For some people, the thought of traveling somewhere like the Dolomites and taking an unforgettable climb up the mountains is an exhilarating dream. But most of these people are not highly skilled or experienced at taking on such a feat. It can be challenging and extremely dangerous. That is why there are professionals who do it for a living. Mountain guides are experts at all things mountainous and as such, are able to help every day people do extraordinary things. But what exactly is a mountain guide, and what do they do?
A mountain guide is a professional climber that has achieved certification by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), which is the highest qualification in the world for mountaineers. Mountain guides participate in leading people in a variety of different activities such as hiking, climbing and skiing. Obtaining certification as a guide is not easy. It requires rigorous training for a period of up to five years followed by an apprenticeship with an experienced guide for another two years. Once certified, mountain guides must also participate in regular professional development training in order to stay abreast of any new techniques or changes to the standards to which they adhere.
Mountain guides have a rich history in the Dolomites, with records dating back as far as the 15th century showing that local mountaineers were hired by the Venetian Republic to accompany mapmakers through the region as they traced the territories. In 1865, Austria officially created the discipline of Alpine guide, based on the experience of the first explorers to the Dolomites being assisted by the local mountain goat herders. These original inhabitants knew how to traverse the steep and dangerous mountain routes and are considered the forefathers of the modern mountain guide.
The area of Cortina is one of the most renowned for its mountain guides, which were famous for having tackled some of the most challenging and difficult ascents of the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays there are a few dozen certified professional mountain guides in Cortina. The Gruppo Guide Alpine of Cortina is currently the largest mountain guide company in all of Italy.
Professional mountain guides have tremendous responsibility to the people they lead, to educate and ensure their safety while in the mountains. Among the many disciplines that an experienced guide must master are:
- Rock climbing
- Via ferrata
- Ice climbing
- Ski mountaineering
- Off-piste skiing
Professional mountain guides are true mountain experts who share an unparalleled passion for the environment and the rocky terrain on which they make their living. They open the doors to worlds that would otherwise be left unexplored by most people, providing a unique opportunity to experience the amazing and glorious natural beauty that the mountains have to offer.
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