Grampians, VIC: Josh Davies
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How to Become a Mountain Guide

So you may have been wondering what a mountain guide actually does. In short, a mountain guide is a highly skilled and experienced individual who is adept in the arts of alpine travel and exploration.

A mountain guide is usually assessed through either an association or a registered training organization. Once qualified they are then available for hire by aspiring adventurers to be guided up a mountain or through a ski tour or almost whatever alpine adventure you can think of. There are many companies around the world which put people in touch with mountain guides or offer specific packages, programs and tours such as; learn to climb courses, hut to hut ski tours, or even being guided up Mt Everest. Sort of like a tour leader only way more extreme.

There are three levels of guiding across different alpine disciplines; assistant guide, local guide and international guide.

An assistant guide is kind of like an apprenticeship. Once qualified for this level of guiding you need to work for two years before you can move on to the next level of training and assessment to reach a fully qualified local guide certification. Assistant guides will work closely with qualified guides and receive mentoring as they build up the necessary professional experience before moving on to the next stage.

A local guide is a fully qualified guide in a specific discipline. These are not internationally recognized qualifications and the various country specific guiding associations and RTO’s include the New Zealand Mountain Guide Association (NZMGA), American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA), British Mountain Guides (BMG), etc. The three main disciplines are Ski Guide, Climbing guide and Mountain guide (mountaineering). This level of guiding may only be recognized by the country which administered it or closely linked countries.

An international guide is qualified by the International Federation of Mountain Guides (IFMGA) and is achieved by receiving the trifecta of disciplines at the certified guide level through your specified national RTO. This is an internationally recognized qualification increasing both your earnings and job opportunities all over the world.

My ultimate goal is to receive IFMGA accreditation. I will be signing up for training and assessment through the NZMGA. The NZMGA streamline their guiding system by combing the climbing and mountaineering courses and qualifications into one. Their website provides this flow chart outlining the process.

Sourced: NZMGA

Looks simple enough, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought until I looked into the prerequisites. I will be attempting to proceed through both the ski and climbing guide pathways simultaneously. All up I am hoping that this process can be completed in about six years. However it could easily blow out to ten, if I fail at one assessment or the other.

To apply for the first level of training with NZMGA I have to present a log book which includes among other things, number of days skied on certain types of terrain and how many mountains I’ve climbed, etc. I’m crazy about outdoor activities including skiing, climbing, mountain biking, slack lining, hiking and skateboarding. However, living in Australia means that I have very little experience worthy of the pre-entry log book. The list is long and extensive and even with the 200+ days of skiing I have from Canada and the 60+ leads in my Climbing log, barely any would pass the log book requirements. It’s all achievable, however the crux of it is that I have to log all this across three active seasons of mountaineering, climbing and skiing two of which have to be in NZ. So just like that its going to take three years of specific experience before I can even apply for the first level of training. Once accepted, I’m up for a year of tough training and assessment after which I’ll hopefully be awarded the level of Assistant guide.

Once I reach that level, I need to find a company to apprentice and mentor me through the next stage of the processes. Stage 2 prerequisites stipulate a minimum two years working as an assistant guide along with other requirements before proceeding to the next level assessment. Finally if I pass all this I will be qualified as an NZMGA guide. Once I reach this level for skiing and climbing I will have achieved my goal of IFMGA Accreditation.

Disclaimer: The following is my understanding of the process after much research but I do not speak for the NZMGA or any other organization and the following information should not be considered official policy. For specific information on requirements please contact your appropriate guide organization. Links are below.

New Zealand Mountain Guide Association

British Mountain Guides

American Mountain Guides Association

Avid outdoors man, aspiring mountain guide and author of 'For love of the Mountains'

6 thoughts on “How to Become a Mountain Guide”

  1. You remind me so much of my dear dad, your great grandfather who was always so ‘at home’ in the bush and/or mountains.
    What a special thing to be able to work in a place of such beauty.
    Love you, Sam

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