Durability is the Key to Success (in mountain guiding & in life)

By Kyle Lefkoff

Kyle Lefkoff blog post

(Right) Uli Inderbinen, a famous Zermatti guide who climbed the Matterhorn more than 300 times.

“Contestants must be present to collect their prize money” – Peter A. Roshko, Venture Capitalist

Peter and I took a ski tour in Zermatt in 2011 with our Swiss partners, Dominik Meyer and Uli Geilinger. Zermatt is the birthplace of mountain guiding, and we were privileged to have as our guide Hermann Biner, the President of the IFMGA. In our hotel room in Zermatt the night we arrived, Peter and I noticed a framed summit photo. I took a picture of it, since it seemed important.

When I showed it to Hermann on the first day of our tour from Zermatt into Italy, he recognized the older guy as Uli Inderbinen, a famous Zermatti guide that climbed the Matterhorn more than 300 times. Hermann said the photo was a Matterhorn summit shot of Uli at age 90, the oldest guy ever to climb it.

Kyle Lefkoff photos 3

Leo Caminada holding the beer with his picture on it that the AMGA made for the IFMGA meeting in Boulder.

When we returned from our tour, Peter and I had dinner in Zug with Leo Caminada, another revered Swiss Guide, who recognized Inderbinen as well as the other guide in the photo, and remembered that he took this photo the day of the 125th Anniversary of the Matterhorn’s first ascent, a day that Leo guided the President of Switzerland to the summit as well. Peter loved that story.

Bergfurher Inderbinen possessed one of the most important qualities in a successful mountain guide: durability. We guide our clients on good days and bad, sometimes to the top, sometimes not. We learn every time we succeed and every time we fail, but most importantly, we always return to climb again.

In mountain guiding (and in venture capital), durability is the key to success. It takes a long time to understand how to guide your range properly, to develop a deep repertoire of routes that you can offer your clients, and to understand their strengths and weaknesses. It’s only in retrospect that we can bring perspective to these experiences, and to do that you have to survive long enough to develop those skills.

Great guides know when to charge with their clients when the conditions are right, and when to back off when they’re not. They guide their clients in good seasons and bad, and because of their reputation for consistently reducing risk and maximizing the outcome, they attract the best clients. After many years of guiding many clients on their terrain, Guides develop a combination of intuition, experience, pattern recognition and a deep client roster that proves unbeatable in the mountains.

Uli Inderbinen at 100:  the President of Switzerland unveils the statue of Inderbinen in the Zermatt town square on the occasion of Uli's 100th birthday.

Uli Inderbinen at 100: the President of Switzerland unveils the statue of Inderbinen in the Zermatt town square on the occasion of Uli’s 100th birthday.

They achieve durability.

One of the most experienced and durable mountain guides in the world is my friend and climbing partner, Erich Unterberger. Erich ran the Adamants Heliski Lodge for CMH for many years, and is now the Head Guide for all of CMH’s heliski operations in Canada. Unterberger is also renowned among his fellow guides because, when he goes to the Spring IFMGA meeting each year, he enters the Guides Ski Race and wins it.

CMH made a short video of Erich guiding in the Adamants in summer, in which he honors Inderbinen as his hero, and I understand why. You can view it by clicking here, or by scrolling to the bottom of this blog post.

Kyle Lefkoff mug shotKyle Lefkoff is a venture capitalist and Lifetime Member of the AMGA, who served on its Board from 2001 to 2010.  Along with Dick Jackson, he proposed, organized and hosted the 2010 IFGMA Annual Meeting in Boulder, the first time it’s been held in America.  Kyle possesses an astonishing collection of guide pins, and along with his wife, Cindy, can be found most weekends climbing, skiing, and feeding mountain guides around the world.


Roskho and Lefkoff ski touring about Saas Fe