The technical director of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) finds highs and lows in 27 years of the pro guiding life.
“Being outside—climbing and skiing—is the only true meditation that I get,” Dale Remsberg hurriedly tells me while packing for the next big trip he will guide. Though his home is in Lafayette, Remsberg’s mind is already in Canmore, Alberta, land of frozen waterfalls, where he’ll spend the next 34 days. The wild area he’s headed to is called the Ghost, and it’s one of several legendary spots he’s been visiting in the Canadian Rockies for the past three decades. Remsberg travels the world all year long to climb and guide, jumping from the Ghost to climbs in Nevada’s Red Rock Conservation Area and Rocky Mountain National Park to alpine ascents in Chamonix, France.
The technical director of the American Mountain Guides Association and IFMGA guide himself, Remsberg juggles a dozen repeat clients and several guide trainings throughout the year. Those clients are top-tier customers, who request custom trips up the longest, hardest routes Remsberg can find—classic rock-and-ice climbs like The Sorcerer (700 feet) and Hydrophobia (500 feet) in the Ghost.
Now in his late 40s and working non-stop for a decade, Remsberg’s just getting started. He sees himself going at this pace for at least another 10 years.
How do you make it all work?
I don’t really get burned out. It’s a really good living, and since I’m guiding I get to do really good routes—and lead all the pitches. I took my guiding to a pro level—premium routes and experiences, and I work with individuals on long-term goals.
What are your duties as technical director of the AMGA?
I guided 120 days last year, but I also have a staff of 53. I manage all the instructors and the curriculum at AMGA; it’s technical and political in nature because I’m working on an international level. It gives me time to have a desk job and benefits and keep my body rested while I focus on my return clients. Aside from the office responsibilities, I also train young guides. I’m trying to show that guides are high-end athletes and that they’re taking out clients who are also comfortable on some difficult routes.
Tell me about guiding internationally.
I think the U.S. is producing some of the best guides in the world, but I think Canada has an edge on ski guides. As far as pure athletic ability, European guides are strong but they can be almost competitive. I focus on bringing it all together in a holistic way, as well as respecting the environment, and protecting the resource that we’re using.
What’s the hardest part about your job?
As the technical director, it’s managing 50 some guides with strong personalities. Guiding-wise, it’s dealing with the unknown, weather, etc. And dealing with clients and their personalities who spent a lot of money to go on big trips.
What have been some recent highlights for you out in the peaks?
I finally got a long-term client who is 73 up the Matterhorn. It was our third attempt. Bob’s a Vietnam vet. When we summited I started to cry. It was very powerful.
Where are your favorite places to climb?
The Ghost in Alberta. That is like going to church for me. It’s quiet. There are grizzly bears and wolves. I also love sport climbing in Greece. I’m heading back this year for my fifth time. The reason I love living in the Front Range is that we have places like Eldo where it has history and you have to get above your gear and do hard moves. I also love Index in Washington and Smith Rock in Oregon.
I grew up in Winthrop, Washington, close to Washington Pass, and the area has some of the best roadside alpine cragging in North America.
Tell me about some of your big trips. I understand you’ve been to Alaska, Peru, Switzerland. You’ve even climbed the Eiger.
I’ve guided the Mittellegi Ridge over the North Face of the Eiger. It’s the whole profile of the mountain. Near the summit, we had freezing rain and snow, we almost had a hypothermic day.
What challenges you?
There is an interesting dark side to my guiding. The pain and the struggle of guiding. To go up these long routes, you have to deal with bang-ups. It’s not an easy job to guide at that level. It’s real. I have to make critical decisions.
Everyone thinks that guiding is glamorous. But they don’t realize that you have to get up every morning at 4 a.m. and climb through cold, wet conditions. The long-term guides, the ones that stay in the game, are the ones that can persevere through that constant discomfort.