Show Me the Way

Will a non-holds-barred fete for the IFMGA change American reluctance to hire guides?

Americans are fanatical about their outdoor independence. But in November, Boulder will host the International Federation of Mountain Guides Meeting, when hundreds of certifiable vertical professionals will descend upon a town where most people see themselves as vertical professionals, or at least experts. It’s either going to be the ultimate showdown or the emergence of a newfound respect for the profession.

For decades, Americans could simply hang a shingle on their shacks and say they were guides. That approach is still technically legal but training and certification have found their way into much of our official outdoor policy—but the idea of a mountain guide culture such as you find in Europe still has a ways to go in the American mindset.

The US became a member of the IFMGA in 1997, and this is the first time it will ever host the international meeting. Consequently, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), the US’s sole representative to the 26-member IFMGA, is pulling out all the stops: there will be a parade, a commemorative beer label, three nights of parties, climbing and even a special belt buckle.

Sound the Alphorn! A bevy of guides in traditional costume is poised to descend upon Boulder in a gathering that will include handcrafted beer.

Unsure of guides? Considet this: using a qualified guide translates into honoring the activity. Whether you’re learning something for the first time, refining your skills or getting to know a new area, choosing a professional to help you through that process accelerates the learning curve and your personal enjoyment—and provides additional safety. But don’t take it from me … take it from my friend Marc.

Last year, Marc and his family were in Italy for the first time and wanted to do some climbing. Marc hired an IFMGA guide. While getting onto the tram heading into the peaks, Marc pulled out his own IFMGA card for a discounted ride. His Italian guide looked at him quizzically. “You’re a guide?” he asked.

Marc’s perspective was that he got to sit back and let his colleague show him and his family a mountain range that was entirely unfamiliar. It was the best day of his vacation.

So in November, when you see a mountain guide in town for the meeting, perhaps marching in the parade planned along Pearl Street, maybe you will stop and wonder: If a guide can hire a guide, maybe I can too.

For more event information, visit

Majka Burhardt is an AMGA Certified Rock Guide and member of the AMGA Board. She knows she’s biased. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

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