Is Your Mountain Guide Qualified

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Is Your Mountain Guide Qualified?

When tax season rolls around, you turn towards your accountant or CPA, right? Well, searching for a mountain guide is no different. It’s essential that you do your homework, find the right partner and/or mentor, and get the most out of your mountain adventure and education. But, with all of the options out there, it’s hard to know where to start. 

Don’t sweat it. We’ve outlined the steps to help you find the right partner and get the most out of your time in the mountains!

mountain guides
Mike Soucy, shown teaching an AIARE 1 avalanche training, is one of multiple elite IFMGA / American Mountain Guides on the Colorado Mountain School team.

1. Look for Technical Training

That super rad climber at your gym may be able to send 5.12+. And, they can show you a decent amount in the field. But, they likely haven’t gone through the same rigorous and intensive education and training that professional mountain guides have. There is an astonishing amount of myths and misconceptions passed down over climbing generations. Don’t fall into that trap. 

What is the AMGA?

So, our first pro tip, and the one we will focus on most, is to look for AMGA qualifications. In the world of mountain guiding, the American Mountain Guides Association, or AMGA, is the top tier for guide training and certification. The AMGA provides guides with the necessary skill set to efficiently manage clients in three different scopes of terrain: ski, rock, and alpine.

This training is no walk in the park either. Certified guides typically invest over $10,000 and around 30 days of formal training and evaluation per discipline. All in, it’s roughly $50,000 and at least 86 days of courses and exams to become an IFMGA / American Mountain Guide (certified in all three disciplines)!

AMGA Standards

The AMGA also runs under a strict scope of practice that “outlines the minimum training and certification a guide or instructor must have to work within specific terrain.” This assures you that when hiring an AMGA certified guide, you will be navigating terrain with a guide who, at the bare minimum, is extremely qualified in their discipline if not more. The last thing you want is an overly ambitious guide who is pushing the boundaries of their skills to beef up their resume.

In addition, the AMGA upholds a standard for guide services through an intense accreditation process. So, you can breathe easier knowing you will receive a high-quality experience when booking an AMGA certified guide.

To earn AMGA Accreditation, guide services must pass rigorous examinations and must also have:

  • risk management training
  • permits for the area they will be guiding in
  • insurance

What to look for to confirm your mountain guide is AMGA certified

The easiest way to look for AMGA qualifications? Look at how guides or guide services present their credentials. After all, would you hire someone without looking at their resume?

If you are already connected with a guide for your next trip, read their online biography. We keep a list of all Colorado Mountain School professional guides and their credentials online. Some guides even have a patch sewed onto their gear, like Mia shown here.

Mountain guides Mia Tucholke
Colorado Mountain School professional guide Mia Tucholke proudly represents her qualifications with an AMGA Certified Rock and Mountain Guide patch on her arm.

If they don’t proudly tout their qualifications, it’s a yellow flag. If you don’t know the guide personally, here are some ways to started and questions to ask:

  • Evaluate how they talk about their qualifications
  • Are they accredited by the AMGA?
  • What level of AMGA training do they require of their guides, if any?
  • WIll your guide be guiding in the area they hold their accreditation? Alpine vs. ski or rock?
  • Do they have the proper permits and insurance in place?

Colorado Mountain School Qualifications

Colorado Mountain School has proudly earned and held AMGA Accreditation for years, and exclusively employs guides with a high level of training from the AMGA. In addition, a number of our guides moonlight as members of the AMGA Instructor Team teaching AMGA courses and exams. And, we hold many internal mentorship sessions each year to keep our team up-to-date with the latest techniques and risk management best practices.

Need more stats? Colorado Mountain School has on our team of guides:

  • 8 IFMGA guides
  • 25 AMGA Rock Guides
  • 10 AMGA Alpine Guides
  • 12 AMGA Ski Guides

For you, this results in a high level of consistency and professionalism across every course and adventure.

Anyone can call himself or herself a mountain guide in the United States. Even without any training. Demand that your guide has professional technical training. Demand a Professional Mountain Guide.

mountain guides training
AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide Max Lurie demonstrates the latest AMGA techniques to Apprentice and Assistant Guides in an internal CMS professional development training.

2. Depth of Experience

While AMGA course and exam candidates are required to list ski or climbing routes of various levels of difficulty, it should only be a small sample of their overall climbing experience. 

Our second pro-tip is to evaluate the depth of their experience. Things to look for:

  • A guide that has been climbing or skiing for years or even decades
  • How long they have been guiding or instructing for?
  • Have they guided in a variety of terrain?
  • If you’re looking to tackle a specific objective, do they have experience climbing or guiding it in the past? 

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!

We’ve built a reputation on tens of thousands of days skiing, climbing, mountaineering, and teaching in our backyard, the spectacular Colorado Rockies, and across the globe in other world-class mountain ranges. The vast amount of knowledge we’ve garnered over the years becomes institutionalized and passed down to every single guide on our team.  

Jake Gaventa mountain guide
AMGA Ski Guide & AIARE Course Leader Jake Gaventa teaching avalanche training.

3. Supplemental Trainings & Certifications

There is a variety of additional training and certifications that we recommend you look for in a guide. Here’s just a few we’ll review next:

  • avalanche education
  • wilderness medicine
  • outdoor ethics
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training

Do They Have Appropriate Avalanche Training?

Is the course or guided adventure you are interested in potentially going into steep, snowy terrain? Well, then your guide must have the appropriate level of training to manage avalanche risk for themselves and their clients. As such, many AMGA mountain guide programs require avalanche training as prerequisites and continued education. 

For guides in the Ski discipline, the AMGA requires a professional level one avalanche training course to get started (or higher). Guides in the Alpine discipline are required to have a recreational level one avalanche training before starting, but quickly ramp up to a need for professional-level training. 

Adam Baxter mountain guide
CMS Guide and Mountain Rescue Institute owner Adam Baxter teaching how to splint a leg during a Wilderness First Responder certification course.

What Wilderness Medicine Certifications do They Hold?

A twisted knee resulting from an unbalanced rock 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 that your guide will know how to 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.

Rainbow Weinstock mountain guide
AMGA Certified Rock Guide Rainbow Weinstock leads a Leave No Trace training course for Colorado Mountain School guides at the Estes Park Adventure Hostel & classroom.

Is Your Guide a Good Steward?

We’ve all heard the saying “leave it better than you found it.” Whether in context to the great outdoors. Or your parents reminding you not to leave a mess in the kitchen. The idea is all the same.

Leave it better than you found it. 

Leave No Trace

We believe guides and educators can be role models for recreationists. That’s why all Colorado Mountain School guides are required to undertake a two-day Leave No Trace (LNT) training, taught by our very own Rainbow Weinstock (AMGA Rock Guide, Apprentice Alpine Guide, LNT Master Trainer). 

Give Back & Volunteer

Many of our guides also volunteer to build and maintain trails in the Flatirons and Boulder Canyon through Front Range Climbing Stewards / Boulder Climbing Community. In addition, we also have guides that volunteer in Rocky Mountain National Park through Rocky Mountain Conservancy.

Diversity in the Outdoors

Colorado Mountain School makes every effort to be inclusive in the hiring of our team members. In addition, we provide them with training in diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure we can provide a customized guiding experience for all people. Regardless of gender, race, or ability.

Interested in being a part of our team? Check out our Careers page for the latest open positions!

Bernandaro Beteta Mountain Guide
CMS Guides Bernardo Beteta (left) and Hannah Trim (right) Volunteering for Trail Restoration.

Final Words of Wisdom on Mountain Guides

We hope these recommendations help get you started on the right foot in your search for the right partner and mentor in the mountains. The connection between guide and client is extremely important.

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. 

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

You may choose to work with multiple guides before finding your long-term partner. Or, you may find it on the first try. Just make sure they are qualified


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