Let’s take a break from fantasizing about powder snow and splitter cracks to delve into the alphabet soup of modern mountain guiding, how Irwin Guides fits into that spectrum, and what it means to you: the reader. Acronyms such as SPI, AMGA, IFMGA, RGC, AGC/AE can be confounding at best. Luckily, most of this stuff really only matters to guides themselves but anyone considering hiring a guide service should know a couple of things within this realm. This article is an attempt to explain what may be important to you.
Here in the United States, the official body that trains and certifies climbing and skiing guides is called the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA for short). There are similar organizations around the world such as the New Zealand Mountain Guide Association and the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (the NZMGA and ACMG respectively). All of the aforementioned organizations (among many others) are a part of the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFMGA). The IFMGA is basically there to standardize training and expectations between countries so that guides can work globally under the same guiding standard. This is very similar to what the AMGA does in the US, just on a larger scale.
Here in the US, guides who choose to be a part of the AMGA are basically either trained or certified. The former means that your guide has received training from the AMGA in a certain discipline (or a couple for that matter). A certified guide has taken two training courses and an exam for the discipline that he or she is pursuing. Training courses, exams, and the prerequisite skills required to participate in them add up to hundreds of hours of work and over $10,000 worth of education. It may seem like all fun and games (some if it is!), but there is a lot of work involved in this path.
So lets get out of the weeds and talk about why organizations like the AMGA matter to the consumer? The analogy that helps me think about this is shopping for organic food at the grocery store. When you see the “USDA Organic” seal on certain organic foods you know that specific practices, conditions, and controls were utilized in the making of that product. You also know that any food that has that seal on it has been held to the same standard. Similarly, knowing that your guide is trained and/or certified through the AMGA helps you know that they are held to a high industry standard regarding hazard management, technical skill, and decision making in the discipline in question.
Just to be clear here, this does not mean that every certified guide is a good guide for you. Sometimes you just don’t mesh with certain people. It is also important to remember that there are many guides in the outdoor industry that choose to not be involved with the AMGA. Some of these guides are highly capable and operate at a standard similar to that of a certified guide. Some of them do not come close to meeting the industry standard. Without the benefit of official training or certification, sometimes it’s hard for the consumer to tell what they are going to get.
Irwin Guides, here in Crested Butte, Colorado, has recently gained an AMGA accreditation for the entire guiding operation. This means that all of our guiding practices meet or exceed the industry standard, and we have a staff heavy with certified guides that help maintain our standards through mentorship and trainings. And just to review what we have already covered, the skills, and techniques that our guides practice here have been proven and vetted on a global scale through our affiliation with the IFMGA. So as a potential client, you know much more about the training and experience of your guide. Ok, get stoked for the winter!