How to Become a Mountain or Ski Guide

With cooler temps and fall coming in quick, people are starting to have skiing on the brain.  And with that, comes people interested in working as ski guides.  We have had at least one person a day for the last week come in inquiring about working as a ski guide.  So it seemed only appropriate for a blog post on how to become a mountain or ski guide.

American Mountain Guides Association

KMG Owner and Lead Guide Josh Kling is an AMGA Certified Rock Guide

At KMG we require all of our guides to be certified by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) at the Single Pitch Instructor level at a minimum.  Many have significantly higher levels of training.  Years ago AMGA training and/or certification was looked at as a bonus. Today, AMGA training and certification is considered the standard.  The AMGA is our nation’s sole representative to the 21-member International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), the international governing body responsible for guiding standards and education around the world.


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.

There is a minimum total of 93 days of course work and examination to achieve IFMGA/UIAMG status

The Guide Program consists of three (3) certification streams, Alpine, Rock and Ski Mountaineering. By completing all three disciplines a guide achieves international recognition as an International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA/UIAGM) Guide. Completing all three disciples typically takes a guide between four and seven years and consists of close to 100 days of course work and exams.  This achievement is the highest level of credential attainable by a professional mountain guide anywhere in the world.  IFMGA Mountain Guides can guide on any climbing or skiing terrain without limitation.
However, many guides choose to only partake in training from a single discipline such as rock or ski.


The American Institue for Avalanche Research and Equation

In addition to AMGA training and certifications all KMG lead guides that work in the winter environments (ski guiding and ice climbing guiding) must have taken and passed an AIARE Level 3 avalanche course.  The AIARE 3 course is an advanced certification course for experienced and professional avalanche practitioners, professional guides, patrollers and advanced recreational backcountry travelers. The Level 3 is a seven day long program and completes the avalanche course stream of the AIARE 2 and 3. (11 days together).  Individuals who receive a passing grade and successfully complete the course receive a certificate provided by the AIARE administration.  This course is offered roughly two times each winter and is directly through AIARE.  IE KMG offers Level 1 and 2 courses each winter, but AIARE is the only program nationwide that offers Level 3 courses.

Unlike a Level 1 or 2 avalanche course, students must submit an application and be excepted into the Level 3 which details they have met the prerequisites:

  • AIARE 2 course
  • Experience applying the AIARE 2 skills and knowledge in a professional or personal program is required.
  • Personal resume:
    • Twenty day-trips in avalanche terrain requiring decision-making and travel procedures
    • Twenty day trips with documented field weather and snowpack observations (to AAA SWAG or OGRES Observation Guidelines standards)
    • Ten recent snow profiles (documented in field book to same standards)
  • Rescue:
  • Must be able to find (by probe) two transceivers buried in a 30m by 30m area in six minutes. (One transceiver is buried 30cm below the surface; the second is buried 40-60 cm below the surface 3 to 4m apart.).
  • Led a rescue team in a mock avalanche rescue scenario OR have training and experience in a professional search and rescue group (e.g. ski patrol, etc.)
  • Prior to the start of the AIARE 3 course, it is required that the student complete the Pre- Course Quiz which is handed in to the course leader at the start of the course.

The AIARE 3 is a pass/fail course.  AIARE 3 participants are eligible for certification after be assed on the following:

  • Completing the pre-course reading and questionnaire.
  • Attending the classroom sessions, completing the homework assignments to a professional level and participating in the group learning sessions.
  • Attending the field sessions and participating in the group discussions and exercises.

AIARE 3 Participants are eligible for certification after attaining the minimum passing grade of 70% in the marking categories:

  • Avalanche hazard recognition and management skills 15%
  • Avalanche hazard analysis 15%
  • Avalanche hazard response 15%
  • Field weather observations and recording 5 %
  • Snowpack observations and tests 20 %
  • Operational forecast and analysis forms 10 %
  • Professional notebook 5 %
  • Final Written Exam 15%

Wilderness Medical Training

Lastly, all KMG guides must successfully complete a 80 hour Wilderness First Responder (WFR) medical and rescue training course.  To keep with the highest standards we only accept WFRs from the following companies: Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA), Wilderness Medical Institute (WMI) and SOLO.  These are considered the BIG THREE of wilderness and rescue medicine in the US.

Here is a breakdown of Kling Mountain Guides Lead Ski Guide required qualifications:

  • AIARE Level 3 Certificate
  • AMGA Ski Mountaineering training course or equivalent experience.
  • Minimum of four winters professional leadership experience in backcountry terrain.
  • Involvement in winter backcountry industry outside of KMG. IE the guide works as a ski patroller, avalanche forecaster, AIARE advisory board member, works for an other guide service in terrain other than the San Juans, etc.
  • AAA Professional Level Membership.
  • Minimum 5 years personal experience with leadership and decision making in backcountry avalanche terrain.

Many of KMG guides go above and beyond the requirements by having some or all of the following:

  • AAA certified instructor (will be required within the next few years).
  • AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide or Alpine Guide
  • AAA AvPro course or CAA courses
  • Ski Patrol experience

If you have further questions about working as a mountain or ski guide with us or just in general, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  However, please look over the above and see if you meet our prerequisites.

This entry was posted in Alpine Climbing, American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Training, Avalanche Courses, Rock Climbing, San Juan College, Skiing. Bookmark the permalink.

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