Mountain Guide School
+1 763 219 1833
93% of Our Graduates have Jobs within 3 Months.
You open up the tent, it’s suspiciously quiet outside, and as you suspected there is an inch of new snow on the tent. It’s still dark, the snow is falling straight for now, but your guess is that won’t last long, it will be horizontal by the time you make breakfast.. Damn, looks like the weather forecast was right, you are stuck here for the next few days.
There is no denying that the mountains are a harsh environment. Breathtakingly beautiful and exiting they are also changeable, demanding, ad full of surprises . In this environment even looking after yourself can be a challenge. As a guide/instructor your job is to not only look after yourself but to care for and support your clients. To do this well you need many skills and solid experience.
You Lead guide knows by your heavy sigh what the situation is. ‘I was really hoping it would hold off just another 12 hours.. oh well’. She sits up all pulls on a hat and jacket.
‘Lets make plans’.
You look at last night’s forecast on the sat phone, check the barometric pressure, pull out the maps, and consult your notes. You are on the last two weeks of a six-week expedition on the Northern Ice Cap in Patagonia and the last expedition of your apprenticeship.
The last two weeks are precious, the students have done a great deal of their learning and really want to get out and apply all that cool new knowledge.
As a guide you are always on, always thinking. Your job is to make things possible for your clients and to manage whatever hazards you might encounter. To do this you must be competent with planning, navigation, weather patterns, travel skills and rope systems to name but a few.
You aim to make the most of whatever resources in terms of weather, time, client abilities, conditions so you can maximize the experience your clients have.
Over coffee and pancakes for breakfast you and your Lead Guide come up with a plan, well several really. First plan is worst case, if the storm deepens and pins you down for a few days, how are you going to make it to the pick up point at the right time? The logistics are a finely balanced dance of horses, boats, cars and working around the frequent road closures for construction. And how are you going to give the students the best chance to strut their stuff on the peaks you will pass on your days to your exit point?
You clients rely on you to make good decisions, to weigh up the possibilities, consequences and rewards of all choices. You need to be creative and agile to balance all the aspects involved in making a successful trip in the mountains.
You do the rounds of the students’ tents, checking in on everyone. They are all in good spirits, if a little disappointed to be not moving today. You brief them all on storm procedures, how the group will care for camp and for themselves if the storm picks up. You discuss digging rotations, safety precautions and the importance of self-care. They all look at little nervous so you lighten the mood, joking about frozen gore-tex and suggesting songs that have the right tempo for digging. You suggest a cooking session of ‘artery clogger’ cookies as a good storm time occupations and organize a ‘Hearts’ tournament for later in the day after a group discussion about plans for the next two weeks.
Your clients will look to you for reassurance in the hard times and encouragement to achieve their goals. It’s a big responsibility and not one to be taken lightly. Your attitude, both to them and to hard situations will color how they react. You need to portray a sense of calm and competence so they will feel they are capable of doing what needs to be done.
Back in the tent you and your Lead guide go over the plan for potential peak climbs. You run through many scenarios of conditions and weather, checking routes, thinking about what gear you need, how to run the pitches, where you should camp, how to get the most done. You have now climbed each peak in your head several times under different situations.
You think back to when you were a student and how you were amazed at the many options your instructors would present you with. You used to think they did it by magic, but now you know, it’s hard work and focus.
Not much comes easily in the mountains, you have to consistently put in the effort and keep trying to find a way. You need to develop persistence and determination.
You technical ability is central to you being able to plan a climb and see all the options and possibilities in your head.
Meeting time with the students, you go over the plans. It takes a while but in the end everyone is psyched, they understand the options and know what it means. They may have to work their butts off, but they understand that you can pull off our goals if the weather gives you a break. The new weather forecast has the storm upon you for only 24 hours, it will be intense but you get a couple of days back in the plan.
Being able to communicate with your client is a key skill. To help them to understand what they need to do, to help them learn the skills they need to achieve their goals.
Four days later and your team is just setting out on the final pitch of Cerro Hyades. The hard work paid off, you traveled in whiteout conditions the day before to set yourselves up for this moment. You watch them move up the face, good technique, nice rope work, they move confidently and you can feel their happiness and excitement. You know they have forgotten all about the challenges of the storm, they are living in the golden moment. You feel the moment too; differently from them, but just as sweet, you know how much work you and your Lead Guide put in to making this moment possible.
Guiding is hard work, but it’s also the best job in the world. Learning to be a guide is also hard work, everyday you have to be on the ball, have to give it all your energy. But every day, you get to be in the mountains, sharing what you love with your clients, and you will go to bed with a smile on your face.
Climb a 10 pitch wall in Spain. Lead a group across the Patagonian Ice Cap. Co-guide an ascent of Mt. Marcus Baker in Alaska. In two short years, you’ll spend 470 days in the field, 220 of which will be working as an apprentice guide with real clients. Graduate with the experience, certifications, and tools necessary to get a job in the mountain guiding industry.
Welcome to the Mountain Training School
Right now, maybe you’re sitting in an office, wasting time before another meeting. Or you’re in the university library, pretending to study for your biology exam. Or maybe you haven’t even started college yet, but you know that sitting in cubicle for the next 20 years doesn’t have much appeal. Looking forward to a life of three week vacations and 1 hour commutes? Or are you looking for something more?
My name is Benjamin Gorelick; I’m one of the founding directors of the Mountain Training School. 12 years ago, I was in my last year at university, finishing a degree in Chemical Engineering. I was working in a lab, watching chemicals drip, drip, drip away. This was my future, and I was bored. So I decided to do something. I dropped out of college and started training to be a mountain guide. My friends thought I was nuts. My parents yelled at me for being irresponsible, and told me that the only way I’d ever earn a living was to finish my degree and get a “real job.”
I am a Mountain Guide. I have been for 10 years. I spent 192 days in a tent last year. I climbed mountains, traversed glaciers, and taught students to do it all themselves. I have a house, a wife, and a dog (two, actually). As it turns out, mountain guiding is a pretty amazing “real job.”
The Mountain Guide Training School is a unique program focused on the training of aspiring mountain guides and outdoor leaders.
Mountain guides must be technically competent and experienced in the mountains, and also need to develop and foster a range of skills associated with client management, instruction, and group leadership. The Mountain Guide Training School provides training on all of these fronts.
Your course begins with a year of skills training modules, including field modules covering backpacking, skiing, outdoor leadership, wilderness first aid, mountaineering, risk management, rock climbing, instructor training, and alpine climbing. These skills are built upon each other, allowing you to gain confidence in more challenging terrain and more challenging situations as the Mountain Guide Training School continues.
But more than just technical training, the Mountain Guide Training School is the first of its kind to provide you with real life opportunities to teach, lead, and work with clients directly, throughout your training: The final year of the course is spent working as an apprentice instructor and guide. No other course (that we know of) allows you to gain actual work experience as part of your training.
Further, you will get to work in some of the most amazing places in the world. Your backpacking, skiing, and mountaineering courses will be run in Alaska or Patagonia, depending on the season, and your rock climbing course will be run on the north coast of Spain. Together, these are some of the most spectacular classrooms on Earth.
You further gain the tools necessary for success in the industry, with a series of seminars on things like teaching techniques, expedition planning, resume writing and other job skills, and formal risk management.
You will graduate with an electronic portfolio showing off who you are and what you’re capable of, ready to begin a life in the mountains.
The course begins with a 21 day backpacking trip, designed to introduce you to the basics of expedition life. It continues with a 21 day backcountry skiing course where you’ll learn the fundamentals of skiing, avalanche hazard evaluation and terrain management, and group management skills. You continue with a Wilderness First Responder course, the guide industry standard in wilderness medicine. Moving on, you’ll participate in a 42 day mountaineering expedition, focusing on glacier travel, snow and ice climbing skills, as well as continuing your ski and avalanche curriculum. After the mountaineering program, you’ll join a 42 day traditional rock climbing course where you look at climbing movement, traditional rock protection, and rescue skills. Finally, your first year concludes with a 60 day technical alpine course, combining the skiing, mountaineering, and rock climbing training that you’ve undertaken over the past 7 months.
Also during the first year of your course, you will participate in a series of short seminars dealing with topics like institutional risk management, education strategies, getting a job in the industry, and expedition planning.
The second year of the course is your opportunity to gain experience in the industry. It begins with a personally planned expedition: You and your course mates will plan and execute a 6 week mountaineering expedition to in Alaska or Patagonia, or you may choose to create your own expedition with friends.
Your apprenticeship continues with a 3+ month internship, allowing significant amounts of ‘face time’ with clients and conscious development of leadership and instruction skills. You’ll put to use the skills and leadership strategies learned over the previous year, and begin your professional development and resume building.
Your training concludes with a 120 day apprenticeship program, where you’ll work as an apprentice mountain guide to lead a series of mountaineering, skiing, backpacking, or rock climbing expeditions with us.
Armed with this well-rounded resume of skills and real life experience, you will be well placed to find employment in this dynamic and rewarding industry.
Mountain Guide School Module Detail
21 Day Backpacking Module
You’ll be picked up at 8:00 AM on the first day of your course and be whisked off to basecamp. You’ll have your first opportunity to meet your instructors and fellow students. The first few days are spent in basecamp reviewing program details, doing gear checks, going over maps, and packing rations for the backpacking section. As soon as we’re ready, we’re off to the field for a 21 day backpacking expedition. Your focus for this module will be to learn and practice foundational skills for the rest of the program. This includes obvious topics like navigation, route planning, cooking and camping skills, river crossing techniques, and the like. You’ll also begin to learn guiding techniques and skills such as communication skills, leadership theories and strategies, risk management processes, and client management techniques. The final week of the module is self led (i.e., you’ll be trekking without instructor supervision), rotating through the role of “leader of the day,” so that you begin to work as a cohesive team.
Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Module
WFR is the guide level industry standard wilderness medicine certification. In this module, you’ll learn and practice long term patient care in a remote setting. This is very different than “city” medicine, because you are looking after patients for extended periods of time (hours to days), and this gives different challenges. The course focuses on an understanding of how the human body works, and how to use that understanding to provide care.
Job Skills Seminar
This three day seminar will provide details about the WEA certification process, and will be a look ahead toward your internship and apprenticeship. You’ll learn how to “log” your guiding experience, write a resume and cover letter, what you should ask when researching companies to work for, and take a look at the industry from a big picture perspective.
21 Day Ski Module
This course will introduce you to mountain travel on skis in a winter environment. Highlighted topics will include: equipment selection, use and care; skiing skills; skinning skills; basic ski tuning; route finding; navigation and route planning; leading a group up hill and downhill; ski rescue sleds; snow shelters, winter camping and more.
This course also includes a Level 1 Avalanche Course, as avalanches are one of our primary concerns for safety in the winter mountain environment.
You will spend your first week at a local ski area (somewhere with lifts), where the group will be divided into novice, intermediate, and advanced skiers, and you will focus on ski techniques appropriate for your skill level. Evenings will be dedicated to working through the avalanche curriculum.
Your second and third week will be spent completing a backcountry ski traverse, while continuing to focus on avalanche skills, group management skills, winter camping skills, snow shelters, navigation, and leadership, risk management, and judgment skills development.
Expedition Planning Seminar
In this 3-4 day seminar, you’ll explore the intricacies of formal expedition planning. Topics will include creation of a formal, written risk management plan, rations plan, emergency action plan, and development of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and medical protocols. You’ll also look at a myriad of resources available to you (weather, route, avalanche, etc.), to help you in your future planning.
42 Day Mountaineering Module
It’s time to hit the mountains. Building on what you learned in previous modules, you’ll attempt a large glaciated ski traverse, climbing peaks along the way. This course will focus on glacier travel skills, introduce climbing skills, anchor and protection skills, continue to improve ski, navigation, and winter camping skills, all while working towards higher level risk management, judgment, and leadership skills.
The course will include a week long “hard ice” section, where you’ll work on crampon and ice axe use, ice climbing skills, anchor building, and group management skills. From there, you’ll move up into the snow covered glaciers, covering topics like roping up for glacier travel, glaciology, crevasse rescue, alpine camping, and extreme weather procedures. As part of the traverse, you’ll have the opportunity to climb several peaks along the way, developing further your snow and ice climbing skills, protection and anchor building skills, as well as your ski ascent/descent skills.
3 Day Education Seminar
Up to this point, you will have taught several “informal” classes as part of your progression. Here, it’s time to look at the nitty-gritty of teaching. We’ll discuss lesson planning, various teaching and learning theories, and assessment strategies, all in an effort to help you develop comprehensive lesson plans and translate them into effective and engaging classes.
42 Day Rock Climbing Module
From out of the winter and mountains, you’ll find yourself 4 pitches up a wall in Northern Spain. The rock climbing module will build on the technical climbing skills learned on the mountaineering program, as well as opening up new skills. You’ll focus on movement skills, mental and physical training, rock protection, geology, and rescue skills. On this course, you’ll work toward two goals: Multi-pitch trad climbing and improvised technical rope rescue.
Unlike the other modules in the Mountain Guide Training School program, this course is mostly “car camping,” meaning that you’ll have access to a base, delicious food, and excellent Spanish culture. More than any other module, this will offer the opportunity for cultural engagement and learning.
21 Day Ski Mountaineering Module
By the end of the rock climbing module, you will have developed into a technically competent climber, ready to go in snow, ice, or rock. Now will be your opportunity to finish your ski progression and round out your skills.
There will be four components to this course. The first component is a Level II Avalanche Course, building on the knowledge gained over the past months. The second will be a weeklong backcountry skiing trip. This trip is to refresh and advance the your backcountry skiing skills and avalanche awareness. The third component will be an
introduction to new ski mountaineering skills such as making anchors out of skis, skiing on rappel, skiing on belay, ski rescue sled raises and lowers, continuing crevasse rescue, and advanced transitions. The final component will be a group of student-led objectives appropriate for the group and conditions. Students at this time should be guiding the group to an apprentice guide standard.
42 Day Alpine Climbing Module
This final “instruction phase” course varies greatly by group, skill level, and condition. It is meant to be an opportunity to consolidate skills, practice guiding techniques in a supervised environment, and finalize any curriculum points not yet covered or in need of reinforcement. Past objectives have included big peaks such as San Lorenzo (the second tallest peak in Patagonia), technical alpine climbs like Cerro Castillo, or long traverses such as a traverse of the Chugach range in Alaska.
By this stage, you will have developed the skills and knowledge base necessary to build and submit your portfolio for review by the WEA for your Outdoor Leader certification.
Plan Your Own Expedition (PYOE)
What you do on the PYOE is entirely up to you and your group. Past groups have attempted Denali/Mt. McKinley in Alaska, bolting multipitch climbs in Chile, or 6000m peak climbing in Peru.
Your goal will be to consolidate skills, gain personal experience, build your resume, and prepare yourself for your internship.
Internships are your first experience working as a guide in the industry. We have a number of partner companies that we often work with. However, we heartily encourage you to apply to any company you want, and will support you in this. Your goal for the internship is two fold. Primarily, you want to gain a foothold in the industry, hopefully with a company that you might want to work with long term. Further, you will begin to develop your professional resume for the WEA and skills development for your apprenticeship.
The final phase of your training will see you working as an apprentice instructor with the Mountain Training School. You will guide three expeditions with us, placed in any of our mountaineering, ski, or rock programs. Placement will depend on availability, your skill level, and our need.
Further, you will continue your instructor training, participating in several short education seminars to help continue to improve your lesson planning and teaching ability. Your final project will be the development of a curriculum plan for a particular skill. This includes writing 6-10 different lessons, making instructional videos, and planning assessment and evaluation standards to carry out the program.
Throughout this phase, you will work closely with a mentor to explore your goals, short and long term, work through skills learning, and to foster your guiding and instructional skills.
By the time you graduate, you will have the work experience and skills knowledge to build and submit a portfolio to the WEA for consideration as a Level II WEA instructor and the mountaineering and rock climbing addendums.
Your adventure will have begun.