How To: Become a Guide

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By Kate Keith-Simms

You’ve been dreaming of the outdoor office: lunch breaks taken overlooking snow capped peaks, “emails” coming in from the inReach, and a daily to-do list that includes navigating through a maze of crevasses and introducing others to the wonders of the alpine environment.  But sometimes this dream can seem daunting. If you’re lost trying to navigate from the world of recreational climbing to professional guiding, we have some waypoints to get you on track. We compiled a small list of FAQ from prospective guides and insider tips about what to focus on if alpine guiding is your goal. This blog is specifically aimed at those who want to guide at Alpine Ascents. Other companies will have varying requirements although most of the skill requirements remain the same.

Skills Needed to Guide
When thinking about what skills you need to start as a guide, it’s more than meets the eye. Technical skills are extremely important to being a guide, not only must you be well versed in performing all tasks associated with mountaineering, but you must also be able to teach these skills to people who may have little to no experience. Teaching requires an elevated level of understanding in the processes behind the skills we practice. It’s one thing to perform a task, it’s another to explain why and how we perform these tasks. “Having technical systems dialed is something I would have spent more time on before Alpine Ascents 10-Day New Guide Training. I had a strong understanding of the skills, but it’s much harder to teach” said Matt Hallstead, a new guide at Alpine Ascents.

A full list of our required guide skills can be found below:

Fitness & Technical Climbing Ability
Guiding requires a high level of fitness, we expect all guides to arrive prepared for long days paired with large amounts of elevation gain. Coming out of New Guide Training, Todd Switalksi, another new guide, reflects, “you cannot have enough fitness”. Aim for these benchmarks:

  • 1,500-1,600ft/hr uphill with a heavy pack.
  • Ability to handle 12-14hr climbing days consecutively (common as a guide)
  • Confidence with French Technique on firm 40 degree snow
  • Comfortable climbing 50-60 degree neve & ice with 1 tool
  • Able to lead 5.6 in mountain boots with crampons
  • Ability to navigate over 3rd, 4th, & low 5th class rock terrain in boots comfortably

Our clients are asked to come prepared to walk at 1,000ft/hr guides MUST have more fitness and endurance.

Technical Rope Systems

  • Extensive knowledge of pertinent knots and hitches
  • Glacier travel
  • Short rope and kiwi coil
  • Belaying systems in the alpine environment
  • Rappelling
  • Lowering
  • Haul systems

Mountaineering Anchors

  • Picket placement and dead-man anchors for the given snow conditions
  • Equalization of multi-point anchors
  • Snow Anchors Video

Crevasse Rescue

  • 1:1 rescue drill (arrest the fall, build an anchor, transfer the load to the anchor, rappel into the crevasse to check on the climber, ascend out of the crevasse, set up a hauling system, haul victim out crevasse). The expectation is that the rescue drill is to be completed in a timely manner (approximately 45 minutes).
  • Working knowledge of two rope team crevasse rescue systems

Going beyond the technical, we also look for guides with strong interpersonal skills. Our guides work in small teams in the field. Having clear communication skills and a strong work ethic are integral characteristics to making our programs run efficiently and smoothly. This also plays into our communication and presentation with clients. Customer service is always a priority. We expect our guides to always be professional while fostering a positive and inclusive environment for the entire team.

Certifications Needed to Guide
Avalanche 1 or higher
Leave No Trace Trainer
Food Handlers Permit
Proof of COVID-19 vaccination

Supplementary, but Highly Encouraged:
AMGA Courses- We strongly recommend guides to have AMGA training prior to applying at Alpine Ascents, but it is not mandatory at this time. AMGA training and certifications take skill, time, and money to achieve, and show a significant level of commitment to upholding professional standards in the field. These certifications carry extra weight in the initial hiring process. Once hired, guides with AMGA training tend to have more work diversity and access into leadership levels quicker due to their technical training. In recent years, a majority of our new hires have taken at least the AMGA Alpine Skills course. You can read more about AMGA training here.

Climbing Resumes
When submitting your application to a guiding company, they will ask for a climbing resume. You can find a blank climbing resume on our employment page. These forms outline your experience as a climber and will ask for a distinction between a personal and a guided climb when recording your outings. Where is the line drawn between the two? We consider personal climbs to be those which you complete on your own time, with people of similar ability. You and your partners all play a part in the success of technical aspects of the trip.

Within the guided category, there are a couple distinctions. We can have a “mock” guided trip, where the trip is still considered personal- completed on your own time- but you are with people who have less technical knowledge or skill. In this case, you may be “guiding” them- completing all the technical tasks as they follow you. Mock guiding is a fantastic way to build the interpersonal teaching skills of a guide. Last, we have professionally guided trips in which you are paid to lead others up a climb. One misunderstanding we often see on climbing resumes is applicants listing a trip as “guided” when they themselves have been the client. When listing guided climbs, you need to be the one in the leader position.

A climbing resume is a large piece of a guiding application as it outlines your experience in the mountains. Mountaineering is more than just having the skills to get to the top. A well-rounded climbing resume (rock, snow, and ice) with a lot of recorded climbs shows that an individual is well versed in a variety of conditions. They are equipped to respond to anything the mountains throw at them and can be comfortable leading others into that terrain.

At Alpine Ascents, we look for climbing resumes with at least 5 glaciated climbs – ideally on peaks that we guide. We recommend the routes below.
Mount Rainier (Tahoma): Disappointment Cleaver, Emmons Glacier, Kautz Glacier
Mount Baker (Kulshan): Easton Glacier, Coleman Deming, North Ridge
Shuksan: Sulfide Glacier, Fisher Chimneys

When to Apply
Most guiding companies begin hiring in the fall for the coming summer. We recommend applying in October as most guides hire on a rolling basis and applying earlier gives you a slight advantage. Specific information on our hiring requirements can be found here.

Next Steps:
If you are hired at Alpine Ascents, you’ll attend our 10-Day New Guide Training on Mount Baker (Kulshan) and Mount Rainier (Tahoma). In our next blog post, we’ll be taking a deep dive into our New Guide Training complete with photos and first hand accounts of guides who went through our 2022 training cycle.

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