The story of American guides and the IFMGA goes back, many years. The beginnings of the relationship can perhaps be traced back to the year the UIAGM was founded, 1965. It was in this same year that American John Harlin founded the International School of Mountaineering in Leysin, Switzerland. Soon other guides joined the ISM, familiar names such as Royal Robins, Gary Hemming, Layton Kor, and Brits Dougal Haston and Don Whillans. Even though the ISM did not officially require instructors to be UIAGM certified guides until about 1980 (largely through the urging of then-President Pete Boardman), certainly both organizations had long been keenly aware of each others’ developments.
Since those early days, several American groups tried their hand at guide certification, some with the distant goal of UIAGM membership. These included the American Alpine Club, and a predecessor to the AMGA, a loose association founded by 11 signers of the “Moose Bar Charter” at the foot of the Tetons. One request, long ago, for information from the UIAGM by Doug Robinson was met gruffly with a letter commenting on “monkeys without ropes”.
But the AMGA has come a long way since then. At a pivotal meeting of guides at the Tetons Climbers Ranch in October of 1986 resulting in the founding of the current AMGA, many guides found their resolve to join the UIAGM strengthened. Support for this goal was not universal, however; many guides questioned the value of certification, much less UIAGM membership. Overcoming these difficulties, the Training and Certification Committee quickly began work on developing courses and ironing out the sticky issue of examination. The Alpine and Rock disciplines developed first, and by the early 1990’s the structure and standards were beginning to take shape. The ski discipine continued to develop under the guidance of Doug Robinson, Alan Bard, Kirk Bachman, but primarily of Bela Vadasz and Jean Pavillard.
Then AMGA Executive Director Steve Young and UIAGM President Leo Caminada began discussions in the fall of 1993, following which the AMGA made its official membership application to the UIAGM. Steve Young, Dunham Gooding and Mark Houston traveled to Vent, Austria to present the AMGA’s application at that year’s annual Meeting of the Delegates of the UIAGM.
The real work began at this point. Certification standards and examination methods had to be further refined, and course curricula readied for international observation. All under the watchful eye of the now long-established UIAGM. The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides became the AMGA’s sponsor country, responsible for overseeing the development and auditing of its programs.
For its part the AMGA sent observers to Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland to observe courses in action. Jean Pavillard, Bela Vadasz, Marc Chauvin, Kirk Bachman and Mark Houston played important roles here. These guides brought back to the AMGA new ideas for curricula, exam methods and program structure.
Some of the AMGA’s Alpine and Rock courses were ready for review by UIAGM auditors in 1994, and in the fall of that year, Canadian Karl Klassen observed the Advanced Alpine Guide Course. Two years later Bruce Howatt officially reported on his observations of the Alpine Certification Exam–fortunately for the AMGA, rather favorably. The Rock discipline developed apace. After an initial hiccup with a “too many cooks” ski seminar in the Sierra in the spring of 1993, the ski folks soon worked out issues stemming from the wide range of perspectives born in each of the various snowpack and mountain environments of the western US.
Other memorable events included one rock instructor running over Karl Klassen’s helmet in the Red Rocks parking area; UIAGM observer and President of the UIAGM’s Technical Commision Ernst Konzet remarking after a particularly nasty day on Mount Dana “Zer is no such ting as bad vedder, only bad eqvipment!” Ernst’s slide show and report on this experience to the delegates of the UIAGM at the next Annual General Meeting emphasized the uniquely American elements of the guiding experience; the Las Vegas Strip, and Bishop’s celebrated Mule Days parade; somewhat less focus was on the more mundane aspects of ski mountaineering.
In the fall of 1997, beneath the shining glaciers of Austria’s Grossglockner, the AMGA was admitted as a member of the UIAGM. Sporting bolo ties provided by Bill Putnam, representatives, Matt Brooks, John Cleary (then President of the AMGA), Kathy Cosley, Randall Grandstaff, Mark Houston, Jean Pavillard, Ramsay Thomas and Bela Vadasz celebrated well into the night, along with our Swedish counterparts, also new members of the Federation.
Many guides were instrumental in the early development of the AMGA’s programs. Central to the ski program were, of course Bela and Jean, but Kirk Bachman, Doug Robinson, Alan Bard and John Moynier also played important roles. In the Rock discipline, Charlie Fowler, Marc Chauvin, Alan Jolley, Alain Comeau, SP Parker, KC Baum and Tom Hargis were a few of the central figures; in the Alpine, Dave Staeheli, Charlie Fowler, SP Parker, Mike Powers and Mark Houston.
Ten years after admission to the UIAGM, the development of the AMGA’s guide training programs continues. Twice a year the Technical Commission of the IFMGA (Canada spearheaded the push for this English translation of the French acronym in the late 90’s) meets to discuss new ideas, present technical studies, and tackle practical issues in mountain guiding. AMGA representatives to these gatherings bring back valuable information.
Also, much work remains on the access front. After ten years in the IFMGA, the AMGA is still not in a position to offer reciprocal access to foreign Mountain Guides, one of the central requirements of membership.
The story of the AMGA and the IFMGA is far from over. The AMGA is a young member of an old Federation, and as the AMGA grows, the roles of the IFMGA in American guiding, and that of the AMGA in international guiding, remain to be discovered.