Welcome to AAI
Spreading the Spirit of Alpinism for 40 Years
AAI founder Dunham Gooding teaches alpine ice climbing, circa 1976. Note the then-standard combination of full-lenth piolet and short alpine hammer. AAI Collection
The American Alpine Institute was founded in 1975 and since then has been dedicated to helping climbers raise their skills, protect the environments in which they climb, develop good judgment, and safely gain access to the great mountains of the world.
Though the Institute is especially well known for its advanced training and expeditions, its international reputation is based on its dedication to teaching (at all skill levels from beginners' to masters' levels), its high level of customer service, the outstanding skills of its staff, and its public service in the areas of environmental protection and public lands policy.
“The best all-around climbing school and guide service in North America.”
– Jon Krakauer, Outside Magazine
In its early years AAI was best known for its leadership in alpine guiding, but since the early '80's, the Institute's programming has given equal importance to rock, snow, ice, glacier, and high altitude climbing. AAI also offers nationally recognized programs in wilderness and glacier skiing, avalanche hazard assessment, and technical rescue. We offer courses, climbing trips, and expeditions throughout the year in six states and 16 countries.
AAI's Approach to Teaching & Guiding
“American Alpine Institute is the top training ground for mountaineers, guides, and mountain leaders, but lots of beginners start at AAI too.”
There are several aspects of the Institute's teaching and guiding that have gained wide recognition and which stand apart from the goals of traditional guiding. First, whether you come to us as a beginner or an advanced climber, we will train you in such a way that you are prepared to climb competently on your own after your program. We are not structured to keep you dependent on guides.
Second, we will help you develop your mountain judgment as well as your technical skills, so that when you later climb with friends, you will be a strong team member or leader. If you join us for ascents rather than a course, unlike in traditional guiding, your guide will be focused on helping you improve both your evaluative and technical skills during the process of completing your ascents.
A guide using modern leashless ice technique in Lee Vining Canyon in 2014. Ergonomic bent-shafted ice tools have replaced the old gear. AAI Collection
Third, as a participant in one of the Institute's courses or guided trips, you will be given significant personal responsibility in contrast to the artificially protected experience which is typical of most guided programs and adventure trips. Through the years we have found that this approach creates a much more enjoyable and meaningful experience, makes better rock, alpine, and expedition climbers, and is likely to have an immense influence in increasing your safety when you later make ascents on your own.
Fourth, you will always be exposed to state-of-the-art climbing techniques, protective systems, and self-rescue skills. AAI has always been a national leader in the development of the most effective climbing procedures that achieve the dual goals of maintaining safety while effectively achieving climbing goals.
The AAI staff is composed of some of the world's most accomplished climbers, skiers, and mountain educators. Together they have climbing, research, and expeditionary experience in every major range of the world and have one or more degrees in areas related to the physical or cultural aspects of the domestic and foreign environments in which they guide. Most commonly their academic backgrounds are in biology, ecology, geology, and outdoor education, but others hold degrees in park and forest management, medicine, geography, meteorology, writing, languages, and engineering.
In addition to extensive and very diverse personal climbing experience, they have received professional training in advanced guiding techniques and rescue. Collectively they have one of the highest levels of wilderness first aid training among the world’s international guide services. All have been certified as Wilderness First Responders, Emergency Medical Technicians, or the equivalent. Many of AAI's instructors and guides are writers, and contribute regularly to the blog and other climbing articles on our website.
“Simply the best climbing school and guide service in America”
Developing your Skills – Achieving your Ambitions
AAI offers training at basic, intermediate, and advanced levels on snow, ice, and rock, as well as at altitude, so that at every stage of your climbing development we can offer you courses and private guiding experiences that will help you achieve your goals.
Whether it’s a matter of applying the skills you already have safely in a new or more exotic environment, further developing your technical skills so you can climb harder routes, or expanding your capacity for expert mountain judgement so you can tackle bigger or more demanding peaks, we have programs throughout the western U.S. and in countries around the world that will help you realize your ambition.
At all technical levels, training can be taken either in scheduled courses or in a privately guided setting. Our staff will work with you to determine which courses, guided trips, or expeditions will most effectively help you reach your goals.
Our Service to You
From beginning to end, we are committed to giving you an extremely high level of customer service. At every stage of your planning, you will find us easy to reach and ready to provide the information, answers, or assistance that will make it easy for you to choose and then prepare for your program.
Sometimes the choice of a climbing trip, course, or expedition is obvious, but often times there are multiple options. You’ll always find qualified, senior staff available to help you compare the virtues of different options and choose the mountain experience that will be most pleasurable and rewarding for you.
AAI can also assist you in planning for long-term goals. A person with only backpacking or rock climbing experience, for example, may develop the goal of climbing the highest peaks of North and South America. Whereas a less carefully designed strategy that repeats training or omits important elements of preparation may require many years to prepare a climber, thorough planning for training in all component skill areas can well prepare a person for such major goals in just one or two years. If it would be helpful to you, please call on us for assistance in charting an approach to your medium and long-term climbing interests. Call today at (360) 671-1505.
“AAI is the Harvard of mountaineering schools.”
– Matt Mooney, The New York Times
In our courses and on our guided trips, participants learn a great deal about gear and the specifics of its performance, durability, and range of applications. The ropes and hardware used in the programs are what we have found to be the best of their kind. We don’t choose and use gear because it lasts longer in a guiding situation. We chose it because it’s performance characteristics make it the best, and as a result you will be exposed to the kind of equipment (ropes, hardware, tentage on expeditions, etc.) that you later probably will be considering for your personal use.
If you are new to climbing or beginning a new type of climbing, you may wish to rent some of your personal gear while you learn more about its performance characteristics. Once again, in our rental pool you will find, what is in our opinion, the best gear in the world. We don’t choose rental items because they are cheap and tough; we choose them because they are the best in their category. The items you rent will often times will be the exact choice you make for yourself as purchases at a later date.
In preparing for your program, you’ll also have easy access to highly qualified advisers in the AAI Equipment Shop. Working with a detailed equipment list that you’ll have in your hands, they will help you take best advantage of the gear you already own, rent gear that you are not ready to buy, and purchase any other items that are needed on the basis of performance criteria and future versatility. Whether you buy gear through us or elsewhere, we want to make sure that you get the absolutely best gear for your uses.
The Institute has a travel counselor on staff to help you plan the details of your domestic or international itinerary. Our goal is to minimize the effort it takes to deal with logistics so you can concentrate on tasks only you can do: gear preparation and physical conditioning. We can provide economical ticketing on flights from home to your program meeting place, and we'll also help with arrangements for lodging on the nights before and after your program.
Many AAI climbers also take advantage of our local knowledge to do some additional exploring before or after their climbing. From whale watching in Washington’s San Juan Islands to explorations in the Amazon Basin and the Galapagos Islands, you can easily create some exciting add-on adventures. Just call us to discuss some of your options. The direct travel line is (509) 972-4028.
Areas of Operation
“Excellence in a guide service”
The Institute operates year round throughout the world. Most program schedules follow the good weather and temperate conditions. For example summer rock climbing programs are offered in Leavenworth and the North Cascades of Washington as well as in Squamish and the Interior Ranges of British Columbia because the summer weather is good and it’s not too hot!
Because of high temperatures we avoid rock climbing in Red Rock, Nevada, and Joshua Tree, California in the summer, but transfer our activity there from October through April when the desert rock climbing is at it's best.
Some areas have relatively short periods of stable weather. The Alaska Range, for example, is typically great for climbing in May through mid-July but subject to a higher risk for storm before and after that. The St. Elias Range has a longer dry season in the summer.
The Alps of France and Switzerland have a great climbing season from July through mid-September, but the one in the North Cascades of Washington is even longer, lasting from mid-May until the first week of October.
In the Andes the winter months find us climbing in the dry seasons of Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina, while in the summer we move to Peru and Bolivia.
Temperate conditions are not always what we’re after, of course. Winter weather and low temperatures give us great opportunities for cold weather climbing, survival skills, and avalanche training in the California Sierra, Colorado Rockies, Washington Cascades, and Canadian Rockies. Those conditions also provide excellent backcountry skiing for our programs in the western U.S. and the French and Swiss Alps.
If you have only very specific travel dates available, consult our Program Finder to see the variety of venues where we can offer you trips in that time frame.
Leadership in American Guiding & Outdoor Recreation
The Institute's staff members have played an important role in the development of the profession of guiding in the United States. They have played key roles in the national guides association, in the climbing industry trade association that has developed public safety and risk awareness programs, in the establishment of the Leave No Trace Program as America's national standard for outdoor ethics and practices, and in Outdoor Industry Association, the trade association of the outdoor industry, which has played a major role in the shaping of national recreation policy and the federal funding of public lands administration.
Staff members have played an important part in the development and administration of America’s professional guiding association, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). AAI’s director served as president of the AMGA for six years, another Institute guide served as president for two years, and a former AAI guide for three years.
AAI's guide training program formed the basis of the AMGA's national certification program for alpine guides, and AAI guides have played leadership roles as the designers, instructors, and examiners in both the rock and alpine certification courses and exams. AAI guide Michael Powers served as national coordinator of the American Mountain Guides Certification Program for many years. AAI staff members have been leaders in the design and implementation of the National Accreditation Program. AAI's programs have been accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association since 1987 when the accreditation program began.
“AAI has created what could be the best rescue and first responder courses in the nation.”
– Canoe and Kayak Magazine
Leadership in Environmental Protection and Public Policy
AAI has been a leader among mountain schools and guide services in the incorporation of Leave No Trace environmental ethics and practices into courses and guided trips. AAI's president Dunham Gooding served on LNT's National Leadership Council and was instrumental in getting the members of the American Mountain Guides Association to adopt LNT as their environmental program. AAI also played an important role in setting up LNT as a stand-alone, independently funded, non-profit corporation governed cooperatively by the U. S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and representatives of the outdoor industry.
AAI has devoted significant time to work with members of Congress and the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and BLM in shaping priorities and policies for outdoor recreation and funding for public lands administration. AAI’s director has provided testimony to Senate committees on a variety of national land management and rescue issues, and through both Republican and Democratic administrations has met with Secretaries of Interior and Secretaries of Agriculture on recreation, resource, and environmental funding and policy issues.
AAI staff members have served on a variety of land management task forces. Additionally, they have filled the chairmanship of the National Summit Committee on Rescue in Washington, D.C. and the presidency of the Outdoor Industry Association, the national trade association representing the $19 billion human powered outdoor industry.
In summary, AAI is dedicated to protecting the environment and to the fostering of safe and conscientious outdoor recreation. The Institute uses a significant portion of its staff time and financial resources to further develop the safety and professionalism of the American guiding industry, to augment protection of the natural environment, and to foster and maintain outdoor recreational opportunities that use the land without leaving a trace.
The Institute is a patron or supporting member of the following organizations:
A consortium of 70 predominantly outdoor equipment manufacturers who provide grants to grassroots environmental groups.
High Country News
The Research Fund arm of HCN allows writers to delve more deeply into environmental issues in the West.
Leave No Trace
This organization teaches backcountry ethics to all user groups. They publish the widely used and highly regarded Leave No Trace booklets.
National Audobon Society
Promotes the study and conservation of birds and other wildlife, their habitat, and the environment, as well as teaching, and advocating for environmental policy.
The Nature Conservancy
Nationally recognized habitat conservation group.
The North Cascades Institute
The Northwest's premier environmental education organization focusing on natural and cultural history.
Oregon Natural Resources Council
Conservation consortium promoting environmental protection by educating the public & influencing public servants via legal & legislative process.
People for Puget Sound
Educates & involves people in protecting and restoring the lands and waters of Puget Sound
Washington Wildlife and Recreation Council
Dedicated to outdoor recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, and natural areas in Washington.
Whatcom Land Trust
Preserves & protects wildlife habitat, scenic, & agricultural land, and open space in Whatcom County for future generations.