Heading into the mountains, whether it is for a weekend of hiking or a multi-week mountaineering expedition, comes with some inherent risks. Climatic conditions and the terrain underfoot can change quickly at higher elevations.
For these reasons, along with many others, it is always highly recommended to hire a certified mountain guide or mountain leader before heading on any outdoor adventure.
What is an IFMGA Guide?
IFMGA stands for International Federation of Mountain Guides Association. The organisation was founded in 1965 by a group of representatives from Swiss, Italian, Austrian and French mountain guide associations.
Currently, the IFMGA is composed of 26 different associations from more than 20 countries spread across five continents. Any country with a guide federation can join the IFMGA as long as their hiring and training practices conform with those of the federation.
The goals of the IFMGA were to create a uniform set of standards and training for mountain guides around the globe to follow. The IFMGA trains, coaches and instructs guides in the four main disciplines of mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and ski touring.
The organization also lobbies federal governments on behalf of mountain guides and works to promote their general and economic interests.
What are the Requirements to Become an IFMGA-certified Guide
The road to becoming an IFMGA-certified mountain guide begins with a love of outdoor activities. Any ski touring, mountaineering or climbing enthusiast can sign up with their local IFMGA affiliate to begin the process of becoming a certified guide once they have turned 18.
Prior to beginning the entry process, prospective guides must provide a list of 35 different routes during which they were either the rope leader or had responsibility over the climbing team. The routes must be comprised of a mix of rock climbing, ski touring/winter mountaineering and mountaineering.
Once this is complete, the prospective guides take an entry exam in which they must pass a rock climbing test at a minimum level of 5a with mountaineering boots, another rock climbing test at a minimum level of 6b with rock climbing shoes, two ice climbing tests (with both one and two ice axes), a ski touring test with a backpack (not applicable to no-ski countries) and a general mountain skills assessment.
Once the aspiring guide passes all of these, they will move on to the next part of the certification, which is the aspirant guide course. The training program is divided into both practical and theoretical training as well as group and individual training.
Practical training involves going over personal technical skills, mountain rescue techniques, avalanche evacuation and field first aid. Aspirant guides are required to complete 60 different expeditions (20 mountaineering, rock climbing and ski touring/winter mountaineering trips) within 5 years of starting the program.
Aspiring guides must also complete theoretical training, which includes improving coaching skills, learning about meteorology and ecology, management and communication skills and route finding skills.
During this five year period, guides will receive an aspirant certification and be able to guide some types of trips with restrictions. Aspirant guides will need to do this for a minimum of 1.5 years prior to receiving their full certification.
Once all of the training and apprenticeship has been completed, guides receive the full IFMGA certification and are ready to take on clients without restrictions on a full-time basis.
Do I Need to Hire an IFMGA Guide for Hiking and Trekking?
While you should always hire an IFMGA-certified mountain guide (or a local equivalent) for a mountaineering expedition, it is not always necessary to do so for a hiking or trekking trip.
For trips that do not require any mountaineering, climbing or ski touring equipment, do not cross glaciers or permanent bodies of snow and do not require the planned use of ropes, it is possible to hire a UIMLA-certified mountain leader.
The Union of International Mountain Leaders Association is similar to the IFMGA. It is also an umbrella organisation, composed of 25 different member and aspirant member associations in Europe, Asia and South America.
UIMLA-certified guides are trained and tested in mountain survival and inclement weather safety skills as well as navigation and first aid administration.
Why Should I Hire a certified Guide?
There are plenty of reasons to hire a certified mountain guide, spanning from safety and practical reasons to recreational ones.
Mountain guides love what they do and part of why they become guides is to share that passion with their clients. Hiring one will help you to make the most out of your next outdoor adventure.
Mountain guides will keep you safe
Even if you have years of experience in your respective sport and have completed safety courses, it is still best to hire a local guide when traveling somewhere new.
These guides will have an intimate knowledge of the terrain through which you are hiking, climbing or skiing and will be able to take you on the safest route. They will know how recent climate conditions have impacted trails and routes and will also take you along paths and trails less prone to avalanches and rockfalls.
If something does go wrong along the way, certified guides will know how to deal with the problem and will be best suited to finding a solution. They are trained on a variety of rescue as well as first aid techniques and are used to working under pressure.
They know the best routes
In many cases, guides are local to the area in which they are guiding. This means they know all of the best spots and can help you make the most out of your limited time in the mountains.
Many guides based in the same region also work together and share information such as trail and snow conditions. By hiring a local guide, oftentimes, you are tapping into a network of collective knowledge.
Guides will help you to avoid dead ends and find the spots with the best views and conditions for your chosen activity. All of this means that you can make the most out of your limited time on holiday.
They can help you with the logistics of your trip
Prior to heading on any mountaineering, ski touring or climbing trip there are a lot of details to iron out, from where to stay and what to bring to how to arrive at the start of your trip.
Hiring a guide can help sort out the logistics for your trip. Depending on where you go and what you do, guides can arrange transport from a nearby city or town to the start of the trip, provide you a packing list of what to bring, help you rent equipment locally and arrange accommodation during the trip.
If you are traveling to a region where you do not speak the local language, it is also immensely helpful to have someone with you who does.
They will help you improve your skills
By the time most guides receive their IFMGA certification, they have made hundreds of ascents up a wide variety of different mountain peaks and terrains. Moreover, they have learned and honed plenty of different vital mountain skills and techniques.
Whether it is your first time heading out into the backcountry or your hundredth, your guide will be able to help you improve the techniques and skills required to succeed in your chosen sport.
Along with being good teachers, guides are also trained to observe and communicate. They will be able to take in what you do and provide helpful feedback throughout your time together.
Guides make for great travel companions
The main reason that the vast majority of guides decide to get their IFMGA certification is because outdoor sports are their passion. They are usually quite knowledgeable and social too, which makes them great companions for all sorts of adventures.
After a long day out in the backcountry, swap adventure stories with your guide and get to know a bit more about the local culture and ecology. These types of interactions can further enrich your experience, especially in destinations farther off the beaten path.
Book Your Next Adventure with a Certified Guide Today!
Prior to heading out on your next incredible outdoor sports adventure, be sure to hire a certified mountain guide. Choosing a guide certified by the IFMGA will increase your chances of success and is certain to enhance your enjoyment of the trip.