Outdoor experiences? Only with a certified mountain guide

Outdoor experiences? Only with a certified mountain guide

Whether at the seaside, in the mountains, on a farm or in the cities of art, today tourism is increasingly “experiential”. 

The static holidays in the classic catalogue destinations are accompanied by dynamic activities, such as discovering new flavours in the kitchen or in a vineyard, looking for unusual landscapes underwater or at 2000 meters, testing themselves in new sporting challenges far from everyday life.

The mountain, for example, is so unique and stimulating that it can always offer new outdoor experiences, 12 months a year. Rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, trekking and much more: it is up to the tourist or sportsman to decline these activities according to their tastes and according to their preparation. However, we must always remember that the risk is just around the corner. This is why it is important to live the mountain safely, relying on professionals like mountain guides, able to offer unforgettable experiences without problems.

Two mountaineers during a ski tour

 Why rely on a mountain guide?

Experience, competence and safety: these are all factors that make guide an irreplaceable companion when climbing the summit. Let’s dispel some clichés immediately. The mountain guide is not just an expert used to learn about the flora and fauna of the mountain or to accompany groups of pensioners and children. A guide is essential, both for those who want to take their first steps in the mountaineering environment and for the more experienced amateurs who wish to reach the summit through other more challenging and less obvious itineraries. Athletes are often the first to be accompanied by local mountain guides in the most extreme challenges, or in areas they do not know.

For this reason, sometimes, people are erroneously led to think that guides are to be consulted only for extreme and dangerous activities. Quite the contrary: the knowledge of the territory and nature is the other great competence of the guides, who are in fact trainers, travelling companions and mediators between the “slow” tourist and the secrets of the mountain. The availability of these professionals makes it a figure able to customize any type of outdoor experience.

But the commonplace is about the risks: it is common opinion, in fact, that only the alternative or difficult itineraries are those ones requiring a certified guide. We think, instead, that the experiences in the most widely-known and tourist places – just because of the high concentration of visits – cause even more accidents. Never let your guard down then! In addition to good equipment and a lot of attention, let’s bring with us a professional who can foresee all the dangers of the mountain.

What does it mean to be a certified mountain guide?

UIAGM official logo

Once it was called “carrier”, because he used to carry on his shoulders the baggage or equipment of the tourist, when the fashion of going to the mountains spread. It was during the nineteenth century that for the first time the masters of the mountain (hunters, woodsmen, shepherds) began to define their role as companions with awareness. The first association of official mountain guides was born in 1821 in Chamonix. Since then, through a series of regional consortia and colleges, the profession of mountain guide has become a full-fledged professional figure, certified by enrollment in a register and recognized in several European countries.

However, if you think that anyone can improvise as a mountain guide you will have to change your mind: certification, fundamental for this profession, involves a long and tiring path. It is also necessary money and plenty of motivation.

The first of the many steps is a 3-day preparatory course, during which the abilities – but above all the willpower – are evaluated through practical tests on rock, ski, ice and mixed. Those who pass the selection thus access the actual 95-day training course, over 21 months. At the end of this course, it is necessary to pass the exams to obtain the qualification of “Aspiring Mountain Guide“. With this patent, which allows the registration to the register, you can already work independently, with the exclusion of foreign countries and with some limitations based on the reference college. The aspiring guide, for example, cannot carry out the ascents that the Regional College of mountain guides believes of greater commitment.

At this point the so-called “aspiring” begins, which lasts at least two years: at the end, a new cycle of examinations allows access to the training course for the transition to the title of “Alpine Guide – Master of mountaineering“, last degree of the profession. The course, in this case, lasts 15 days, distributed over 6 months.

It is worth pointing out that there is also another certified profession, that makes possible to live different experiences, less demanding but as exciting. This is the mid-mountain guide (AMM) who, unlike the mountain guide, is qualified to lead individuals or groups on hiking terrain without altitudinal limits, but with limited difficulty. The AMM is present in all lands where it is not necessary to use mountaineering techniques and equipment such as ropes, harnesses, crampons, ice axes or self-insurance tools (returns, connectors etc.). In addition, he is an environmental educator, an expert not just in botany, geology or zoology, but also in architecture, history and/or geography, and so on.

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What does a mountain guide do?

Mountain and trail excursions, rock or ice ascents, classic mountaineering, ski-mountaineering, freeriding, canyoning and much more: for all these activities, a certified mountain guide can accompany us, take us to panoramic or unknown spots, help us improve the technique and, above all, pass on the love for outdoorsand nature. But his role does not end with this.

There is the organizational aspect: both for groups and for individuals or couples, he/she plans the tour or experience in the best way and knows how to recommend the right itinerary, based on physical condition, interests, age of the participants and, of course, personal needs. And again, there is the aspect related to sports preparation: the certified mountain guide helps ambitious customers to improve technically and physically. For this reason, it is not rare that he/she becomes a point of reference for many years and all over the world: it can happen that a relationship of trust is created beyond a single experience in a specific place.

But first of all, and it is good to repeat it, a mountain guide helps you to avoid the many dangers that could arise.

Rock climbing with a mountain guide

Mountain hazards without mountain guide

So let’s see these dangers, and let’s start with the number one enemy for the people leaving to reach the summit: snow. Uneven, unpredictable, difficult to manage even for the most experienced: it is not enough to check the weather before putting on your boots. Moreover, even if there are no snowfalls coming, it is necessary to be extremely cautious in assessing the layers, almost never homogeneous, as well as the possible detachment of ridges of ice or snow, with all that may ensue.

Settling, consolidation and overloading of the snow layers are three words that do not say much to a tourist, but for a mountain guide, they are the keys to guaranteeing an experience in complete safety. The avalanche danger is measured on a probability scale that occurs, from 1 (weak) to 5 (very strong). In other words, the degree of danger is an estimate, not a measure, and for this reason, only an expert can make accurate assessments.

Those who think that it is enough to know this scale to evaluate whether to leave or not should consider that over 80% of accidents due to an avalanche occur with danger 2 and 3. Likewise, most risks are already present with small and medium-sized avalanches: there is no need for the catastrophic event, therefore, to get hurt seriously. And in any case, finally, even grade 1 does not guarantee total security, that is why we must never let our guard down.

If there is snow, the pitfalls of the mountain do not end there: the sudden climatic changes, even when they do not bring flakes, can equally create problems, starting from the gusts of wind with the consequent windchill effect, or the lowering of temperature that we may risk to perceive more than it is, as well as  combined with heat dispersion. And yet all the dangers of ice, unsure rock faces and, not least, loss of orientation. That’s a danger that is very present to all of the visitors, and yet one of the main causes of problems in excursions, where there is no guide to tracing the path.

Get ready to live your mountain experience with a certified mountain guide on Yakki!

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