Here is our suggested list of criteria to use when evaluating a guide and guide service.
We support the mission of the American Mountain Guides Association to develop and apply standards to guiding in the USA. This has been a long slow process but is now the accepted standard. The AMGA has two programs.
This process evaluates the business practices of the organization. The AMGA introduced new standards in 2006 which link accreditation with training by requiring lead guides to be certified in the appropriate discipline.
This process evaluates the skills and proficiency of an individual guide. The program involves a series of courses, time for experience and skills consolidation, and examination. AMGA certification is the only internationally accepted training and evaluation process in the US.
The mountain environment can often be an intimidating place, but the company of a professional guide helps to create a safe and enjoyable experience. When you require the services of a doctor or a lawyer, you go to someone who has been trained, examined, and met levels of expertise in their profession. Why not ask the same of a guide upon whose judgment and skill your safety rests? A certified guide has demonstrated before his/her peers high levels of competence and judgment and has fulfilled technical requirements such as emergency medical and rescue training, and snow stability forecasting.
The AMGA training and certification process is a lengthy and expensive process, often being compared to a graduate level degree. As part of our commitment to this process we help support our guides by supplementing their participation in AMGA courses, certification programs and other ongoing trainings.
Unfortunately in the US guiding world anyone can call themselves a “guide”. Most guiding in the US is done on public land and for legal access to that a permit is required. However, most land managers do not require any proof of technical proficiency to grant a permit. Primarily all they care about is whether or not the guide or guide service has insurance. Thus your best assurance of competency is the AMGA certification program.
Do you get along with your guide? You’re spending good money hiring a guide; you are certainly within your rights to find out who will be taking you out before hand. Is this the person you want to be holed up in a tent with for a week?
Permits are required nearly everywhere guiding takes place in the States.
Do they know the routes? Though not essential, prior knowledge of the routes is very helpful and will certainly streamline things should the going get tough due to a storm or illness. Part of what you’re paying for is local expertise.
So how does SMC measure up?
All SMC guides are highly trained professionals and are experts in their field. All of our full lead guides are AMGA certified in at least one discipline. We have a number of guides working with us who have achieved full UIAGM Certification. This is the highest international credential earned by a guide and there are a bare handful of UIAGM guides in the USA.
We’ve been doing this for 25 years and have many repeat clients. Not everyone gets along with everyone else but we pride ourselves with the large number of people who have come back year after year and who we consider friends more than clients.
We have it and have had it for years.
We are by far the area’s most experienced guide service with the highest concentration of local guides and the two owners have lived in the Eastern Sierra nearly twenty-five years. There are other guide services operating in the Sierra Nevada some of whom are from out of state. We believe that there is no way they will ever know the mountains here the way we do nor can they look out their office window and tell you exactly what the weather and route conditions are.
We were the second guide service in California and the only one operating in the area to meet the AMGA’s new, strict, 2006 standards.