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/ The Mountain Guide School. What is it and is it worth it

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mike4563 - on 06 Oct 2010
A friend of mine suggested I have a look at this website

http://www.mountainguideschool.com/

I had a good look and basically it's saying for $25000 which is around £16000 you get 2 years training and you come out with a WEA instructor qualification along with others such as avalanche awarness ect.

Now iv no idea what WEA is and can't find much info on google, but as for value for money just the trips alone seem worth the money, with the qualifications just been a bonus.

What are peoples thoughts on this, has anyone heard of the company, and what exactly could you do with WEA. Also if nothing else would you say that this seems like quite an interesting trip?
Mr Lopez - on 06 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:

The qualifications are largely worthless and not recognised by anybody.
James Jackson on 06 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:

Interesting. It looks like none of their 'guides' are actually IFMGA guides, unless I am mistaken?
jon on 06 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:

I'd say their name alone is very misleading. Only the mountain guide body of a country belonging to the UIAGM/IFMGA can certify guides - for you in Stoke, that'd be the BMG. I've no idea what a WEA instructor is. It's certainly not MIC or MIA. I suspect Mr Lopez is correct in his summing up. You'd be far better spending that money getting either a UK recognised qualification, or indeed an internationally recognised one. If that's what you want, of course, and not just an (expensive) adventure.
stewieatb on 06 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:

WEA might be these guys: http://www.weainfo.org/

In which case, AFAICT the only thing you can do with your qualifications is work with the above company.
mike4563 - on 06 Oct 2010
In reply to jon: I agree the name is very misleading. Its almost false advertising to say they are a guide school, when infact, there are no guides working there.

It would be a very expensive adventure, even more so because of the fact that you would be paying someone who is not a guide with an unrecognizable qualification. Having said that, all the destinations, you would be visiting and the fact that it covers all your food travel and accommodation costs, plus you wouldn't have to actually organize anything for yourself. It seemed ok. (not that i have got or would actually spend that much money on something like this)

Im just looking forward to winter now, who needs patigonia anyway?? When Scotland is only 6 hours away by car!!
highclimber - on 06 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:
this pretty much says it all:

The Wilderness Education Association (WEA) is a US based certification body; it was originally created by a group of universities to provide qualifications for students coming out of college wilderness leadership programs, and has since grown to encompass a range of skill levels.

They offer the three following certifications:

Wilderness Steward (5 days): This qualification is meant for beginners in the backcountry, and certifies practcioners in basic skills (navigation, camp craft, cooking). Essentially a wilderness steward is capable of looking after themselves in the backcountry for up to 7 days at a time.

Wilderness Leader (21 days): This qualification is meant for wilderness trip leaders in non- technical terrain. It certifies that the wilderness leader is capable of teaching and leading a group of up to 6 participants for up to 10 days in the backcountry.

Instructor Guide (1 to 2 years + experience): Instructor guides are responsible for training students in technical and non-technical terrain on extended and/or remote expeditions of 21+ days.

WEA certification is widely recognized in the USA, Canada, and many other countries. A WEA certification allows you to work in the mountain guiding industry, commensurate with your level of certification.

Students on our Mountain Guide School endeavor to earn an Instructor Guide qualification, which allows for great work and adventure opportunities. Put simply, successful graduates will be qualified to work on remote or extended expeditions in technical and non-technical terrain.


not exactly a worldwide qualification!
tobykeep on 07 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:

Proper Mickey Mouse I'm afraid!

If you have $16-25000 to spend you could try contacting a British Mountain Guide(www.bmg.org.uk) and ask them to put together a personalised training course for you.
pneame - on 07 Oct 2010
In reply to tobykeep:
> (In reply to mike4563)
>
> Proper Mickey Mouse I'm afraid!

If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, it looks like the script for a reality TV program. Set in Chile for that extra bit of zest.

Alarm bells go off when I see - Wilderness First Aid Provider
There is a very worthwhile Wilderness First Responder which is real, but this is not what they seem to be talking about. And there is a relatively brief course (no certs, I believe) - Wilderness First Aid

Scam.
Benjamin Gorelick on 12 Oct 2010
Hello, My name is Benjamin Gorelick. I'm the director of the Mountain Guide School. I'd like to address what I perceive are some misunderstandings or factual errors regarding our program and the certifications offered.

The qualifications earned over the two years are both worthwhile and largely recognised. As follows, the qualifications gained on the course are:

Wilderness Education Association Level II Instructor

Wilderness First Responder

Avalanche Level I and Level II

Leave No Trace Trainer

I'll get into specifics regarding each certification in a moment, but I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the experience gained on the course. Within the 600 day program, students get approximately 450 days in the field, of which roughly 230 are focused on skills training and the second 220 working as a guide or instructor, not just with the school itself, but with one of numerous organizations we help arrange internships with. This type of work experience is invaluable.

Anyhow, for each qualification specifically:

The WEA qualifications are similar in scope, depth, and breadth to the qualifications offered by the MLTB. However, the WEA Instructor is an American certification, so there are some differences. Unlike Europe, where the IFMGA provides certification for all levels of guiding in the outdoors, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) provides certification for technical activities (such as alpinism, multi-pitch rock climbing, and ski guiding), but not for other activities (such as glacier guiding, wilderness hiking, and the like). Further, AMGA/IFMGA certification hasn't permeated the USA like it has in Europe, and there are therefore other certifications accepted by US (and other international) authorities for work as a guide and instructor. Many, many guides in the USA are not certified by any central organization, and the industry there is only beginning to come together to standardize, particularly at the entry level of certification. This is not to say that American guides are not qualified for their jobs; only that most training at American organizations tends to be more organic (often in house) than in Europe and the UK. It is important to keep this perspective in mind when looking at the WEA certifications.

Continuing, WEA certification is offered at a few different levels (much like the MLTB offers certification at the ML, Winter ML, MIC, and MIA, as well as SP certifications), but is set up a bit differently. The WEA offers a core curriculum of competencies: Leadership, Education, Environmental Integration (low impact environmental use), Safety and Judgement, Risk Management, and Planning & Preparedness. Along with this set of core competencies, they provide certification in specific technical areas, such as hiking, kayaking, single pitch rock climbing, and mountaineering.

As mentioned above, certification is offered at a few levels:

-Wilderness Steward, approximately 7 days training: This is the most basic level of certification, designed as basic training for recreational users. Those who complete this certification would be able to plan and undertake a non-technical expedition of 7+ days in the wilderness.

-Outdoor Leader, approximately 35 days of training: This is the entry level certification for those working as "professionals" in the outdoors, covering everything from hiking guides to boy scout or church group leaders. Those who complete this certification would be able to plan and undertake a 7+ day expedition, as well as teach the rudiments of backcountry travel to others. It is also possible to attain technical certification at this level with expanded training (again, single pitch rock climbing, mountaineering, kayaking, or hiking).

-Instructor, 2+ years of training (400+ field days): This is the highest level "field" certification offered by the WEA. It is designed for outdoor professionals and instructors. Again, certification in technical skills is possible at this level.

Please note, finally, that the WEA certifications and technical training modules are not meant as replacements or equivalents for IFMGA certifications. The WEA certifications are either used as a standard for less technical guiding (work that would be similar to a ML or Winter ML) or as steps along the way to IFMGA certification.

In terms of permeation and widespread acceptance, the WEA curriculum is taught in 33 American universities and by numerous private organizations. I know of WEA certified guides working in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile, so it is accepted internationally, albeit not yet in Europe/the UK.

The final three certifications should be more familiar, but I'll give a short blurb on each:

-The Wilderness First Responder (8 days) training is provided/certified by Wilderness Medical Associates, the second largest provider of wilderness medicine training in the USA, and one of six members of the Wilderness Medical Society. It is the standard for guides in the USA and worldwide, and WMA certification is at the forefront of this training.

-Avalanche Level I and II training (3 days and 5 days respectively) are provided by the American Avalanche Association and are, again, considered the standard in the USA.

Leave No Trace Instructor (3 days) training is certified by the Leave No Trace organization, and is the minimum impact camping standard in the USA and in many international countries.

Benjamin Gorelick on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to James Jackson:

You are mistaken. We have on staff 1 full IFMGA guide, 2 IFMGA ski guides, 2 IFMGA alpine guides, an MIC from the UK, 2 MLs.

Further, please again remember that this is an American company working in American and Chile, not Europe. Many American guides are not IFMGA certified. This does not, however, mean that they are unqualified. Among our non-IFMGA guides we have on staff the former head of the Alaska Avalanche School, the former head of safety for the American Antarctic Program, the head of NOLS Patagonia's Mountaineering and Rock Climbing programs, and (part time) two university professors. Our lead guides average 12 years full time experience.
liz j on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:
What's the difference between a full IFMGA guide, an IFMGA ski guide, and a IFMGA alpine guide?? Surely if they are all holding the IFMGA qualification, they are all the same??
Benjamin Gorelick on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:

I take umbrage with the notion that only IFMGA guides can call themselves "guides." While, again, I understand that "Mountain Guide" and "IFMGA Guide" are considered interchangeable terms in Europe, this is just not the case elsewhere. I very much consider myself a "Mountain Guide" despite the fact that I am not personally IFMGA certified. Instead, I rely on my 11 years experience in the mountains of Alaska and Patagonia to speak to my level of qualification. Perhaps this is a bit of semantics, but it is important.

Ultimately, while you may disagree with the above assertion (as I doubt very much I'm going to convince you to call me a mountain guide without the IFMGA button on my lapel), we can agree that, really, the goal is to make sure guides and instructors are trained and qualified for the trips they are leading.

I strongly assert that I and all of my instructors, not just my IFMGA certified ones, are qualified for their job and, frankly, are excellent instructors and guides.
Padraig on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:

Wilderness Education Association Level II Instructor

Wilderness First Responder

Avalanche Level I and Level II

Leave No Trace Trainer

I'm pretty sure I got badges for these in the scouts!! says it all really!
Benjamin Gorelick on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to liz j:

The IFMGA training offered in North America (USA and Canada) is different than in Europe. Here, the training is comprised of three areas of focus: rock climbing, skiing, and alpinsim. Each area of focus has three levels, roughly as follows:

-Apprentice Training
-Apprentice Certification
-Full Certification

The rock program is generally considered a pre-requisite for the ski and alpine program. As such, one would generally begin training in the rock program, becoming first a trained rock apprentice, certified rock apprentice, and then a fully certified rock guide. You would then continue to the ski and/or alpine programs, again working your way up through the training phase, certified apprentice phase, and fully certified phase for both the ski and/or alpine programs. When someone has earned full certification in all three disciplines, they become a fully certified IFMGA guide. Thus, it is possible to be a certified AMGA ski guide or ACMG alpine guide or rock guide, without being a fully certified IFMGA Mountain guide.
liz j on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:
Ok, thanks for the explanation.
Raskye - on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to liz j:

Still comes down to T U B E
liz j on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to Raskye:
T U B E?? Please explain!!
Benjamin Gorelick on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to pneame:

I'm not sure what has caused you to believe our course is a scam, as I can assure you it's not. I've given a good overview of the certifications received elsewhere, but want to address this specifically. Students on the course receive a Wilderness First Responder certification, from Wilderness Medical Associates. They are the second largest wilderness medicine training provider in the USA and are absolutely among the standard bearers in the industry.

On the general information page of our website, I chose to use the phrase "wilderness first aid certification" as opposed to "Wilderness First Responder" as I felt that the first would be recognizable to anyone, but some potential students wouldn't know that the "Wilderness First Responder" was.

Yes, I am aware of the major differences between WFA, WAFA, WFR, WALS, etc certifications and could perhaps have been more specific, but I've tried to keep the language on my website simple so that my potential students, those who are just beginning to get into the outdoor industry, can get an overview of the program without assuming too much previous knowledge of the industry as a whole.

I'd also like to say that we do our utmost to make sure that students who are interested in our program know what we are and what we aren't. We try very hard to be upfront and honest about the experience gained on the course and qualifications, and to provide an overview of what you will and won't be able to do with the experience/quals when the course is finished. We have certainly turned away potential students because we weren't in the position to help them achieve their goals.



Benjamin Gorelick on 12 Oct 2010
In reply to Padraig:

These are all guide level certifications. The WEA certification requires 400+ days in the field and the creation of a large portfolio of coursework. The Wilderness First responder is an 8 day medical training course focused on the outdoors and is widly recognized throughout the world as a standard for guides. Avalanche Level I and II training are 3 and 5 day courses respectively (with the level II requiring a year of experience before taking the course) and are, again recognized standards. And the LNT certification is probably exactly what you got in scouts (as the LNT program is heavily sponsered by the scouts, NOLS, and a large number of other organizations).

To say that these are all "scout" level certifications is just silly and ignorant. While the American certification system may not be the system you're used to or work within, it does not mean that it is any less worthwhile.

JSTaylor - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick: OK Benjamin, what are the prerequistes for people joining your programme to become guides? Within Europe this is pretty strict - candidates for a guiding carnet have to climb to a high standard with a documented portfolio of ascents prior to joining the training scheme.
Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to tobykeep:

I'm not sure what has lead you to believe that our course is "Mickey Mouse," but I can assure you that it is not. Our instructors are industry experts, including IFMGA certified guides as well as other very well qualified guides/instructors who aren't IFMGA certified (without getting into an arguement about whether one can call him/herself a guide without the IFMGA pin, I'll at least throw out that our lead guides are very experienced and more than adequately qualified for their jobs).

And there is no denying that 450 days training in the field, with 220 days working as an apprentice guide in Patagonia and Alaska are extremely valuable experiences, whether you believe in the certifications or not.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, it is entirely possible that our program may not be the right one for you. There is no doubt that the BMG would do an excellent job training someone. But to dismiss this out of hand, without understanding the program or its place within the USA training system/progression is unfair.

Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to JSTaylor:

Please let me be clear: Our program is not meant to be a replacement for or equivalent to IFMGA level certification, any more than the winter ML is meant to be a replacement for IFMGA certification. It is an entry to mid-level series of qualifications. While not exactly the same as the British system, our course would be the semi-equivalent of starting from a basic level (Mountain Leader training) and working up to an MIA, over the course of two years (450 field days, including 220 days work experience). A more fair question would be "What are the pre-requisites to attend an ML training course, and how do your pre-requisites compare?"

But to answer your question, we ask that our students have 90 days experience in general outdoors (trekking, etc), with at least 30 days each rock climbing, winter camping, and skiing. We further ask that they have at least 90 days in one of the three above areas. The idea is that they have spent enough time in the outdoors to know what they are signing up for, and that they enjoy it enough to want to get into the industry.

However, we are still a school providing entry to mid-level guiding training. As such, we don't ask that our students are experts beforehand.

If, as you imply, you wanted to eventually earn an IFMGA certification, our course would be a great start, and a great place to start your portfolio of climbing ascents. But it's certainly not the end of the road.
AlH - on 13 Oct 2010
I think Ben has given a good explanation of the structure of their course and how it compares with the UK system.
Many of my friends and fellow UK instructors have worked in the US and some hold some of the qualifications he lists as well as UK NGB awards and they say they compare favourably. Like ours, their awards are designed for the environment they are used in and are neither better or worse, just different.
MLT sensibly take the attitude that we should share knowledge and learn from each other. A senior figure from MLT was recently in the US looking at their equivalent to the SPA and came back saying very positive things about their Award.
The issue of the use of the word 'guide' (as opposed to 'Guide') does lead to argument and confusion in Europe but ours isn't the only way to look at things.
In the UK there are many examples of 'fast track' trainee outdoor pursuits instructors courses. The staff on this course seem experienced and well qualified and the location and program look well suited to a good program. I don't know anyone who has done it but it deserves as fair a hearing as similar programs over here.
Al
jon on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:
> (In reply to jon)
>
> I take umbrage with the notion that only IFMGA guides can call themselves "guides."

Then read my reply again. I didn't say that. I said that only the mountain guide 'bodies' - ie BMG in UK and SNGM in France etc - of UIAGM member countries can certify their guides.
TobyA on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick: Ben, thanks for coming on and taking the time to patiently and politely correct everyone's misapprehensions! I know I learnt something completely new reading through your replies. Before you think all Brit climbers are judgemental ignoramuses, actually, only a choice few of us are ;-) , I could perhaps just add a bit of context. Just recently (and a number of other times over quite a few years) here on UKC we've discussed a guy who keeps a slightly bizarre website attacking mountain guides of the UIAGM type for being dangerous and evil. It seems his original beef was that he was selling services as a guide but wasn't qualified as one in the normal manner and had some sort of long running legal issues as a result. So there is maybe some suspicion of people calling themselves guides when they are not Guides (as Al points out above) of the UIAGM type. I guess most of us now in the UK think UIAGM when someone say they are guide just like we think "real medical doctor" when someone says they are a doctor.

But I think you have clearly shown above that this is simply a case of the Brits and the Yanks once again being "divided by common language" as Churchill put it. So thanks for patiently explaining it so clearly.

We will of course though, continue to giggle in childish and immature manner whenever you Americans refer to your trousers as "pants"! ;-)
petestack - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to AlH:
> The issue of the use of the word 'guide' (as opposed to 'Guide') does lead to argument and confusion in Europe but ours isn't the only way to look at things.

Agree absolutely with that, Al, so think Guides have to be less sensitive about the use of 'guide' and others guiding careful not to imply 'Guide'.

Also glad to see Benjamin's patient series of posts here and agree with everything you and TobyA have just said about that.
Damo on 13 Oct 2010
In reply:

So long as that organisation claims it offers 'internationally recognized qualifications' it is headed for trouble. In the last decade the US has quite deliberately moved toward increasing the numbers of IFMGA-qualified guides and made a deliberate move to join the UIAA. The arguments presented above by Mr Gorelick may have carried more weight a decade ago, when few Americans were UIAGM guides and all sorts of ad-hoc arrangements were in place. But not now. This organisation is trading in a grey area, which is becomingly increasingly less grey.

There is nothing in the list of 'guides' on their site to indicate that they can provide anything like the experience and training of the kind that is standard for UIAGM / IFMGA qualifications. If they want to offer an equivalent standard of training they need to show that they have the right people - if they do.

Some of the old US guides were good in certain ways (rock, bigwall etc) - some very good. Many were not. Almost none had the breadth of expertise across disciplines that most European guides have. The argument was always that being a 'qualified' Guide did not necessarily mean that you were good with people and had the 'soft' skills necessary for a truly good guide, but it did mean you were technically competent, well-trained and examined. Maybe you were an asshole, maybe not. That was not really the priority. Keeping people alive, and successful, in that order, was more like it.

Thing like NZ glacier guides are irrelevant, as is Antarctic 'experience'. I've climbed a lot in Antarctica and known a few different heads of rescue programs - some would be great for a program like this, some not so much. If the organisation does have IFMGA personnel they should put them up front, it would do wonders for their credibility. The rest is just lightweight marketing guff.

Basic first aid and environmental-sounding 'qualifications' are a whole other kettle of fish and should not be mixed up with genuine mountain Guide training. Changing the names of genuinely internationlly recognized things like WFR to make them 'easier' for the ignorant is weird and stupid. Just making stuff up can only go so far.

D
Damo on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to TobyA:
> ( this is simply a case of the Brits and the Yanks once again being "divided by common language"

I think there's a bit more to it than that, Toby. Though I do recognise that Ben has come on here and patiently and politely defended himself, and I also recognise that Guides can be precious whankers about their qualifications, and I also recognise that organisations like Mr Gorelick's have a valid role and can do some good stuff that people will get a lot out of. But I think they need to be a bit clearer and more detailed about just what they are offering. What they have at present raises too many suspicions.

Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:
>Then read my reply again. I didn't say that. I said that only the mountain guide 'bodies' - ie BMG in UK and SNGM in France etc - of UIAGM member countries can certify their guides.

My apologies for misunderstanding your statement. However, I still feel that the above is only partially true.

You are correct that only the UIAGM branch bodies (BMG, SNGM, AMGA, ACMG, etc) can certify IFMGA Mountain Guides.

However, there are numerous other certifications accepted as "guides", in many other places (Europe is generally the exception, accepting only IFMGA certification) for work within mountainous areas. As examples, in the USA, the AEE and WEA are accepted for work within national parks for both technical and non-technical guiding, as is NOLS in-house certification. There are 5 certifications that are accepted in Chile. As I mentioned previously, the WEA alone is accepted as a stand alone qualification in 5 countries that I know of.

Please, again, note that this isn't meant to raise the hackles of the IFMGA or IFMGA certified guides. I understand the role that IFMGA certification plays in keeping the mountain guiding industry strong, competent, and well managed. There is no doubt that the IFMGA sets the worldwide standard for technical mountain guiding. I don't want morons with backpacks passing themselves off as "mountain guides" any more than you do. Unregulated guiding and/or a lack of relevant, recognized certifications would be catastrophic to the outdoor industry.

My only point is that mountain guiding has many faces, and that the IFMGA is only one of those faces. One must look at the larger picture to fully define what a "guide" truly is.

Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to TobyA:
> But I think you have clearly shown above that this is simply a case of the Brits and the Yanks once again being "divided by common language" as Churchill put it. So thanks for patiently explaining it so clearly.

This is a bit yes and no as well. I am very aware that most Europeans and those familiar with the IFMGA chafe at my calling the school "The Mountain Guide School," for all the reasons mentioned previously in this forum.

At the same time, particularly given my general client base of people looking to start a career in the outdoor industry and who are probably fairly unfamiliar with the myriad of options and certifications that exist in order to gain entry into this industry, I need to make sure that my website is written for my potential students, not IFMGA guides.

As a bit of a litmus test, if I were to describe my job to a random person on the street of London, and then asked them to give my job a title, they would almost definitely say "Mountain Guide." They would also likely say the same for a NOLS guide, an IFMGA guide, or a UK mountain leader. Those who are not deeply knowledgeable about the industry don't necessarily make the nuanced delineations between the different certifications that we do (in the same way that neurosurgeon, pediatrician, and dentist may all be "doctors" to a regular person, despite gross differences in training and job responsibility).

The point is, that when they want to begin researching a career in the outdoor industry, they will, more likely than not, type "Mountain Guide Training" or "Mountain Guide School" into google. And they would be as likely to be looking for Mountain Leader type training (a place to start in the outdoor industry) as they would IFMGA Mountain Guide training (a high level certification meant for serious alpinists). And by slotting somewhere between the two, I feel my program very much represents what a Mountain Guide School can and should be.




Mr Lopez - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:

> However, there are numerous other certifications accepted as "guides", in many other places (Europe is generally the exception, accepting only IFMGA certification) for work within mountainous areas. As examples, in the USA, the AEE and WEA are accepted for work within national parks for both technical and non-technical guiding, as is NOLS in-house certification. There are 5 certifications that are accepted in Chile. As I mentioned previously, the WEA alone is accepted as a stand alone qualification in 5 countries that I know of.

Forgive me if i'm wrong, but is my understanding that the NPS does not require any qualifications for guiding in their parks.

They do however, only allow commercial guiding to endorsed companies, and these companies are free to choose their stuff as far as they follow the guidelines set by the NPS.
So to say that WEA is 'accepted' for guiding is both true and misleading, as a gardening certificate is as accepted as the titles you provide.
Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Damo:

> So long as that organisation claims it offers 'internationally recognized qualifications' it is headed for trouble. In the last decade the US has quite deliberately moved toward increasing the numbers of IFMGA-qualified guides and made a deliberate move to join the UIAA. The arguments presented above by Mr Gorelick may have carried more weight a decade ago, when few Americans were UIAGM guides and all sorts of ad-hoc arrangements were in place. But not now. This organisation is trading in a grey area, which is becomingly increasingly less grey.

I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with much of this. Yes, the AMGA has picked up considerable influence in the last decade, and there is no doubt that they will play a large role in the future of guiding in the USA and elsewhere. However, there are still very, very few IFMGA certified guides in the USA (67, in the whole of the USA, according to the AMGA website, and a whopping 1 in Alaska), so it's not as though every other guide in the USA is IFMGA certified, and we're just deluding ourselves as to the relevance of our certification.

More to the point, to say that we are operating a shrinking grey area is misleading and, really, quite untrue. Unlike the UK and Europe, the USA doesn't have any true national standard for guiding, at any level. Almost without exclusion, the people guiding on Denali, Rainer, Whitney and other big American peaks aren't AMGA certified. Neither are the heli-ski guides, the rock guides, or the employees at the local rock climbing gym. Almost all of the guide "certifications" within the USA comes from in house training and resume building.

This is absolutely not a good thing. I am a strong advocate for certification, and believe it is necessary for our industry to thrive (or, at a minimum, to avoid crippling government regulation, we need to do a better job self regulating).

This is where the AMGA is a good thing. They set the standard for technical guiding in the USA, as they do elsewhere in the world. They play a hugely important role in bringing in and maintaining industry standards in the states, and I hope they grow and thrive in the USA.

At the same time, the AMGA is failing the larger "mountain guiding" industry. There is no equivalent to the MLT offered by the AMGA. We have no "Winter Mountain Leader" certification. Your AMGA training begins when you can climb 7a rock, can ski double blacks, and/or have successfully climbed 5 grade IV peaks. This ignores the reality that there are thousands of "mountain guiding" jobs where this kind of technical knowledge is well overkill.

As such, the role of certification at these lower levels has been filled by a hodge podge of certifications that are only now coming together to a cohesive bunch. Most dominantly, these are NOLS in-house certification (by dint of their status as largest outdoor school in the USA, by far), the WEA (with a curriculum now taught in 33 universities and a 6 private companies), and the AEE (who have perhaps made the strongest push regarding governing bodies).

All three are accepted for work in almost all national/state park areas, and all three are good certifications. None are replacements for the AMGA, and nor do they try to be. They are merely pieces that fit into the larger American system.

To be honest, if you want to rally around a grey area that needs to disappear, instead focus on the thousands of guides who have no certification whatsoever. A standardization at varying levels, no matter if it's IFMGA recognized or not, is still better than no standard at all.


Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Damo:

Here's the other part:

> There is nothing in the list of 'guides' on their site to indicate that they can provide anything like the experience and training of the kind that is standard for UIAGM / IFMGA qualifications. If they want to offer an equivalent standard of training they need to show that they have the right people - if they do.

I've never said that I want to provide training to IFMGA levels. My goal has never been to replicate the AMGA. I would like to provide the best possible entry to mid-level guide training possible.

You are correct in asserting that I need to update the "Our Guides" section of my website to better reflect the capabilities of my company and instructors. I need to update many parts of my website. As director, I've been a bit remiss in this department and will get to it in the next few weeks.

> Some of the old US guides were good in certain ways (rock, bigwall etc) - some very good. Many were not. Almost none had the breadth of expertise across disciplines that most European guides have.

Sorry, but all three of these are overly generalizing. There are good and bad guides in every system, and all guides have their strengths and weaknesses. I could just as well argue that most IFMGA guides don't have the same breadth and depth of experience that I have, because I've run 29 expeditions of 6 weeks or longer. It doesn't mean anything other than guides who excel at rock climbing should stick to rock climbing, and the ones who excel at skiing should stick to skiing, and the ones who excel at expedition mountaineering with climbs no harder than 6c should stick to expedition mountaineering with climbs no harder than 6c. That I can't climb 7c doesn't make me a less competent instructor or guide. My ability to manage risks, lead my students, teach skills, and make reasonable judgments is completely independent of the grade that I climb.

>The argument was always that being a 'qualified' Guide did not necessarily mean that you were good with people and had the 'soft' skills necessary for a truly good guide, but it did mean you were technically competent, well-trained and examined. Maybe you were an asshole, maybe not. That was not really the priority. Keeping people alive, and successful, in that order, was more like it.

I would argue conversely that the ability to relate to your clients in a positive and supportive manner is a critical part of risk management, safety, and judgement. Being an asshole does matter.

> Thing like NZ glacier guides are irrelevant

This is an NZMGA certification.

>as is Antarctic 'experience'. I've climbed a lot in Antarctica and known a few different heads of rescue programs - some would be great for a program like this, some not so much.

You're correct that some people would be good for a program like ours, and some wouldn't. But the exact same could be said of any guide, IFMGA or otherwise. As you noted above, there are many IFMGA guides who would be less than ideal teachers, and many others who would not thrive in a remote expedition environment. Everyone must be evaluated on their overall merits, not just their resume.

>If the organisation does have IFMGA personnel they should put them up front, it would do wonders for their credibility. The rest is just lightweight marketing guff.

I absolutely agree that I should update my website to get all of my current staff on. Fair enough. But why should one assume that an IFMGA certification is a ticket to infinite knowledge, an incredible ability to teach, and the ability to thrive in an extended expedition environment? Technical ability is only one piece of that puzzle (albeit a very important one), and the onus is on me, as program director, to staff my school so that all areas of competence are covered. I've found a well rounded staff, from a variety of backgrounds, is more able to do this.

> Basic first aid and environmental-sounding 'qualifications' are a whole other kettle of fish and should not be mixed up with genuine mountain Guide training.

Strong first aid knowledge is a critical skill for a guide, especially given that I work in an extremely remote and challenging environment. As I've said numerous times, technical ability is only a part of what makes a good "Mountain Guide." And, yeah, preserving the environment in which I'm privileged to work is a high priority of mine.

>Changing the names of genuinely internationlly recognized things like WFR to make them 'easier' for the ignorant is weird and stupid.

No it's not. It's playing to your audience. As a different example, when teaching WFR to recreational users(yes, I'm a certified WFR instructor for WMA), I don't talk about the mandible or patella. I talk about the jaw and kneecap. It makes the processing of information easier. When I teach doctors, I use the technical names. Same goes here.

As a side note, thank you for your well thought out and polite comments and thoughts. I'm quite happy to have a rational discourse on the merits (and weaknesses) of my program. While I don't necessarily expect that you'll agree with me, I hope that you'll at least have a better understanding of where I and my program are coming from.
Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Mr Lopez:

> Forgive me if i'm wrong, but is my understanding that the NPS does not require any qualifications for guiding in their parks.

I can only speak for the parks in Alaska, as that's where I work, but this is not necessarily true. All of my guides are required to have WFR, avalanche I, and LNT certifications, and are required to have a guiding/instructing resume "commiserate with the terrain and conditions in which they will be working." For us, WEA, AEE, NOLS or IFMGA certifications are accepted largely without question, while completely uncertified guides require significantly more evidence of competence.

> They do however, only allow commercial guiding to endorsed companies, and these companies are free to choose their staff as far as they follow the guidelines set by the NPS.

This is correct. Companies are able to provide in house training and recommendations, provided they fall within state or national park guidelines.

> So to say that WEA is 'accepted' for guiding is both true and misleading, as a gardening certificate is as accepted as the titles you provide.

As long as the gardener in question had a strong resume of experience in the type of terrain and conditions he was likely to work in, and had a boss who was willing to push him through the NFS qualification system, then yes, a gardening certification would work.

But actual certification also carries many benefits. As mentioned above, it's a quicker, easier ticket to a job. It also carries liability insurance discounts for the company (a big incentive for me to hire WEA guides is the hundreds of dollars I save each year by doing so), cross-company job training opportunities, and so forth.

But isn't the same true of the UK system? To my understanding (and I'm fully prepared to be wrong here), there is no actual requirement that guides be MLT certified to work in the UK. My understanding is that this is something foisted on the outdoor industry by insurance companies, not your national park system. So, assuming I could get the insurance, I'd be as free to work in the UK as any MIC.

To conclude, my point isn't to say that the US is the best system. But it is the system in which I generally work, and the one for which I'm training my students to work.

And, when all is said an done, students who return to the UK or elsewhere will still have gained an incredible amount of experience and training, even if they have to take the ML assessment. They'll be better for it, no matter which way you slice things.

Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Damo:

> But I think they need to be a bit clearer and more detailed about just what they are offering. What they have at present raises too many suspicions.

Fair enough. I will work on my website over the next few weeks, and when completed, I'll happily invite your feedback. Expect this around the first week of November.
Benjamin Gorelick on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:

I wanted to offer one last thought regarding my school and the quality of education provided, which is originally what this question was about.

Basically, after reading through the above thoughts, I hope you have a better appreciation for who we are, who I am, and what we're trying to accomplish.

We are not our to vanquish the IFMGA/AMGA. Far from it. Our mission is to provide excellent mountain guide training for those wishing to work in the outdoor industry. Whether we're the final destination, for those looking to work in less technical areas, or a step along the way to IFMGA certification, we believe that we can provide an excellent education in the art of guiding and instructing.

We have excellent instructors. They come from a variety of backgrounds and have a variety of strengths and weaknesses. As such, we have been able to create, what I believe, is a top notch, well rounded training program that covers technical skills at an international level, as well as "softer" skills, at an equally high level.

We stress risk management in every phase of the school. We spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to compile a "risk management and curriculum committee," made up of industry experts from both within and outside our company (IFMGA, NOLS, WEA, and Universities), to review our curriculum, standard operating procedures, and risk management plan, to make sure that what we're teaching and practicing is at the forefront of the industry.

We're good at what we do. Our students get jobs. They're good guides. I'd trust them with my life, and I often do.

We're not perfect. We know that we rub some people the wrong way. We know that we don't do things the way you'd do things. But we're humble enough to try and learn from you, and then make ourselves better for it.

I look forward to discussing this with you further if you'd like. Alternatively, if you'd like to speak to some of our students, I'd be happy to put you in touch with them. They're in the field until the 28th, but will be back until the 7th of November, and I'm sure one or two of them would be happy to give their perspective on things.

Finally, I'm going to be at RGS Explore in London in mid November. I'd invite each of you to come and chat. There's much we can learn.
tom290483 - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Padraig:
> (In reply to mike4563)
>
>
> I'm pretty sure I got badges for these in the scouts!! says it all really!

your scout group put you through Level I & II training with the american avalanche association?

if you say so.........
tony on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:
> (In reply to Mr Lopez)
>
> [...]
>
> I can only speak for the parks in Alaska, as that's where I work, but this is not necessarily true. All of my guides are required to have WFR, avalanche I, and LNT certifications, and are required to have a guiding/instructing resume "commiserate with the terrain and conditions in which they will be working." For us, WEA, AEE, NOLS or IFMGA certifications are accepted largely without question, while completely uncertified guides require significantly more evidence of competence.
>
Minor editorial quibble - I think what you mean is 'commensurate with the terrain and conditions etc etc'.

Other than that, full marks for taking the time and effort to address the issues being raised, and doing so in such a careful and thoughtful manner. If only more people did the same thing.
tom290483 - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to JSTaylor:
> (In reply to Benjamin Gorelick) OK Benjamin, what are the prerequistes for people joining your programme to become guides? Within Europe this is pretty strict - candidates for a guiding carnet have to climb to a high standard with a documented portfolio of ascents prior to joining the training scheme.

Surely thats the point the chap is making, its very different in America compared with Europe so maybe you dont have to be a mega good climber.

At least in america you wouldnt have to deal with arsey french guides.

Damo on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:

Thanks for the elaboration. It makes more sense and you obviously have a clear idea of what you're doing. But as before, I don't think your site, and the language you're using on it, reflects this. You need to articulate some of the distinctions you've made above, otherwise I think you'll find yourself having a lot more correspondence like this one. But you say you're getting on to it, so I wish you the best.

> (In reply to Damo)
> >Changing the names of genuinely internationlly recognized things like WFR to make them 'easier' for the ignorant is weird and stupid.
>
> No it's not. It's playing to your audience. As a different example, when teaching WFR to recreational users(yes, I'm a certified WFR instructor for WMA), I don't talk about the mandible or patella. I talk about the jaw and kneecap. It makes the processing of information easier. When I teach doctors, I use the technical names. Same goes here.
>

However on this point I still disagree, strongly, and I'm not sure your illustrative examples are relevant to how you market and communicate your role in a broader field. At the risk of stereotyping, it's a bit of an American thing to take particular terms and use them out of context, either for commercial benefit - making things sound cooler or sexier etc - or through ignorance or miscomprehension. You're essentially admitting to dumbing down the terminology of a field that relies on clear communication of sometimes technical issues. To introduce new acronyms as alternatives to existing acronyms because you think they'll be easier for your customers to 'get' just confuses the mix unnecessarily. It also dilutes the authority of the genuine article by having lax nomenclature. The staff of the President of the United States refer to him as the President, not 'head honcho', 'el jefe', 'boss man', or anything else that might be cooler for the kids to say. The name is the name. That's what names are for. Accuracy conveys authority.

I just don't see that you need to do this if you explain it well from the start. They're going to have to learn a lot, might as well jump in right from the beginning.

It reminds me of how mainstream American media often puts 'Mount' before so many names for which it is inappropriate (culturally, linguistically and stylistically): Mount Denali, Mount Makalu, Mount K2 etc. They don't want to 'confuse' viewers/listeners/readers with foreign terms, but it's clunky and exposes a lack of familiarity with the subject matter. You're in the communication business. Words matter.

Also, even within the outdoor/mountain industry, no audience is truly homogenous, so trying to 'play' to one section of your audience may turn off another section. If your product has integrity - ie. not two names for one thing - then both can find their own way to it.

D
Dan Goodwin - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to petestack:

I agree with you agreeing !

The word 'guide' and 'mountain guide' are not exclusive terms or words. The are a generic term for describing what you are doing !

Its just important that those working within the industry are clear about which badge/certification they hold and what the remit allows you to do with clients !

Aye

Dan
JayPee630 - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:

Likewise to what some people have said on here, thanks very much for taking the time to reply to the comments here (and not sinking to the low level of intellect that some posters show!) and clear up what seemed to be mainly misunderstandings and wilful ignorance. I happened to have looked into your school recently, and this discussion has answered lots of the questions I had, so thanks again.
petestack - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan:
> (In reply to petestack)
>
> I agree with you agreeing !
>
> The word 'guide' and 'mountain guide' are not exclusive terms or words. The are a generic term for describing what you are doing !

To give an example, I'm quite uncomfortable with the back cover of Steven Fallon's 'Classic Hill Runs and Races in Scotland' describing him as a 'qualified mountain guide' when I'm certain he's not a BMG and pretty sure he's just an ML (don't think he climbs despite his 14 Munro rounds). So it's not totally wrong in the lower case and probably not Steven's fault (suspecting editorial/publisher's blurb here?) but, had it been my book, I'd have insisted that got changed to 'mountain leader' (or 'Mountain Leader') even though I might legitimately regard what I did as 'guiding' and even refer to it as such when appropriate.

> Its just important that those working within the industry are clear about which badge/certification they hold and what the remit allows you to do with clients !

While the BMG/IFMGAs have no more exclusive right to the word than the Girl Guides and 'guiding' or saying 'I'll guide you' ('be your guide', whatever) are all fine with me, common sense still dictates some care with how you use the term and what you do/don't imply.
tobykeep on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:

Fair enough, you're absolutely right that I have no idea what your courses involve apart from a quick skim of your website, so apologies.

I do actually think that there are many brilliant, but uncertified guides around (there is no requirement for any certification the UK). It's just hard to be sure of the experience and skill of a guide without some sort of paperwork

I'm sure you and your guides are great, and good luck to you.

Toby
Andy S - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to all the uninformed people:

There's alot of rubbish been said on this thread by people who clearly don't have much of a clue about the outdoor pursuits industry.

I've worked in the outdoor industry for years as an instructor and when you first get into it, you think it's all about the 'qualifications'. When you get deep enough into it and start looking at more advanced work, you realise that there is loads of great work to be had (particularly in America), that you don't need formal qualifications for.

The key thing to remember is that 'qualified' doesn't always mean 'piece of paper'. There are plenty of companies you can work for doing advanced technical work, such as guiding high mountains and teaching multi-pitch rockclimbing, without having a formal qualification.

This course is basically a 2-year fast-track to get into the industry working professionally. At the end of it, you will hopefully be a good solid instructor for 'mid-level' work (in terms of technical skills used and taught). That's as long as your personal qualities (such as confidence) are up to par. If not, these can be developed too, but might take a bit longer. Things such as general safety awareness and appreciation and assessment of risk is harder to teach and these qualities might take longer to develop. Or not, it just depends on the person.

It's typical of UKC to jump on something like this and crucify it without having the facts at hand. There are actually similar courses in the UK and at similar cost (I might be wrong, but I think Plas y Brenin run one, or used to, at a similar level and cost).

Particularly after reading Ben's posts (hats off to you for remaining professional to the last, by the way), it sounds like they have some EXCELLENT staff on board to deliver the course and they cram alot of very good experience into the course. If I was paying the money, I would expect the highest quality. And who's to say they don't deliver?

The term 'guide' doesn't always mean IFMGA guide. Particularly in America, you can be a guide of the highest quality without being formally qualified.

Basically, paying for this course allows you to shortcut several years of working in the industry to get to a similar level. It would also give you access to extremely experienced and competent professionals, learn from them first-hand, ask them all the questions under the sun and work with them at close-quarters. That kind of experience is awesome and, believe me, very hard to get by other means.

Oh, and don't forget the connections and friendships you would make during a course like this. The power of that to help your future career can't be underestimated either.

Andy S - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick: and a final thought - 'standardization' can be restrictive sometimes (as I'm sure you know). The quality of your staff might actually be better because there is less standardisation in America. But that's going off on a rather philosophical tangent. Anyway, I wish you all the best.
jon on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:

Hello Benjamin. In the UK, the word 'guide' or even 'mountain guide' isn't protected, as for example the word 'architect' is. Pete and Dan have spent quite some time agreeing on this. They might also confirm (or not... ) that ANYONE can call themselves a guide in the UK. There are as you know various qualifications in the UK... SPA, MIA, MIC, Guide. However, as I understand it, if you want to work in an outdoor centre, or much more importantly, with children, then you have to have one of these qualifications. Those that choose to go down the road of no qualifications do so at their own risk - and at the risk of their clients. I expect one of the most notorious ones to crop up soon on this thread...

However, in Europe things are different. Different countries interpret their laws regarding qualifications in different ways and to different extents. Probably the most militant one in this respect is the one where I have chosen to live - France - and this is where a large part of the European Alps are and where a large proportion of UK guides make their money. Here you MUST hold a UIAGM qualification to work in the mountains. (The only exceptions are the military - and for some bizarre reason, schools.)

When I was still a BMG guide, I went to an AGM of the UIAGM in St Moritz, Switzerland, sometime in the 90s. It was at the time that the AMGA was applying for membership to the UIAGM. I remember a frustrated Mark Houston trying to explain to the committee why the USA seemed to be dragging its feet with regard to its application. It seemed that trying to get 50 states to agree to work together, was like getting 50 countries to do so... Also, there was the resistance of lots of American guiding set ups to join the UIAGM - they had enough problems resisting the AMGA! The reason for this resistance was the fact that they operated in NPs and had their own cosy monopolies and saw the UIAGM as a threat to these monopolies. One of the things that the Americans were offering the UIAGM as an incentive to their membership, was the reciprocal right for other UIAGM members to be able to guide in the States - or to be more correct, they were going to lobby the 'powers that be' and the NPs to this end. This has still not happened. European guides that DO guide in say Yosemite, do it illegally, unless of course they manage to get employed by the Yosemite School of Mountaineering... On the other hand, the qualifications that you offer don't have any value in, say, France. The OP is based in the UK, so my reply to him was in that context. I made no derogatory comments about your company, other than to say that 'Mountain Guide School' seemed to me a little misleading.
ChrisHolloway1 - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563: Ben, I think you have given good answers to issues raised here so well done for coming on and answering questions......however you have spelt "Mountaineering" wrong on your homepage, doesn't give the best impression.
Ian McNeill - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:
> (In reply to Benjamin Gorelick)
I expect one of the most notorious ones to crop up soon on this thread...
>

Does Danger Mouse ... have the same initials?

what a thread ... good reading interesting course - people are at similar things here in UK if you know the known's then you will know who is at it... a bit of a Rumphled...

Classic UKC - slate the business then when the facts come out retract and apologies ...;-0)

petestack - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:
> Those that choose to go down the road of no qualifications do so at their own risk - and at the risk of their clients. I expect one of the most notorious ones to crop up soon on this thread...

Think he might have already, Jon (check TobyA's post of 09:45 Wed)?
pneame - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to Benjamin Gorelick:
> (In reply to pneame)
>
> I'm not sure what has caused you to believe our course is a scam, as I can assure you it's not.

Thanks. Much clarified - my concerns are that there quite a few operations purporting to providing training but by slight tweaking of the description actually misrepresenting what they are doing. Your extensive replies to myself and everyone else reassure me considerably.

However, in the modern world, it pays to be a bit paranoid -words, numbers and perceptions are often tools used to part the gullible, lazy and ill informed from their money (the classic example is the use of the word "average" which most people visualize as median. It usually is the mean - a quite different thing). It does look as if you are providing a genuine service - I can't for a moment imagine that a scam artist would give the reasoned, courteous and thoughtful replies that you've given us here.


pneame - on 13 Oct 2010
In reply to TobyA:
> We will of course though, continue to giggle in childish and immature manner whenever you Americans refer to your trousers as "pants"! ;-)

I'm always much more concerned about old-school alpinists wearing ladies underwear.
In reply to mike4563: Reading this...for us in the UK, it's probably not worth it. But it would be a nice experience!

*nice & simple*
Luca Signorelli - on 15 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:
> (In reply to Benjamin Gorelick)
>
> Probably the most militant one in this respect is the one where I have chosen to live - France - and this is where a large part of the European Alps are and where a large proportion of UK guides make their money. Here you MUST hold a UIAGM qualification to work in the mountains.

Same here in Italy. Guiding or styling yourself a guide here without full UIAGM qualifications could land you in prison, or at least make you pay a very stiff fine. This applies also to teaching rope safety tecniques etc. Any other qualification, even if recognized in other countries, is useless.
Benjamin Gorelick on 15 Oct 2010
In reply to Damo:

Without blowing things out of proportion, there is only one time on the entire website I refer to the WFR cert as "a wilderness first aid certification" and that's in the top of the first page, in a box called "Course Highlights." The certification is explained later in the page, and refered to thereafter as a WFR or Wilderness First Responder.

So while I agree with you, words do matter, I'm ok with giving a bit less detail in one place, so long as things are fleshed out elsewhere.

It would be more akin to a car ad saying "This car is fast!" rather than quoting a specific 0 to 100 time...
Siward on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to TobyA:
> Before you think all Brit climbers are judgemental ignoramuses, actually, only a choice few of us are ;-)

Most of them on this site it would seem

(nothing ever changes)


But seriously this has been an interesting and informative thread and just goes to show that thw world is still, thankfully, diverse and, astoundingly, is not all regulated by one 'authority'. Long may it remain so...

Andy S - on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:
> (In reply to Benjamin Gorelick)
>
> Hello Benjamin. In the UK, the word 'guide' or even 'mountain guide' isn't protected, as for example the word 'architect' is. Pete and Dan have spent quite some time agreeing on this. They might also confirm (or not... ) that ANYONE can call themselves a guide in the UK. There are as you know various qualifications in the UK... SPA, MIA, MIC, Guide. However, as I understand it, if you want to work in an outdoor centre, or much more importantly, with children, then you have to have one of these qualifications.

No you don't
jon on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:
> (In reply to jon)
> [...]
>
> No you don't

That's absolutely fine with me. Enlighten me.

petestack - on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:
> as for example the word 'architect' is.

Not always, Jon... don't think whatever professional body looks after their interests could stop me saying 'when I slithered down that slab, decked out and b*gg*r*d my ribs, I was the architect of my own downfall!' ;-)
jon on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to petestack:

Fair enough Pete. Sharp as ever! In a professional context, shall we say...
Dan Goodwin - on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:

Sorry Andy I dont quite get what you mean by 'no you don't' I agree with the statement that you have quoted in your post ! Are you perhaps referring to some outdoor centres who have a sort of internal passing out system for activities to avoid paying for their staff to go through the qualifications! Certainly out with a Centre you must be qualified to work with young people and its an important law which protects them.

Aye
Dan
Jasonic on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563: Great thread.
However MGS should consider the possible confusion between their course, and the international UIAGM guides certificate.
jon on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan:

Hi Dan. It was my understanding that the Lyme Bay disaster ended unqualified people working with children/centres. (I'm very hazy about the details, as I'd already left the UK when it happened.) So can you confirm this is the case?

pneame - on 16 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:
Hmm... didn't know why things seemed so much more regulated today... but yes, a bit of googling does seem to make that the tipping point.
Probably about time - there'd been a series of accidents in the 70s, each of which was quite tragic (the ones that come to mind were on Snowdon and in the Cairngorms) and were a result of dismal decision making (IMHO). As outdoor activities became more mainstream, it was inevitable that things were going to escalate. They actually continue to escalate as "outdoor activities" become more and more diverse (bungee jumping, leaping off cliffs into pools (a sort of poor mans DWS)...) and we continue to see accidents in new and unusual ways.
And, of course, are the trained actually up to scratch/current in their skills? While most will be roughly average, 30% will be pretty poor and about 10% will be dreadful.
Good (and for UKC, mercifully short) discussion here
http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?t=340485
Generally, certification is probably a good thing - protects the public from people like me suddenly getting it into their heads that they can instruct (I've never quite trusted people I've trained. In anything!)
Andy S - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan: yeah bit of a crap reply I know - I just didn't have any time. Well, if I remember correctly, he said that in the uk you need formal quals like spa and ml to work with kids. Which you don't, as I'm sure you know.
Andy S - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to pneame: if working with adult clients there's no law whatsoever that says you have to have any formal qualifications whatsoever. If an accident went to court, however, the less qualified you are (whether it's through experience or qualifications), the less of a leg you have to stand on.

If working with minors without their parents or guardians present, you have to be AALA certified (Adventurous Activities Licensing Authority).
Andy S - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S: slightly contradictory to my previous reply I know. To clarify, you can work as an employee for an outdoor provider, with children, so long as the outdoor provider (your employer) is AALA certified. If inspected, they would have to provide proof that you have gone through proper training and assessment (but you don't have to have a qual, like SPA or ML etc).
Dan Goodwin - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:

Hi Andy

Yes I thought that's what you meant, as I understand it though you do need formal quals to work with young people. Certainly if your operating outdoor activities you are required by law to have an ALLA license which in order to have that I thought you needed qualifications. You can work with young people without an ALLA license if you have the parent with you during the activity.
From what I understood it was the Lyme bay incident which brought about a much better system with license etc. With the primary role being that it protected young people by making sure those who look after them have the correct training and quals. I know the Scouts operate their own way and as a result there have been accidents. I remember having a scout leader on a winter skills weekend at the end of the course he asked to me sign his book which said that once he had attended a winter skills course he could take groups out ! Pretty bizarre and I refused to sign it !
I know that once people are over 18 then people don't have to have quals at all.

Dan
Andy S - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan: nah, if you're employed by an outdoor centre that is AALA licensed you can go through their own assessment and work with kids - and that's fine with AALA (so long as they're happy with the training/assessment that the centre provides).
Dan Goodwin - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:

Yes that makes sense its the ALLA bit that is law as a pose to the formal NGB's.

Dan
Andy S - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan: that's right
Graham T - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan:
> (In reply to Andy S)
I know the Scouts operate their own way and as a result there have been accidents. I remember having a scout leader on a winter skills weekend at the end of the course he asked to me sign his book which said that once he had attended a winter skills course he could take groups out ! Pretty bizarre and I refused to sign it !

I think your first statement there is particularly unfair. The main accidents that resulted in fatalities in the mountains were due to people operating out of remit (the snowdon one in particular). The thing about the scout permit system is that sadly it can be open to abuse but when it comes down to it the checks and balances are exactly what you did, within my county people will not be signed off unless they have been observed over a number of occasions, and in our case assessed by an MIA as a minimum.

jon on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:

And do you think exploiting this 'apparent loophole' is a good thing? Do you think that current qualifications - CWA, SPA, MIA, MIC, Guide and any others I've missed out - should be abandoned or dumbed down. Do you think they are unnecessary?
Dan Goodwin - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Graham T:

Sorry if it sounds unfair I have nothing against Scouts I loved it as a kid and we did loads of pretty adventurous stuff its a great thing for boys!

But there shouldn't be fatal accidents happening and certainly not due to people abusing the system in place.

Dan
Graham T - on 17 Oct 2010
In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan:


No i agree entirely, however the fatalities that occurred in the mountains that I have heard about are due to people either making mistakes or operating out of remit, not the result of abusing the system.
Simply these are not due to the scout system they are personal mistakes which are definately not confined to the scouts (look at the recent HSE report into the canyoning accident for proof of that).
I just objected to the way you phrased that as it was a direct result of the scout permit system that people died. Sadly in the mountains people do, regardless of who and what organisation they work for.
As far as I know the only prosecution that has been undertaken into scout fatalities was the one on snowdon which occurred under the permit system about 2 incarnations back (and provoked a revision of the rules - yes which have since taken a step backwards (which I do not agree with) it is now the case that the area commisioner must agree all appointments in conjuntion with the area activity advisor where there is one and HQ)

Sorry for going off on one but it gets me when people criticise the organisation in that way. Yes there are a few small flaws but none of these should result in predictable fatalities and accidents in the mountains.



Andy S - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to jon: I wouldn't call it a 'loophole' - that throws up all sorts of implications. AALA are happy with the system (they would have changed it otherwise).

'Qualifications' such as ML, SPA and other entry-level tickets are not actually 'qualifications'. They have never been called qualifications by the awarding bodies. They are called 'awards'. They don't actually qualify you for anything. They are an indicator of competence, that is all. I would say that most employers do not take it as given that an SPA or an ML they have only just met is competent and safe to run sessions for them. Most employers still want to see them running a session first, just to make sure they are ok. However, sometimes you can turn up with your ML or SPA and be given free-reign straight away. It depends on the overall situation.

MIA is a bit a different. I would say that if you've got your MIA you're pretty-much guaranteed that anyone will assume you're a safe and competent instructor with no further assessment necessary. I have only heard of one incident where an MIA-holder turned up at a certain outdoor centre to run a standard crag session, but was not allowed to until he had been observed by the centre's safety supervisor! I think that's a bit crazy, but that's just my opinion.

In answer to your question, I don't think they are unecessary, but at the same time they are not considered water-tight, as I explained above and I think that is the correct attitude to take. It IS very possible to get your SPA, for example and basically not be a particularly safe instructor - that's a whole other debate. The awards help the system and they do get you work. They are an indicator of competence and they do carry some weight, quite alot of weight alot of the time. But they are not qualifications.

I see a 'qualification', as something like 'you are qualified to work as a social worker', or you are 'a qualified doctor', or lawyer etc.
jon on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:

Thanks for your well thought out reply Andy. So where do you see the word 'qualification' starting? Is it from MIA, as you infer?
petestack - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:
> They have never been called qualifications by the awarding bodies.

http://www.mltuk.org/awards.php
'How the qualifications inter-relate'

http://www.mltuk.org/cwa.php
'Prior to the launch of the CWA the nationally recognised minimum qualification for working in climbing walls has been the Single Pitch Award (SPA).'

http://www.mltuk.org/spa.php
'It is valid throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland (MLTUK National Guidelines 1995) and is recognised by the Adventure Activity Licensing Authority. Completion of a training course, without taking an assessment course, is not a qualification in itself, although it may be of considerable benefit to the candidate.'

http://www.mltuk.org/ml.php
'Candidates are reminded that attendance on a training course must not in any way be considered a qualification in its own right. This is only achieved by completion of the entire ML scheme including an outright pass on the assessment course.'

http://www.mltuk.org/mlw.php
'The qualification for those who wish to lead walking groups in the hills and mountains of the UK and Ireland under winter conditions.'
Andy S - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to jon: in my own personal opinion (I'd love to hear opinions from some of the MIA's, MIC's etc on here), the MIA and MIC still have one major stumbling block and that is that once you have the award, you are not required to keep it up to date and it's not regulated in this way like physios, for example, are. In other professions, for the person to remain qualified, they have to periodically submit proof of continuing professional development and continued experience. As far as I am aware, there is no such system in place with AMI (the awarding body for MIA, MIC). I know this has been looked at several times, but as far as I am aware nothing has been done about it.

So basically, you can get your MIA and not work in the field at all for 5 years and still hold the award. This means that (in a very pessimistic world-view), an MIA could turn up and work with clients who has forgotten most of what he has learned in the past, is unfit and basically a bit rusty.

The current system relies on the award-holder having a responsible attitude and also employers using their judgement. To be honest, in my opinion it's working just fine at the moment, at least for MIA upwards. For the entry-level awards, such as ML and SPA I personally think the system is not quite tight enough. Having said that, I think this factor is currently mitigated sufficiently by the fact that there's enough people in senior positions (the ones who are responsible for choosing who to let loose on sessions) who are experienced and switched-on enough to use their judgement effectively to prevent putting clients with unsuitable staff.

Accidents do happen but (and it sounds weird to say this) they are few and far between enough for me to believe that the industry is working well and safely enough.

I don't have a good source for this, but I've heard it said many times that the industry officially has an excellent track record for safety when compared to other industries.

As with all industries, it's a continuous work in progress.
Andy S - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to petestack: ok fair enough. A bit 'over-cooked' Pete but a fair point ;-)

We could debate over semantics but mainly the point I was making is that, alot of the time, holding the award is not an automatic ticket to working with clients. In my experience, employers will generally look at your experience, work history, references and often take a look at you on session before being satisfied. Not always though.
petestack - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:
> In other professions, for the person to remain qualified, they have to periodically submit proof of continuing professional development and continued experience.

That's why you're supposed to keep maintaining your logbook to show currency and why the pass certificates state:
'Evidence of current experience can be found by reading the relevant section of the logbook.'

Not perhaps as formal as you'd like to see, but not really that different from the record of CPD I'm required to maintain as a school teacher.
jon on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:
> (In reply to jon) ... the MIA and MIC still have one major stumbling block and that is that once you have the award, you are not required to keep it up to date and it's not regulated in this way like physios, for example, are. In other professions, for the person to remain qualified, they have to periodically submit proof of continuing professional development and continued experience.

Like guides, for instance.
petestack - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:
> (In reply to petestack) ok fair enough. A bit 'over-cooked' Pete but a fair point ;-)

Sorry, just found it quite interesting digging that lot up!

> We could debate over semantics but mainly the point I was making is that, alot of the time, holding the award is not an automatic ticket to working with clients. In my experience, employers will generally look at your experience, work history, references and often take a look at you on session before being satisfied. Not always though.

As employers should for any field of work (qualifications alone not automatically getting you the job). And, BTW, I do agree about MIA and MIC being on a different level.
Andy S - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to petestack: yes, as I was writing that I had similar thoughts. As the outdoor industry is the only industry I've worked in for any meaningful length of time, I'm not very familiar with how other professions operate - I talk about it with other people, but haven't had direct experience myself. So I would be interested to hear peoples' experiences in other industries.

Are there any 'true' qualifications? i.e. you have the piece of paper so you're automatically given free-reign?
Dan Goodwin - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:

Interesting stuff !

'Are there any 'true' qualifications? i.e. you have the piece of paper so you're automatically given free-reign?'

I would suggest that in terms of that statement yes there is in the outdoors. The Guides qualification would do just that once you have it you have a free reign to do you what like in terms of where you work and what you can offer.

I would argue that the MIA, MIC are also 'qualifications' I would personally define a qualification something that you need to work and train for and that somewhere along the line there is an 'examination' carried out by more experienced folk/tradesmen to certify your competence officially!

Dan
Dan Goodwin - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to Andy S:
> (In reply to jon) in my own personal opinion (I'd love to hear opinions from some of the MIA's, MIC's etc on here), the MIA and MIC still have one major stumbling block and that is that once you have the award, you are not required to keep it up to date and it's not regulated in this way like physios, for example, are. In other professions, for the person to remain qualified, they have to periodically submit proof of continuing professional development and continued experience. As far as I am aware, there is no such system in place with AMI (the awarding body for MIA, MIC). I know this has been looked at several times, but as far as I am aware nothing has been done about it.
>

I think there could be some more done but would argue that there is alot of CPD done but perhaps not in an official box ticking way.
Most climbers and mountaineers who hold the award do so because they love climbing and mountaineering and so therefore will go out lots in there spare time with friends. This I would see as a form of CPD relevant to a mountain instructor.
Also those holding the awards will largely be working with clients a lot and so will be continually learning and keeping things fresh.
Quite often you are working with others and so therefore are exposed to different ways and techniques helping to keep things current.
Workshops are set up for you to attend on a variety of subjects.
And also Mountain Instructors talk to each other a lot keeping up to date on industry changes and new techniques and ways of operating.

I think CPD is continually happening to a working and personally active mountain instructor/guide.

Dan
petestack - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan:
> I would suggest that in terms of that statement yes there is in the outdoors. The Guides qualification would do just that once you have it you have a free reign to do you what like in terms of where you work and what you can offer.

For sure a Guide (eg Jon) has free rein to do almost anything. But that still doesn't mean I have to hire him (nothing personal, Jon!) just because he's got his Guide's ticket...

> I would argue that the MIA, MIC are also 'qualifications' I would personally define a qualification something that you need to work and train for and that somewhere along the line there is an 'examination' carried out by more experienced folk/tradesmen to certify your competence officially!

They're all qualifications in that sense, Dan. It's just that you have to work/train longer/harder and take a more testing examination for some than others. So once again acknowledging the more significant status and remit of MIA/MIC!
jon on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to petestack:
> (In reply to Dan Goodwin - Mountain Plan)
> [...]
>
> But that still doesn't mean I have to hire him (nothing personal, Jon!)

You don't need me Pete!
jackcarr on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to mike4563:

Interesting topic. Benjamin has asserted himself very well to the barrage of questions.

My opinion is that if you have £16k spare and want an amazing 2 year holiday climbing this is damn good value and would probably be an absolute hoot. However if you want qualifications that are worth the paper they're written on in the UK or Europe, you could spend the £16k on hiring guides to teach you the skills and get you the experience to get you pretty close to being good enough standard for the MIA/MIC.
petestack - on 18 Oct 2010
In reply to jon:
> (In reply to petestack)
> You don't need me Pete!

Now then, Jon... I'm sure I'd learn lots from you (single-handed clove hitch, remember?) and, if I was looking for a Guide in your area (which could happen if I wanted to attempt something beyond my experience), you're the first person I'd contact!


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