AMGA Certification Decoded

AMGA Scope of Practice & Terrain and Supervision Guidelines Decoded: What to make of your Guide’s training and certification.

I created this document so you can make some sense of everyone’s certifications, see the difference, and overall, be an informed consumer. In the end, it’s up to you, but as you will soon see, not all ‘guides’ are created equal. Just because a guide can, doesn’t mean one should. Most guides working in the US have little formal training and are operating strictly from recreational climber experience. Any guide advertising AMGA Certification or training has had formal training and must honestly specify the level of formal training they have received.

Be forewarned: some so-called AMGA Guides are misrepresenting themselves. Every level of certification has a logo, and that logo is the only one permitted to be used for promotion.


IFMGA/UIAGM: these American guides have met the international standard of true ‘Mountain Guide’ and are represented by the terms “American Mountain Guide, AMGA Guide, IFMGA Guide, Bergfurher”. To gain this standard one must successfully complete the Rock Guide certification, Alpine Guide certification, and Ski Mountaineering Guide certification. This is the highest level of Certification available. Also known as “having a pin”.

Certifications and Training:

Rock Discipline:

Rock Guide Certification qualifies guides to operate in any and all rock climbing terrain, through Grade V, with out snow or glacier approaches. This means full day and multi day climbs. Training and evaluation includes:

  • Rock Guide Course (formerly Rock Instructor Course) 10 days)
  • Advanced Rock Guide Course/Aspirant Exam (10 days)
  • Rock Guide Exam (6 days)

Rock Instructor Certification qualifies guides working in terrain up to Grade III in commitment. That means half day routes. They can work unsupervised on Grade III routes. Training and evaluation includes:

  • Rock Guide Course (10 Days)
  • Rock Instructor Exam (6 Days)

Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) qualifies guides to work on climbs that can effectively be top roped, from the bottom or top, and SPIs may lead to access anchors. They can operate unsupervised in top rope terrain only. This course is entry level. Training and evaluation includes:

  • SPI Course (3 days)
  • SPI Exam (2 days)

Climbing Wall Instructor (CWI) qualifies professional level instructors to work on man made structures and climbing walls of all different shapes and sizes, lead climbing and top roping. Training and evaluation includes:

  • CWI Course and Assessment (2.5 Days)

Alpine Discipline

 Alpine Guide Certification qualifies guides to take guests into complex terrain involving mountain rock, snow and glaciers, and waterfall or alpine ice climbing. Alpine Guides can work unsupervised in all alpine mountain terrain. Training and evaluation includes:

  • Rock Guide Course (10 Days)
  • Alpine Guide Course (10 Days)
  • Ice Instructor Course (5 Days)
  • Advanced Alpine Course/Aspirant Exam (12 Days)
  • Alpine Guide Exam (10 Days)

Ski Discipline

Ski Guide Certification qualifies guides for technical and touring descents in mountain environments, on and off piste. It also covers technical access to gain the ski descents (or split board descents). Ski Guides can work unsupervised in technical and non technical mountain terrain, including glaciated areas. Training and evaluation includes:

  • Rock Guide Course (10 Days)
  • Ski Guide Course (12 days)
  • Advanced Ski Guide Course/Aspirant Exam (10 days)
  • Ski Guide Exam (8 days)

As you can see, this is fairly simple. Guides can be Certified for the work they do. Guides can also be going through the training process, and can guide in specific terrain so long as they have taken the appropriate training are supervised by a certified guide for that discipline. This is a mentorship process.

If your guide is not certified for the terrain you’re in, and  unsupervised for the terrain they’re taking you to, they are not working within their Scope of Practice. They are a recreational climber. There is nothing wrong with recreational climbers, but you have to ask yourself where your money is best spent.

Official AMGA Terrain and Supervision Guidelines are here:

Prepared by Matt Shove

Certified Rock Instructor, Assistant Alpine Guide

September 3, 2017