering in the past few years, there’s been an increase in the number of guiding companies and individuals that can take you and your friends on your next adventure. Anyone can call himself or herself a mountain guide in the United States. Even without any training.

However, it’s hard to find a certified mountain guide, and you may be wondering why you need one. In our last blog on Is Your Mountain Guide Qualified, we shared what qualifications you should look for. In this blog, we’ll make it easy and give you 4 reasons why you should seek out a certified mountain guide.

Before we dive in, if you are interested in being a part of our team, we are hiring! Check out our Careers page for the latest open positions!

Waterfall Ice Climbing in the Canadian Rockies with Certified Guides.
Ice climbing is an intense sport, so why book a guide that does not have the right training and experience? Photo Credit: John Price

1. Rigorous Training And Technical Education Gives You Peace Of Mind

Colorado Mountain School guides undergo rigorous and intensive education and training before they begin guiding on their own. Most of this begins with taking courses through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), or IFMGA, which is the top tier for guide training and certification.

The AMGA provides guides with the necessary skill set to efficiently guide clients in three different scopes of terrain: ski, rock, and alpine.

And if you think this is similar to that training course you took for your summer lifeguarding job, think again. Certified mountain guides invest tens of thousands of dollars over the course of several years to participate in formal training and evaluation for each discipline.

The AMGA’s strict scope of practice “outlines the minimum training and certification a guide or instructor must have to work within specific terrain.” So this assures you that when you hire a certified mountain guide, they are extremely qualified in their discipline.

At Colorado Mountain School, you will not be teaming up with an ambitious guide who is pushing the boundaries of their skills to beef up their resume.

Colorado Mountain School Guide, Mike Coyle, pauses to take in the view while climbing in the alpine.
Colorado Mountain School guide Mike Coyle just recently completed his final exams to become an IFMGA-certified mountain guide.

2. Vast Knowledge In The Discipline Can Help You Correct or Avoid Bad Habits

Many people you meet in climbing gyms may have learned to climb from friends or family members. You may have also learned from a friend that had some climbing gear, a rope, and an extra pair of shoes or a harness you borrowed.

But without proper training, how do you know if you are learning the right technique? Following the right steps to ensure your safety and the safety of those in your group?

The vast amount of knowledge we’ve garnered over the years becomes institutionalized and passed down to every single guide at Colorado Mountain School. 

Therefore, you must evaluate the depth of experience your guide has before you commit to your adventure. Here are a few things to look for in your guide before heading out on the trail:

  • Has been climbing or skiing for years or even decades
  • Working as a guide or instructor for 5+ years
  • Has the AMGA or IMFGA accreditation in the discipline you are participating in
  • Is willing to take the time to teach you proper technique. So you are not just following blindly, you are learning the why and how.

And remember, this applies to both individual guides and guide services. For example, Colorado Mountain School was founded in Estes Park, Colorado in 1981. That’s about four decades of experience that we pass down to all of our certified mountain guides!

Norie Kizaki
IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide Norie Kizaki was ‘pinned’ last summer when she passed her final exams!

3. Has A System In Place To Manage Risk + Handle Emergencies

When you’re 3 pitches up on a 6 pitch route and a thunderstorm rolls in, does your mountain guide have the experience to get you off the route safely? When you are backcountry skiing or splitboarding and you begin to hear whomping and see cracks in the snow, does your guide have a plan B?

Certified mountain guides spend many hours of their training on risk management and how to mitigate risk. In addition, they also have a plan B and even C in place in case the situations change while you are out on your planned route.

If there is an emergency while climbing or skiing, a certified mountain guide has trained for this.

A twisted ankle from hiking may not seem like too big of a deal. But, when you’re five miles into the backcountry with no cell service, it becomes one quickly. Having trust in your guide that they will respond appropriately in remote areas is paramount. 

At a minimum, our guides are required to have an active Wilderness First Responder certification. Wilderness First Aid is not sufficient. In addition, many of our guides hold Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician or Outdoor Emergency Care certifications. 

Whether it’s a minor cut or broken bone, make sure your guide is trained and equipped to help deliver and organize care.

A student on an AIARE 2 course in Colorado performs a radio check.

4. Has Extensive Knowlege In The Area You Will Be Skiing Or Climbing

The Front Range and Rocky Mountain National Park are our backyards and Colorado Mountain School guides spend almost everyday teaching and training here.

However, our certified guides also have the opportunity to explore and develop experience in a wide variety of terrain throughout Colorado and the American West, as well as internationally.

When you join us for a course or hire a guide, we’re pairing you with the best mountain guide for that area. Someone with extensive knowledge of the terrain, the risks, and the challenges you may encounter.

A group of mountain guides practice short-rope techniques high in the alpine in Rocky Mountain National Park.
A group of Colorado Mountain School guides practicing short-rope techniques high in the alpine in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Final Thoughts on Working with a Certified Mountain Guide

We hope these 4 reasons to hire a certified mountain guide give you the assurance that seeking out a guide with AMGA or IFMGA qualifications is necessary. And in the world of mountain guiding, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), or IFMGA, is the top tier for guide training and certification.

Not only is Colorado Mountain School Colorado’s largest mountain guide company, but we are also an accredited guide service of the AMGA and the country’s #1 AIARE avalanche course provider.

Finally, if you are interested in being a part of our team, we are hiring! Head over to our Careers page for the latest open positions.


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