How to Choose A Guide Service
As a member of the Alpine Ascents Staff, there is an obvious bias in writing such guidelines. Yet, we are hoping these and other questions may serve as a basis for evaluating guide services and may in fact remind us to stay focused on meeting our goals of high quality, cultural awareness, and leading safe and successful expeditions. We are confident your research will lead you in our direction and encourage you to contact our office.
Many guide services claim to have the highest success rate, provide superior services and be simply the best in every circumstance on every mountain. Be cautious of taking these statements at face value. Be prepared to ask how an outfit defines those terms and separates their marketing from actual circumstances in the mountains. In the rare case where all things seem to be equal, try assessing the personality of the outfit through their literature and your phone contacts – Enjoy the process!
We are hoping our web site gives you much of the information that you need. One the best compliments we receive is having so many climbers join our trips after seeing us first-hand on peaks around the world…and we do hope you will join us.
Some questions to ask a potential guide service:
- Find out who is guiding your climb, how many times they have guided the trip you are interested in (not just climbed). Often the guide may not have been scheduled, but a guide service should be able to give you the names of 1-3 potential guides. Find out if the organization has more than one guide who can lead a particular climb in case of injury, illness etc.
- Ask about the organization’s safety record and if they have liability insurance for your particular trip.
- How long has the organization been in business?
- Are they permitted to climb in the area you are interested in? If not, are they climbing on an authorized organization’s permit?
- Do they practice and teach Leave no Trace principles and active environmental and ecological awareness and stewardship?
- What are the climber to guide ratios on a particular trip or course? What is the maximum team size? How big was the last expedition to that area?
- Is the guide service operating your trip or are they simply hiring a subcontractor and guide in that country? Why has the organization opted for this and in how many locations does this occur? (This will give you a sense of the company’s commitment to that region. This is likely to occur in remote locations or where there are local laws that govern guiding). Ask which of the company’s staff have visited the country and how the expedition was designed.
- Ask about their success record and inquire as to why they feel individuals do well for a particular climb. Also ask where “summit success” factors into their philosophy of a successful trip. Also ask if they base their “success” on climbers who are actually guided or if they include unguided climbers who climb on their permit.
- Ask about the other team members on the trip you are interested in.
- Does the office staff handle your inquiries promptly? And are the company’s materials equivalent of the type of quality you are interested in pursuing: Does the company have brochures, full-time office staff and the ability to answer your questions?
- Use multiple sources of research and remember places like the web can be an excellent but sometimes unverified resource. If the guide services operate in the US, you may be able to get safety information from a government organization such as the National Park Service.
- Decide what your priorities are such as summit success, safety, cultural interest etc. and question the guide service about those interests. Also quality of tents, food, logistical support, experience in dealing with a particular country. (Many times information on why teams turn around may be as important as their success. Learn what you can about the decision making processes of a guide).
- Chat with former climbers, trekkers or students and ask for someone who has been on multiple trips with that company as a contrast can often be interesting and informational.
- If you are interested in learning about climbing while being guided, you may inquire as to if your guide is also a teacher.
- Ask why a guide service is more or less expensive and what you are buying (or not buying) for their fee. Ask them to compare themselves to other guide services.
I have been on other expeditions and I was so impressed with how much education happens from gear check to the school (and I thought I knew a lot but I learned a lot) – far surpassed my expectations and superior to my prior experiences.