A mountain guide is a professional mountaineer who specializes in offering guided mountain tours to groups of travelers. Most mountain guides undergo a rigorous certification process that covers a wide variety of skills and may take several years to complete. A successful mountain guide is able to offer exciting tours and adventures in spectacular mountain locations while providing as safe an environment as possible.
Training to become a mountain guide may be done through a variety of different certification associations. There are many different mountain guide training courses, but the most widely recognized form of certification is through the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFMGA). IFMGA provides a standardized form of mountain guide training that is used by various certification groups around the world, and offers several different types of certification options.
The certification process from most organizations is done in several stages. Aspiring guides must take courses that cover required skills, then undergo testing in the skill set. There may be several sets of training and testing required in order to achieve certification. IFMGA-certified organizations provide three different types of certification for different mountaineering styles: alpine, skiing, and rock.
The skill set of a professional mountain guide is vast. Basic skills include orienteering, medical training, and emergency procedures. In addition, advanced rock climbing training is necessary to ensure that a guide can not only scale precipitous terrain, but assist others in doing so as well. Depending on the level of certification sought, training and examinations in skiing, glacial climbing, and rescue techniques may be required.
Some mountain guides do additional training in the area in which they plan to operate. This helps them gain knowledge of a specific mountain area in order to provide better services for their clients. Spending a few months or even years learning the mountains allows a guide to find new routes, determine contingency paths in case of an emergency, and gain a full sense of what the range has to offer travelers.
When operating professionally, a mountain guide may choose to operate his or her own tours or may work with a tour group. When working independently, a guide may need to be able to provide for all guest needs, from food to hiking supplies. Working with a tour agency allows a guide to simply worry about leading the tour group, while the agency provides for other needs. Some prefer to work on a freelance basis with tour agencies in order to save time for other professional pursuits or for their own mountaineering.