Mountains care very little whether mountain guide certified or not. Do clients and mountain guides themselves need to care about the certificates?
1. CERTIFICATION: DOES IT PAY OFF?
In many countries mountain guides are required to complete necessary training and examination and get certified through professional association in order to perform their activity legally.
The mountain guides earn their professional qualification through rigorous examination where they prove their skills and high level of commitment to the profession. Generally it includes rock climbing, alpine climbing, ski mountaineering and rescue techniques. The average pass rate is around 60-70%.
The training and examination program may take up to 5 years and requires serious investments.The training fee ranges depending on the country and national association regulations.
ENSA in France, the oldest mountain and alpine guide association, charges 11 000 euros for 3 year training program. The MTS school of guides in the USA require aspirants complete 5-6 years of intensive training and charges 24 000 usd.
The diploma is often issued after 10 years of intensive practice.
The mountain guiding culture emerged in Europe in the 19 century when Alpine climbing was officially recognized as a sport discipline. The guiding and mountain culture in Western World is more advanced in its professional evolution.
Today IFMGA – International Federation of Mountains Guide Association - established in 1965, represents 6000 professional guides from over 20 countries of the World. By far this international guide association remains one of the most recognized and respected by professionals and mountain enthusiasts.
Beyond IFMGA operating in 25 countries, local guides may be organized in national associations. Basically every country with mountain landforms and consistent mountain activity has a sort of national mountain guide association.
Here’s top 10 internationally recognized mountain guides associations ranked by the number of members:
1. AGAI (Guide Alpine Italiane), Italy - around 2300 members;
2. AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association), USA - more than 2000 members;
3. SNGM (Syndicat National des Guides de Montagnes), France - more than 1800 members;
4. JFMGA (Japan Mountain Guides Association), Japan - around 1600 members;
5. VOBS (Verband der Oesterreichischen Berg- und Skiführer), Austria - around 1500 members;
6. ASGM (Schweizerischer Bergführerverband), Switzerland - around 1500 members;
7. AEGM (Assoiacion Española de Guias de Montaña), Spain - more than 1000 members;
8. ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides), Canada - around 1000 members;
9. VDBS (Verband Deutscher Berg- und Skiführer), Germany - around 700 members;
10. AAGM (Asociación Argentina de Guías de Montaña ), Argentina - over 350 members;
All these guide associations are united under IFMGA network. The certificates of these organizations have achieved international recognition.
So, why become a certified mountain guide?
• The certificate training program provides you with skills to carry out mountain activities in any terrain
• The mountain guide certificate is recognized throughout the mountain world and allows certified guides practice their trade in IFMGA member countries
• It’s a sign of professional competence and compliance to the highest industry standards which also reflects on the salary. The IFMGA fully certified and trained guide may earn 200-400 euros per day.
Needless to say that mountain guide certification is the client’s assurance that a guide hired is properly trained and examined by industry professionals. Most certified mountain guides are proud to be part of their association and share its legacy.
Sometimes, mountain guides and leaders establish independent associations, for instance the Union of International Mountain Leader Association which represents professionals from 16 countries from Europe and Latin America. One of the top goals for UIMLA is setting equal standards of qualifications for association members.
The IFMGA and UIMLA are the only internationally recognized qualifications in Europe.
2. NON-CERTIFIED GUIDE: ACCOUNTABLE PARTNER?
Well, there’s also a different story.
There are numbers of uncertified guides who work 5 days a week in the field leading the groups on the various routes like Mount Everest, Cho Oyu, Ama-Dablam, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro.
They follow their passion; share their knowledge with the client. Their experience in many cases surpasses any level of training. This is a common situation for many countries: Chile, Tanzania, Russia, Georgia and of course Nepal and Tibet where a significant part of the population is involved in mountain guiding business.
The non certified guides may not be wearing association member pins but most of them earned the right to be called professional guides through the hard work in terrain where they perfect their skills days on end.
Their efforts speak of their commitment to the development of their own skills, as well as the profession.
Mountain activities are very exhausting. The average mountain guide retire age is around 45-50. This causes a shortage of professional mountain guide services on the market.
Most of the internationally certified guides - the IFMGA and UIMLA guides for instance - sign contracts with tourist agencies which in turn sell their services in advance. The certified guides may be fully booked for the season and in this case clients may look for the non-certified guides services.
Both certified and non-credentialed mountain guides agree that beyond the technical disciplines and requirements the professional guide needs to be an excellent teacher. The mountain guide needs to have great communication skills and be ready for social interaction with the group.
As some mountain guides love to say: “You don’t need a mountain guide certificate to love what you do and respect your client”.
For every mountain guide professional – whether credentialed or not - client’s safety is number 1 priority on the list.
3. WHAT ABOUT CLIENT?
For the client looking to having a memorable mountain experience – here’s a piece of advice: don’t fool yourself into thinking you can manage a good trip on your own. Hire a guide.
The common way to do this is to book the mountain guide through the tourist agency. Some clients may search on their own on the web and here mountainplanet.com can help.
Mountain Planet is a global geo-informational social network for Alpine Community which shares numbers of profiles of the experienced and trained mountain guides operating as well as the essential information about routes, gear, itineraries etc.
In short mountainplanet.com is a somewhat encyclopedia which covers various aspects related to mountain activities.
Every mountain guide registered on mountainplanet.com may attach to his profile information covering his location, routes, number of expeditions and climbs. The Mountain Planet also allows community members to create expedition pages where mountain leaders can engage clients in their upcoming events.
Mountain guides can update their climbing profile and build their own rating based on the number of confirmed climbs. The higher rating the more chances to be seen and contacted by the client directly.
Every member can contribute to the community by sharing info on routes’ conditions, essential gear etc. By sharing essential and secured information on mountain activities around the world we keep Alpine Community informed and safe and help connect with the climbers from all over the world.