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"How Do I Become a Mountain Guide?"
Descending Mt. Baker using an advanced guiding technique called shortroping. Coley Gentzel
This is one of the most common questions that we get from climbers who are just starting out. The short answer is to simply apply for a job with a guide service.
The longer answer is that it takes time and dedication to become a viable candidate for a guiding job. It is a very competitive industry and there are a lot of people out there who want to "live the dream."
The Mountaineering Instructor program was designed specifically to meet the needs of those who would like to work in the mountains as an instructor or a guide. This series of courses provides a climber with a backbone of skills and certifications that they will need in order to become a strong candidate for a position as a mountaineering instructor. Those who receive this certification will have a strong resume of entry-level mountain guide training: a respectable list of climbs that they have completed, level II avalanche training, an American Mountain Guides Association certification, two rescue certifications, a Leave No Trace certification, and an American Alpine Institute Mountaineering Instructor certification.
While the guiding industry is a competitive industry, the mountaineering instructor professional training program will give prospective guides a significant advantage. Many of those who have completed this program are working as guides today.
Courses Required to Receive the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate
Note: The AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Exam is not currently covered by Veteran's Benefits.
Upon completion of the MIPTP course of study, you will be awarded the following certificates:
Leave No Trace Trainer or Master Educator Certificate
AIARE Avalanche Level 1 Trained
Avalanche Pro 1 Trained
Wilderness First Responder Certificate
Rope Rescue Technician Certificate of Completion
Technical Rope Rescue Comprehensive Certificate of Completion
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Certificate
Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Expedition Leadership Certificate
American Alpine Institute Mountaineering Professional Training Program Certificate
Please note that some of these are certificates of completion, whereas others are certifications that require maintenance (i.e. you will have to take occasional recertification courses).
The American Alpine Institute'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 the rock, alpine and ski 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.
Over the years our competitors have regularly sought out additional training through AAI with our senior guide staff. Arguably, we have one of the overall best trained staff's in the guiding business.
Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program Instructor Certificate
Mountaineering Instructor Certificate that candidates receive after they complete the program of study will include the following text:
American Alpine Institute Mountaineering Instructor
The American Alpine Institute certifies that (your name) has completed our mountaineering instructor training program. This rigorous program requires candidates to complete a forty-eight day alpine climbing program or equivalent, obtain Avalanche Pro 1 training, pass an AMGA Single Pitch Instructor exam, obtain Leave No Trace Trainer or Master Educator certification, obtain two rope rescue certificates including a NFPA rope rescue technician certificate and participate in an American Mountain Guides Association training course.
Those who have completed this series are considered to be quality candidates for employment in the guiding field.
Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program AMGA
American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) has been dedicated to supporting the guiding community since 1979. The organization has done this through excellence in education, standards and certification to enhance the quality of services provided to the public, while serving as a resource for accessing and protecting the natural environment. As a group the AMGA presents a strong, unified voice for high standards of the professionalism of guiding and climbing instruction in the United States. The AMGA is an organization grounded in powerful tradition that continues to evolve with the ever changing arena of mountain guiding and climbing instruction. The AMGA offers a series of training courses and exams designed to certify guides and climbing instructors to the highly respected, internationally recognized, standards of the organization.
Two AMGA Certified Guides practice their craft at an AAI gathering in Red Rock. Jason Martin
The AMGA is the United States sole representative to the 25-member International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), the international governing body responsible for guiding standards and education around the world.
The heart of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) is its membership. Spread across the country, AMGA members represent an incredible variety of educators, outdoor enthusiasts, and environmental stewards. Just about every aspect of mountain guiding and instruction is represented through the AMGA's vast member base: from the glaciated high-altitude peaks of the Alaska Range to the big walls of Yosemite, from the diverse climbing areas in the Rockies to the world class ice and rock climbing of the East Coast, you will most likely find AMGA trained and certified guides or climbing instructors. These professionals could work in any part of the industry from instructors who teach on climbing walls and single pitch cliffs to guides guiding long rock routes, alpine climbs, and ski mountaineering trips. As a collective group, the AMGA is closely connected to almost every issue that faces the industry and our treasured crags, peaks, powder covered slopes, and frozen waterfalls.
Guiding in the mountains has been a profession in the U.S. that spans back to the start of the nation. Only in 1979 did a group of 12 guides decide that it was time to formalize an organization to represent the greater guiding community. As a result, the American Professional Mountain Guides Association was born. Over the next few years the "P" was dropped and the AMGA developed and grew throughout the United States.
The organization sharpened its focus of supporting the guiding profession by providing representation for land use access, education, training, and examination based on international standards for guiding. In 1997, the AMGA achieved one of its most notable accomplishments with acceptance into the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations, IFMGA/UIAGM. As a member of the IFMGA, the organization's educational and certification programs meet the international standards recognized by more than 20 nations worldwide.
Today the AMGA continues to develop its programs to meet changing standards and support the growing community of guides and climbing instructors in the United States. In addition, the organization has become a resource for land managers and outdoor industry leaders by promoting land stewardship, world-class training, and sustainable practices to protect our natural resources.
The AMGA is the post-graduate school of guiding and it is where professional climbing guides go to develop their skills in order to attain the highest level of certification.
There are three disciplines of certification in the AMGA. They are Rock, Alpine and Ski. Some of the disciplines have multiple levels of certification. For example, in the rock discipline one can be certified at the Single Pitch Instructor level, the Rock Instructor level or the Guide level. In each of the disciplines, the guide level is the highest level of certification. If an individual obtains AMGA certification at the guide level in Rock, Alpine and Ski, that person will be granted the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) certification, which is the highest level of certification available for a guide.
If you meet the prerequisites for the first upper division courses, the AMGA Rock Guide course or the AMGA Alpine Skills Course, it is recommended that you proceed directly to one of those courses and skip the MIPTP. The prerequisites for the Rock Guide program are as follows:
Current AMGA Member.
You have at least 5 years of rock climbing experience.
Provide a personal climbing resume showing each of the following:
That you have led or shared lead on at least 50 different multi-pitch traditional routes; 10 of which should be Grade III or longer
That you have led at least 10 traditional routes rated 5.10a or harder on various rock types
You can safely and comfortably lead crack and face climbs rated 5.9 at the time of the course.
You are familiar with basic knots, including: figure-8, bowline, clove-hitch, munter-hitch, mule-hitch, prusik, double-fisherman's and klemheist.
You are confident with placing traditional protection including: hexes, stoppers, tri-cams, and SLCDs.
You are comfortable using mechanical (more than two types of belay devices including auto locking devices) and non-mechanical (hip belay) belay methods.
You are familiar with the use of plate type devices on multi-pitch rappels.
Provide copy of current basic first aid certification or better.
You are at least 18 years of age.
The Rock Guide Course (RGC), is the first step in the Rock Guide education and certification process and is designed for aspiring guides who have a strong rock climbing background and for instructors who are interested in improving their skills and increasing knowledge. The Rock Guide Course places strong emphasis on maximizing client rewards while effectively managing risks. The Rock Instructor Course is a prerequisite to taking the Rock Guide Course and the Alpine Guide Course.
The Rock Guide Course trains aspiring guides on routes up to Grade III in length and 5.9 in difficulty. Course areas include, but are not limited to, Leavenworth, Joshua Tree National Park, Eldorado State Park, Lumpy Ridge, Crowder's Mountain State Park, Shawangunks, and Cathedral Ledge.
The Rock Guide Course is 10-days in length.
Alpine Skills Course
The prerequistes for the Alpine Skills Course are as follows:
Current AMGA member
Current CPR Certification
Current Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Certification
that meets the or higher Minimum Guidelines and Scope of Practice for a WFR Successful completion of a Level I Avalanche Course
Two years personal climbing experience on a variety of terrain that includes snow, rock and alpine
Confidence leading 5.6 in rock shoes, at the time of the course
Confidence on 3rd and 4th class terrain, in mountain boots, at the time of the course
Competence in overnight backcountry camping
Experience up to 10,000' in elevation
Familiar with basic knots, including: figure 8, bowline, clove hitch, munter hitch, mule hitch, prusik, flat overhand, double fisherman's and klemheist
Confidence placing traditional rock protection
Familiar with multiple types of belaying techniques, including plates and assisted braking devices
Familiar with ascending methods
Familiar with mechanical advantage systems
Familiar with LNT practices
Documentation of lead or shared lead on 5 rock climbs rated 5.6 or harder
Documentation of 5 ascents that include snow climbing
Documentation of 3 overnight backcountry trips
North Cascades or Rocky Mountains
Steps to IFMGA Certification
The American Alpine Institute does not teach these upper division courses. As an AMGA contractor AAI can only provide the Single Pitch Instructor Course and Exam. This first course and exam are the first steps into the AMGA environment and provide an excellent window into the organization. If you have the prerequisites for the Rock Guide Course, it is possible to skip the SPI course and exam.
Following are the courses that one must take in order to achieve IFMGA status:
Shortroping on rock terrain requires extensive practice to perform effectively.
Single Pitch Instructor Course
Single Pitch Instructor Exam
Rock Instructor Course
Advanced Rock Guides Course and Aspirant Exam
Rock Guide Exam
Rock Guide Course or Alpine Skills Course
Alpine Guides Course
Ice Instructor Course
Advanced Alpine Guides Course and Aspirant Exam
AIARE Avalanche Level III
Alpine Guide Exam
Ski Mountaineering Guide
Rock Guide Course or Alpine Skills Course
Ski Guides Course
Ski Mountaineering Guides Course and Aspirant Exam
AIARE Avalanche Level III
Ski Mountaineering Guides Exam
After you reach the guide level in each of the disciplines you will be deemed an IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide.
Aren't all guides AMGA certified?
No, guiding is both a career and a lifestyle. Some people only work as a guide for a short period of time, whereas others make their career in the mountains. The result is that those who are career driven are the ones that jump through the hoops to become certified.
Why should I try to get guide level certification?
Guide level certification comes with a number of benefits. First and foremost, one has been tested by his or her peers and has met the national standards within the industry. As a result it is very easy to get a job.
Second, wages are higher for those who have attained guide level certification.
Third, it is easier to market yourself to prospective clients.
And fourth, it is a mark of professionalism. Most of the people who are important in the guiding world today are either certified at a guide level or at the IFMGA level.
Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program Prerequisites
Prerequisites for the Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program
Those who enroll in the MIPTP should have the following:
Experience backpacking with overnight camping.
An ability to toprope or follow 5.8 rock. Students who are new to rock climbing may be able to build this ability in a rock climbing gym prior to starting the program.
Some of the elective programming includes skiing. If you intend to take ski electives, you must be able to ski black diamond runs in-bounds. Those who do not take ski programs will not have to have this prerequisite.
How do I become a mountain guide?
The process of becoming a mountain guide is both quite easy and extremely hard. The quick answer to this question is to apply for a job. If you have the prerequisites and a good resume, then - like any other job - you will get an interview where you will have to present yourself in the best light possible.
baseline prerequisites for a job as a mountain guide on varied terrain (i.e. snow, glaciers, ice, rock) are as follows:
Traditional Leadership Skills: Guides should have an ability to comfortably lead 5.9 traditional climbing in their first year. Guides who work regularly in the rock discipline are expected to bring these skills up to 5.10+. Guides should have completed at least 10 Grade III to Grade IV multi-pitch rock climbs before applying for a guide job.
Glacier Climbs: In the United States, there are only three states with real glaciers: Alaska, Washington and Oregon. There is also a great deal of guide work in each of these places. Many guides make their living working on glaciers. Guides who expect to work in mountainous terrain should have a solid understanding of glacier travel and crevasse rescue on real glaciers with real crevasses.
Alpine Rock Climbs: Most guides are expected to have a number of significant alpine rock climbs under their belts before they begin working in such a venue professionally.
Alpine Ice Climbs: Individuals who would like to work on more technical terrain should have completed a handful of alpine ice climbs.
Ice Climbing: Individuals who wish to work on steep ice terrain should have the ability to lead WI 4.
Wilderness First Responder/CPR:All guides are required to complete a Wilderness First Responder first aid and CPR course. They are also required to keep their certification current.
Arranging effective learning environments in a wilderness setting is crucial for mountain guiding. Mike Pond
The following experiences are above and beyond the prerequisites and will help you to get a job:
High End Rock Climbing Skill: This is an ability to consistently lead traditional climbs at a level beyond 5.10c.
High End Ice Climbing Skill:This is an ability to consistently lead ice at a level beyond WI 4.
Avalanche Level I and Level II: Avalanche courses show that you have an ability to understand objective dangers in the mountains. The more avalanche work you do prior to your application, the more likely it is that you will get an interview.
Leave No Trace Trainer or Master Educator: Leave No Trace courses are slowly becoming a requirement for people to work in certain national parks and on certain forest service land. At some point this will be a requirement for all guides. Those who have this requirement will move up the application ladder.
Backcountry Skiing and Ski Mountaineering: Many people become guides so that they can work in the ski discipline. As such there is a lot of competition for ski specific jobs. However, if you are a skier, even if you don't intend on ski guiding, you are more likely to be looked at closely by a staffing manager.
Expedition Climbing: An expedition to a remote range makes you look like an expert. Multiple expeditions will provide an employer with a snapshot of your remote expertise.
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor: This is the first level of AMGA certification. Obtaining this shows that you are dedicated.
Upper Division AMGA Course: The completion of an AMGA Rock Instructor course or an AMGA Ski Guides course shows real dedication and professionalism.
AMGA Guide Level Certification: Guide level certification can only be achieved after you begin working as a mountain guide. Guide level certification requires that you have a number of days in the field actively working with clients. Once you obtain this level of certification, you will get an interview with any company you apply for.
What if I don't meet the prerequisites? How can I build my skills to a level where I will be taken seriously?
The Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program was designed specifically for those who would like to work as a mountain guide, but don't meet the prerequisites to get a job or to take upper division AMGA courses. The American Alpine Institute has put together a series of courses that will provide the aspiring mountain guide with the trainings and certifications needed in order to be taken seriously by a prospective employer.
When discussing this program, we often use an analogy. Your climbing and outdoor experiences are like going to school:
Middle School and High School:
In the climbing world, your middle school and high school experiences are akin to your development as an outdoorsman or outdoorswoman. In other words, this is your personal experience. This is where you engage in low-end outdoor adventure activities like camping and backpacking. Some may also spend time in a rock gym, bouldering or even engaging in some top-roped climbing.
One should think of the Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program as akin to a college or university education. The skills that you developed previously will be pushed to their limits. And you will receive a tremendous amount of new instruction that you will then have to internalize in order to apply the new skills effectively.
Your Master's Degree is the time between your Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program and employment. This is when you take every skill you learned and put them towards building your mountain resume. A prospective employer will want to see that you have done a great deal on your own before hiring you…
Once you've been hired by a guide service you will start to work in the field. At that time you may elect to continue on in your studies in order to climb to the top of the profession. Upper division AMGA course work is similar to working toward a doctoral degree. Those who get certified at the Guide level have a great deal of prestige in the American guiding community.
When you complete the Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program, you won't have the ability to get a job immediately with a guide service. You will have the skills to get a job with a camp, or with adjudicated youth, or with a University. However, you will need to expand your climbing resume before you will be able to work with a guide service.
Is it possible to obtain the skills and certifications required to get a job without taking the Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training program?
Yes, it is totally possible to build the skills required to get a job as a guide without this program. However, there are some parts of the program that you will need to complete via a class, such as the Wilderness First Responder, and the other recommended certifications.
Many people enter the guiding world without a lot of professional training, but they have extensive climbing resumes. If you do not have much climbing experience, or your experience is limited to one discipline, then the best and safest way to develop your skills is to take the Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program.
What if I have some climbing skills, but not everything needed to work as a mountain guide?
An AAI Program Coordinator will work with you to place you in the appropriate program.
Please note that all MIPTP course work is graded and if you have holes in your knowledge base, this could work against you in upper division coursework.
It is possible for students to take a Placement Assessment in order to be placed in the appropriate program in order to avoid redundancy?
Yes. Contact the American Alpine Institute office for more information.
Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program FAQs
Following are a list of frequently asked questions. If your question is not addressed here, please download the Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program catalog from the right-hand side of this page. You may also call the AAI office or email us at
[email protected] for more information.
1. How long will it take to complete this program of study?
Most people take two to three years to complete their program of study. However, highly motivated individuals may complete their training in one year.
2. If I want to complete the training in a year, how should I start?
1. Grab a calendar and look at the
AMTL Part 4 first. There are three options to this program and there are very limited dates available. Look through the options, and decide which one you want to do. The Ptarmigan Traverse and the Ski Mountaineering courses are eligible to be covered by veterans' benefits.
2. Once you pick which Part 4 you want to do, then work backwards and find a
Part 3 that you want to do and that also finishes before the start of the Part 4 you chose. We recommend at least a month between AMTL 3 and AMTL 4 dates. This break is intended to give yourself time to rest and practice the skills and techniques learned in AMTL 3. Again, there are limited available dates for these courses, so scheduling is key.
3. Work backwards again and find the
Part 2 that fits with your other choices. We recommend at least 2 weeks in between AMTL 2 and AMTL 3. Again, this break is intened to give yourself time to rest and practice skills and techniques learned in AMTL 2. Depending on your desires for Part 3 and 4, you might have some more flexibility here.
4. Pick your
Part 1. Again, there may be some more flexibility here depending on your other choices. We recommend at least a week in between AMTL 1 and AMTL 2. This time is intended for you to rest and practice the skills and techniques learned in AMTL 1.
5. Now that you have the core programs scheduled, start filling in the rest of your schedule:
Some of these other courses have very limited availability, like the Rope Rescue Comprehensive, while others have a wide range of available dates and locations like the AIARE Avalanche I.
Once you have your schedule sorted out, fill out an
Online Registration Form for each of the Courses. You'll also be asked to fill out a Climber Profile Form - we only need one of these.
If you would like help with your schedule, contact
3. Is there any financial aid available?
There is currently no financial aid available for this program of study.
4. Are there any scholarships available?
There are scholarships available. To learn about these options,
5. Will I be able to apply my GI Bill ® to this program?
The American Alpine Institute accepts the federal VA educational benefits for approved programs. Most of the programs in the Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program have been approved. Also these courses are a part of our
Vocational Training for the Outdoor Professional.
For more information about Veteran's Benefits, please contact the School Certifying Officer, Sara Jung, at
6. Will I be able to apply my AmeriCorps scholarship to this program?
Not at this time, though this is something that we are working on.
7. Do those who have previous climbing and mountaineering experience have to start at the beginning of the MIPTP?
No. To skip programs you will need to speak to the Northwest Program Coordinator or VA Programs Coordinator. This individual will assess where you are and help you to make a decision as to where you should start in the program. Please be ready to submit an informal outdoor resume.
Please note that MIPTP course are graded and if you have holes in your knowledge base, these may work against you.
Please contact the AAI office for more information.
8. Is the American Alpine Institute an accredited institution?
The American Alpine Institute is a Washington State Accredited Vocational School. Additionally, AAI is the longest continually accredited AMGA guide service in the United States.
9. If I meet the prerequisites to take an AMGA Rock Guide Course or Alpine Skills Course, do I need to take the MIPTP programs?
No. If you meet the prerequisites to take an upper division AMGA course, you may start your training directly with the AMGA.
10. What kind of job opportunities will there be for me when I complete this program?
Please download the MIPTP catalog on the right-hand side of this page for an in depth discussion of this topic.
11. Do you provide job placement?
We do not currently provide job placement.
Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program MIPTP Courses
The following is a breakdown of the programs in the Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program, their length, and an overview of the subject matter:
The first of the four-part AMTL series. Students who complete this course will be competent rope team members in multi-pitch terrain and will be able to lead moderate glaciated routes.
In the second section of the four-part series, students begin to lead traditional multi-pitch rock, study the basics of rock-rescue, study alpine ice technique, and begin to plan and execute climbs on alpine objectives with the oversight of their instructor.
The third section of the four-part series is designed to provide students with two different tracks that they might follow. Students may choose to study aid climbing and the basics of remote expeditions in the Cascades, or multi-pitch speed and efficiency in Squamish, BC and in Bugaboo Provincial Park, BC.
The final installment of the four-part series is an expedition to either Little Switzerland in the Alaska Range or to Mt. Waddington in Canada's Coast Range or the Ptarmigan Traverse in the Casscades. Little Switzerland and Mt. Waddington options require an approach by aircraft and both options provide big and remote climbing objectives.
The SPI course is designed to introduce capable recreational rock climbers to the American Mountain Guides Association and the skills required to instruct and guide in a single-pitch environment.
The most complete rope rescue course offered in the United States. This is the only course available anywhere that addresses the techniques required for team-rescue as well as those needed for self-rescue.
This course provides an in-depth discussion of the seven principles of Leave No Trace and techniques for teaching these low impact skills. Trainer Courses are designed for educators, guides, agency employees and other outdoor professionals. Many land-managers require guides and instructors to have an LNT certification.
The WFR course is a right-of-passage for outdoor educators. This first aid program was designed to provide backcountry travers with the essential baseline skills needed to deal with injuries and medical situations -- both serious and common -- in remote locations.
The Level I course is an introduction to avalanche awareness for recreational winter backcountry users.
The Pro 1 course is a Pass/Fail course and is designed to train and certify workers new to the avalanche industry (educators, patrollers, guides, forecasters). We will cover skills essential to the workplace including conducting weather, snow and avalanche observations, making an assessment of basic hazard and risk factors, participation in team meetings, succinctly communicating observations in the field, and applying basic safe travel protocols in avalanche terrain.
The AMGA SPI Assessment was designed for those who have completed the SPI course and wish to become certified AMGA certified Single Pitch Instructors.
United States - Alaska
United States - Washington
United States - California
United States - Nevada
United States - Colorado
United States - Utah
Canada - British Columbia
South America - Argentina
South America - Bolivia
South America - Ecuador
South America - Patagonia
South America - Peru
Europe - Alps and Caucasus
Asia - Nepal and Tibet
Asia - China
Asia - Japan
Africa - Tanzania
Pacific and Antarctica
By Program Type
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