Ask a Guide

While most of us come to the mountains whenever we can, some lucky souls get to work there. And work it can be: Becoming a certified mountain guide takes dedication, years of training and the ability to manage both crisis and cranky clients. But it’s worth it, not just to spend all that time up high in the wild but also to impart a love of peaks and pristine places to others. Whether you rely on guides or have a habit of going alone, we suggest you hire one of these folks or other fine, certified guides on your next climbing or alpine excursion.

Rob Coppolillo

Co-owner, Vetta Mountain Guides |

Boulder, CO

Honors and accreditations: IFMGA-licensed mountain guide, co-author The Mountain Guide Manual, WFR, AIARE 3, LNT Master, Elevation Outdoors contributing editor

What alpine experience you are most proud of?

I’ve loved climbing challenging routes in the mountains—Alexander’s Chimney on Longs Peak with a guest; the Smear of Fear with Scott Bennett (he led the hard pitches!); the Bells Traverse with guests—that’s super fun!

Where’s your favorite place to guide?

I’d love to return to the Italian Dolomites to guide rock climbing (although skiing would be a close second there, too). For ski guiding, there are some wonderful places in western Canada.

What do you love about guiding?

I love managing a complicated route with capable guests. I have two buddies/clients with whom I climb and we’ve done some longer, cool routes like “Dream of Wild Turkeys” (5.10a) in Red Rock, or even “The Bulge” (5.7 R) in Eldorado Canyon—these guys are strong, reliable, and love tackling tricky climbs to push their limits. That’s a fulfilling day of guiding!

What do you think is essential for people to know about the mountains?

Hands down, know thyself. What are my weaknesses? What are my personal biases, the things that will trick me into a bad decision? Some old guy in pajamas said, “To know others is wisdom; to know oneself is enlightenment.” It’s a good reminder.

Emilie Drinkwater

Owner, Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides | Salt Lake City, UT

Honors and accreditations: AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide, 2011 AMGA President’s Award, 2016 AMGA Guide of the Year

What alpine experience you are most proud of?

Making enough good decisions in the alpine environment to live another day. But if you need a less abstract answer, “The Trilogy,” a solo enchainment of six peaks involving skiing, ice climbing and clawing my way up 20,000 vertical feet in 24 miles in 17 hours in the very underestimated, rugged Adirondack Mountains. This link-up remains unrepeated.

Where’s your favorite place to guide?

Iceland! It’s a fascinating Arctic country in the North Atlantic with amazing terrain for all abilities and motivations. The skiing is really good but so is the ice climbing, not to mention all the great seafood, bread, cheese and skyr (Icelandic yogurt).

What do you love about guiding? 

It’s engaging, ever-changing and I get to meet and climb/ski with the most interesting people from all walks of life.

What’s essential to know about mountains?

They’re not to be trivialized and there is no such thing as “conquering” a mountain. Rather, we should look at climbing and skiing as something we choose to do as a challenge to ourselves. Rather than conquer a climb or peak, it might be more sustainable to view mountain climbing as a process that involves working with what the terrain, weather, and conditions offer at any given time.

Pete Lardy

Pikes Peak Alpine School

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Honors and accreditations: AMGA Certified Alpine and Rock Guide, AIARE Level 3

What alpine experience you are most proud of? 

Completion of the AMGA Alpine Guide Certification. It was the culmination of three-and-a-half years of hard work, training and examination among peers. I grew as a guide during this time.

Where’s your favorite place to guide?

Colorado for excellent rock climbing and Washington for stellar glaciers.

What do you love about guiding?

I love sharing challenges. I love the benefits of being a mountain professional that continually offers ways to review and hone my craft.

What’s essential to know about mountains?

Bigger picture awareness is key to making good decisions in the mountains. By always asking why and searching for answers, you’ll become a better mountain traveler.

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