You may have heard that the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) and the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) held their first joint meeting and did so in Boulder, Colorado in November. The AMGA is a member of the IFMGA, which is also known as the UIAGM in French and IVBV in German, but the concept and demands of the IFMGA certification is a high standard and is also alluring to North American alpinists.
IFMGA was established in 1965 by guides from Italy, France, Switzerland and Austria. At the time that was the “international” community of mountain guides; they worked to provide each other open access to the Alps over their own borders. Today, European states are considerably more open to each other, and “international” may seem like a stretch. Today, IFMGA guides are truly international, including a rare, exceptional few dozen in North America, including Canadian alpinist Barry Blanchard.
IFMGA guides must demonstrate proficiency in three key disciplines of mountain travel: Rock, Alpine and Ski. The European inclusion of skiing for standards and expectations of their best mountain guides has always interested me, as a climber that grew up in the Northeast United States. The culture in my part of the country allowed me to separate climbing skills from skiing (so I only learned to ski recently). However, in Europe skiing and climbing, when it came to the guiding culture, high-level skiing skills were expected of the best hired hands in the business.
From all reports, the joint meeting was like any other business convention, which entails board meetings, committee proposals and discussions and some exhibits. According to the American Alpine Institute Climbing Blog, the most contentious issue was that while AMGA guides have broad access in the Alps, the European guides do not receive the same open access in the United States. This is interesting because, as I said, several Americans have sought out the IFMGA certification.
The certification if being a IFMGA Mountain Guide is badge of honor, and perhaps because of its European roots, has a mystique among North Americans. The handful of American guides that have it often use it in their advertising for business (and rightfully so). It is admittedly more difficult than AMGA standards. IFMGA guide applicants must have several years of climbing experience, be sponsored by a IFMGA guide, and pass a rigorous multi-day exam in the backcountry while under the scrutiny of the certifiers. The certification gives the guide membership in the IFMGA and makes them an IFMGA licensed guide able to climb throughout Europe.
Regardless of the differences, the IFMGA designation may be more valuable to guides in North America and elsewhere than even in Europe. The Europeans set the bar high and all else respected that and have met the standard only in rare occasions.
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