Veterans Climbing and Mountaineering Education

Mountain Training for Guides and Other Outdoor Professionals

After leaving military service, many veterans consider a career in outdoor education, a field that challenges its practitioners both physically and mentally and that gives them a new opportunity to serve.  Outdoor education encompasses all outdoor pursuits, and can include everything from ocean sailing and scuba diving to backpacking, rock climbing and mountaineering.

The American Alpine Institute (AAI) is a climbing school and guide service that accepts veterans benefits for core mountaineering and climbing education programs. A licensed vocational school in the State of Washington, AAI has accepted VA benefits* for its instructional programs since 2017 and has been instrumental in helping Veterans become independent recreational climbers, volunteer climbing instructors, mountain guides, professional climbing instructors, outdoor educators, rescue technicians, mountain rescue instructors, wilderness first aid instructors, backcountry rangers and ski patrollers.

The programs covered in Veteran training include core rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, technical rescue, first aid, Leave No Trace, and avalanche awareness training. In addition to this, AAI runs American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) courses for Veterans.

Options for Veteran Training Programs

There are two primary tracks for Veterans at AAI. They are as follows:

Vocational Training for the Outdoor Professional (VTOP)

This isn’t a track so much as a series of programs that a current or aspiring outdoor professional might require. The VTOP list includes all approved programs. Veterans may go through the programs and choose those that fit with their personal and professional needs.

Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program

This program takes those with some outdoor experience and leads them through all the programs that they will need to become an outdoor professional. Depending on one’s previous climbing or mountaineering experience, they may jump into the program mid-stream if they have the appropriate prerequisites. Those who complete this program will be able to get a job in the outdoor education, climbing instruction or guiding industry.

Why American Alpine Institute?

The American Alpine Institute has a mission “to provide world class mountain education, exceptional guided experiences and to inspire natural preservation.” AAI has long been a leader in the industry, and its founder was one of the first presidents of the American Mountain Guides Association. Indeed, the AMGA’s alpine guide certification program was initially based on AAI’s internal guide training.

AAI guides receive the most internal company training of any guides in North America. Their expertise and professionalism shines through on every program. They are exceptional models for entry-level outdoor professionals to emulate.

Some Veterans choose to use their benefits for programming at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an organization that provides exceptional training. However, that training is different from the training you receive at AAI. NOLS has a tight focus on outdoor leadership. AAI has a focus that includes that, but also digs much deeper into technical skills and vocational training. You will leave AAI with several certificates that will ensure you are employable in the outfitter and guide world.

The American Alpine Institute employs a full time School Certifying Officer (SCO) who will help you navigate the process of working through these programs with AAI. This is especially important for those with Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E) benefits. Our SCO understands all the nuances and complexities of both standard and non-standard Veteran enrollments.

The American Alpine Institute accepts GI Bill®* (Ch 33), VR&E (Ch 31), Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (Ch 30), and Ch 35 Veterans benefits.

To learn more about AAI’s Veterans programming and Veterans benefits, please contact us at [email protected] or at 360-671-1505.

*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at




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