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The Importance of Rock Guide Accreditation

With increasing public excitement and media exposure in the evolving world of rock climbing, the appeal and interest in becoming an industry professional has escalated correspondingly. Two such paths towards “professional” exist: become a “badass rock star”; become a guide in the service industry. Although not “easy”, the easier and more feasible option in this scenario is the guide option.

As a result, guiding course and exam attendance and the resulting number of certified industry professionals has never been higher. There is much public participation in the guiding industry. However there appears to be few educational resources available to assist aspirant guides in making important (and expensive) career decisions about certification. Does the organization offering courses and exams matter? Is Old School Rogue guiding a viable option? Do I even need a certification? These are all important questions that deserve educated answers.

We will first address the “Old School Rogue” guiding scenario. Firstly, and most importantly, we live in an age of insurance and law suits. When you accept money from someone for services rendered, you are entering the world of liability. What does this liability look like? For example, you take out a surgeon who uses their hands to work, and the surgeon irreparably injures their hands and subsequently loses their career while under your supervision. You can be certain a lawsuit will follow. A very expensive lawsuit. Without insurance, you will be personally liable. If this is a risk you are ok with, you are a very brave person. In the worst case scenario, someone you are guiding dies from a rock fall. The remaining family sues you, presses charges against you and you end up in jail. It’s a real possibility.

While this scenario may seem unlikely, it should motivate the individual considering a rogue guide life path. At least take some guide courses and learn the industry standards of care and rescue for clients. Taking your buddy to the crag is much different than assuming responsibility for someone. Teaching someone how to put on a harness, tie a figure 8 follow through and belay for the first time is not easy. Neither is going on lead with them belaying you right after, and hoping your lessons stick.

So you are interested in taking a guide course to learn industry standards, or earning a credential/certification. What organization should you go with? Are they all the same? This question falls into the realm of questions anyone should ask who is pursuing a professional degree or credential. If you were pursuing a medical degree, what college would you choose? How do you know if the school program meets industry standards? How do you know if your degree will make you employable after graduation? What is the difference between online degrees and community college or university degrees?

The answer comes down to accreditation. What is accreditation? Why should I care about it? Accreditation is a third party review of a provider’s curriculum that ensures it meets the industry standard. An accredited university offers a degree program that has been reviewed by a third and uninterested party, typically a certifying body.

For example, if you were about to receive life or death medical care, wouldn’t you want to receive the care from someone who passed their medical boards (third party certification) and graduated from an accredited university (program meets national standards)? Accreditation is really the only way to know if your medical care professional meets industry standards for care and has a degree that means something. Doctors typically post their degree on their office wall as a means of assuring their patients that they do hold a valid credential and are able to provide patient care that meets the industry standard.

Why is third party review important? Third party review ensures that organizations interested in becoming educators have opened their curriculum up to an uninterested and unbiased review committee. The committee can give them an endorsement or fail them. This uninterested third party doing the review should be a nationally or internationally recognized organization. They should understand national and international standards. Organizations that review themselves are not accredited and can not claim accreditation. It would be kind of like grading your own test at school after you wrote your own answer key. You always have to pass your test to your buddy and they grade it off of the teacher’s answer key. Your buddy is the uninterested third party in this scenario, the school is the auditing organization, and the answer key is the international or national standard you are being graded against.

Guiding the public in a rock climbing environment is no different than any other industry. The paying general public DESERVES a rock climbing experience from a certified professional who attended an accredited school to obtain their credential. Certification of their guide is a guarantee of quality of service and ability to perform the requested activity at the third party reviewed industry standard.

So, who is the uninterested third party in the United States who audits organizations and approves or denies accreditation? You may have heard of the UIAA, but in other contexts. If you look at any of your climbing equipment, the majority of it will have a UIAA stamp on it somewhere, and then a rating. A UIAA rating for your equipment means that the equipment was subject to testing procedures that meet international standards. Without this stamp, you can’t really be sure that the equipment was tested properly. The UIAA is also the accrediting body for guiding courses and exams. Right now, the only organization that meets UIAA standards in the United States for guiding certification is the American Mountain Guides Association. It is no coincidence that the American Mountain Guides Association is also the sole representative in the United States to the IFMGA. (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association)

In summary, if you have interest in becoming an industry professional in the rock climbing guiding world, seek a school who is a provider of AMGA courses and exams. When you take an AMGA course or participate in an AMGA exam, you are taking an accredited course. This course can lead to a certification that meets international industry standards. If you find a cheaper option, make sure you ask them if they are accredited, and who they are accredited by.

Cheers, and good luck out there!

Nelson Day, AMGA Certified Rock Guide

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September 3, 2018. Posted by: nelsonday