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By Griffin Nosenzo
From Stanford, CA
Feb 6, 2011
North Peak between the top of the couloir and the summit.
Hello Everyone,
This summer I plan on taking some kind of mountaineering course as a way of getting started in mountaineering. However I'm having a bit of trouble picking a specific Mountaineering School/course. I live near San Diego, CA, so I am planning on traveling a bit for the course.

So, onto some of the schools I've been looking into:
National Outdoor Leadership School
American Alpine Institute
Alaska Mountaineering School
Yamnuska
International School of Mountaineering
Alpine Ascents International
Mountain Madness
Rainier Mountaineering Inc.
Canada West Mountain School

I'm hesitant to sign up for a course where I have to bring and manage my own food. For starters, bringing one to several weeks worth of food will make traveling more of a hassle. More importantly, I just don't know that much and am not that confident about my capability to put together weeks worth of food suitable for a mountaineering expedition kind of environment. If planning and bringing food isn't as hard/big of a deal as I think, please let me know. However, as it currently stands, the food issue has narrowed down the list to Alaska Mountaineering School, Canada West Mountain School, International School of Mountaineering, Yamnuska, and possibly NOLS.

Out of those schools, I've had some additional thoughts in narrowing it down. Canada West Mountain School still doesn't have any scheduling stuff up for this summer, so I'm currently not leaning in that direction. I'm also leaning a bit away from ISM, as while I love europe and would love to head that way this summer, its 2 or 3 times as expensive to get to Switzerland as it is to get to somewhere in the US or Canada, and I think that I'd rather spend extra money on gear or courses than on travel. Thus it's down to AMS, Yamnuska, and possibly NOLS. I like that in the AMS Courses, you're out living on the glacier, building camp sites, and learn to make snow caves and shelters in addition to other mountaineering skills while Yamnuska courses seem to be based out of huts. The NOLS courses also seem to involve much more camping, although it appears that the skills learned vary a bit depending on the location. However, the NOLS Courses aren't that much more than the AMS 12 day course, and are over twice as long. Yamnuska also has a month long course.

Thus, my biggest question I suppose is this: what are your recommendations for a mountaineering school/course this summer based on y our experiences/what you have heard?



tl;dr: What mountaineering schools/courses do you recommend and how hard is preparing and transporting one to several weeks worth of expedition food?


Thank you,
Griffin Nosenzo

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By divnamite
From New York, NY
Feb 6, 2011
I did the AMS 12 day mountaineering course. ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC! I can't recommend it highly enough. Great instructors, well run program!

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By jack roberts
Feb 6, 2011
All of the schools/organizations you mentioned are good at what they do.

In my opinion So much of what they excel is due to their familiarity with their particular region.
Maybe if you focus more on the skills you want to learn and if these apply to Alaska, Washington, Canada or ??? you can narrow down the outfit you wish to learn from.

Yamnuska does a great job of taking people around Canada and the instructors I have seen who are affiliated with them do a very professional job of teaching and getting to know their clients and learning what they want in the time they are together..........If you want a trip in Canada go with them.

Rainier Mountaineering do good work in Alaska and on their home turf in Washington.

Mountain Madness do a pretty good job in Alaska and in leading international trip but i would pass taking anything else with them.

Any of these outfits are generally better than what you can learn from American Alpine Institute. Having stated that I do know some fine guides who work for them but generally I steer people to some other organization.

Don't know much about Canada West School.

NOLS is less about guiding rock and more about providing people with a true and well-rounded wilderness experience. You'll learn to be self-sufficient and survive as well as learn outdoor skills but might not get to do much climbing or as much as other outfits.

Most guides who work for these organizations are skilled professionals. It's the philosophy that guides these organizations that is what you should consider mostly before you give them your cash.

It isn't that difficult to plan for long periods of time regards food. If you have too much you will eat alot. If you don't have enough you will have to ration yourself. either way you will learn alot and win.

AMS GUIDES are more highly skilled than the INSTRUCTOR'S who work for NOLS. There is a big difference in skill set and experience and that is what you generally pay for. Again, AMS is a great outfit and probably the best one to go to for anything that takes place in Alaska. NOLS is good for many other things to. Just don't go to them exclusively to learn climbing skills.........

PM me if you want more beta or have other questions. Be glad to give you my 2 cents.

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By C Scariot
Feb 6, 2011
many years ago i took a mountaineering intro course w/ yamnuska. i have nothing but praise regarding the experience. course leader was dwayne congdon, who was also fantastic. would not hesitate to recommend this outfit. and really, canada is pretty awesome in general - the people and the place (i am not canadian. best of luck. i imagine you'll be in good hands with any of the above mentioned companies.

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By Will Copeland
Feb 6, 2011
view off the 4th belay
School for International Expedition Training
expeditiontraining.org/


I've never taken a course with them, but I do plan on it. Josh is a friend of mine and he really knows his stuff. The outline of the course seems awesome and you'll lead a team for a peak ascent so you'll get hands on experience, plus it's in patagonia.

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By Graham Johnson
Feb 7, 2011
I've done two NOLS courses - the Waddington Range mountaineering course and a semester in the rockies. Both were fantastic, I only recommend not going to NOLS if you're a) already a climber or b)aren't in the 17-25 age bracket. If you're already a climber you may be frustrated with the "ground-up" approach where they expect you to know pretty much nothing. If you pick your NOLS course right, you will be travelling and camping on glaciers for pretty much the whole thing. On my waddington range course (where I was a complete noob, having only been backpacking before), we spent 25 of 28 days in the field, most of that travelling/climbing/camping on glacier.The other days were travel from NOLS base and a weather day while we waited for our flights in. Because I'd picked a more climbing intense course than some of the other on offer, we did a lot more climbing than some of the other courses. So unlike what a previous poster said, you CAN learn excellent technical skills from NOLS, you've just got to pick your course right. Instructors are top notch, and you will learn a lot. But, the instructors are not AMGA guides or even super-technical climbers. They do have expedition -climbing down pat, and are good teachers. The emphasis from NOLS is learning, and you'll come out a pretty solid climber, at least skills-wise.

I'd agree that any course that expects you to bring your own food should probably be avoided for a novice. NOLS, while using basic heavy food, does a good job with food selection and can really open your eyes to what can be done with a whisperlite. Freshly baked cinnamon rolls in a storm, in the middle of a glacier is pretty sweet.

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By Adam Baxter
From Estes Park, CO
Feb 7, 2011
I have taken some NOLS courses. Agree with Jack. Will get some great, well rounded wilderness experience and some solid base skills to build upon, but dont expect significant advanced skills for the sharp end as this will also tend to depend on the commitment of your fellow students, which generally can be considered questionable. They are a Leadership school first and foremost and will help get you ready for expedition style trips quite well.

Heard good things about American Alpine Institute but never experienced firsthand. Heard some fluff things about Alpine Ascents from folks looking to get training for an attempt on Rainier. This was second hand though and a single personal opinion. RMI certainly boasts an experienced staff, although I have never been with them on an instructional course. I do hear good things though.

Thats about all I know first and second hand. I know millionaires that didnt graduate from high school and po' folk that have Harvard degrees, so I would say that as with any educational institute, the level of education garnered is mostly upon the shoulders of the student rather than the staff. Good luck!

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By Erik W
From Bay Area, CA
Feb 7, 2011
North face of Ama Dablam - taken on approach to Kongma La.
Hey Griffin, when I first got into mountaineering and winter climbing I lived in San Diego as well. I was a dirt poor college student, so couldn't afford far away courses. I ended up going with Alpine Skills International, based in CA, and was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the guides and the skills they passed on. The class I took with them was a 5 day mountaineering course on the Whitney Glacier on Shasta (looking at their website right now it looks like they only post their current season stuff, the class I did was in the summer, so you might have to have them email you the pdf for the summer classes).

Anyway, the class covered everything I needed to get me going. I think what really added to the enjoyment of the class is that the 2 guides split us clients into 2 groups based on our previous climbing ability/knowledge. That makes things a lot more fun because you don't sit around bored while having to watch other folks learn for the first time how to tie a figure-8 follow thru, or learn how to belay, etc. So we pretty much got into the mountaineering bits right away. That was 15yrs ago and looking back I can't think of one thing that they missed in teaching me over those 5 days, from the standard crevasse rescue, glacier movement, and route reading, to every french technique, belay setup, and winter/expedition camping trick they'd come across in their years as international climbers and guides.

I've since recommended a lot of people to ASI's mountaineering courses, mostly rock climbers, and all have been equally as impressed with what they learned. I get that Bela and Mimi Vadasz, the owners, do a damn good job of hiring top notch and personable guides. I highly recommend them.

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By Griffin Nosenzo
From Stanford, CA
Feb 8, 2011
North Peak between the top of the couloir and the summit.
Hello again everyone,
Fisrt off thank you all very much for the responses. All of them have been extremely helpful. I'm still not 100% decided, but right now I'm leaning towards taking the AMS 12 Day Course--I've heard nothing but good things about them, their curriculum looks interesting to me and seems to have at least the vast majority of what I'm trying to learn, and I like the idea of heading up to Alaska for a place to take a course. So once again, thank you all very much for the input, and of course if you have any other comments or insight, feel free to share.
Thank you,
Griffin Nosenzo

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By atlclimbingdoc
From Boise, ID
Feb 9, 2011
I haven't done a mountaineering seminar with AAI, but I have done several rock climbs and some short course work with them in Red Rock. My experience has been great on those trips, and I would recommend them if you decide to do a rock course at some point(and also Red Rock as a venue).

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By ZaneL
From Winnipeg, MB
Feb 10, 2011
I have been in a similar situation, but I believe I decided on Yamnuska, Canmore isn't too far from where I am.
They have a variety of courses, and I'm interested in taking different ones there, they have 5 day courses on rock, ice, mixed, and mountaineering, all of which I want to do ;D

I would love to get into the 3 month program, but thats 11k and I would also need to know how to ski~

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By divnamite
From New York, NY
Feb 10, 2011
ZaneL wrote:
I have been in a similar situation, but I believe I decided on Yamnuska, Canmore isn't too far from where I am. They have a variety of courses, and I'm interested in taking different ones there, they have 5 day courses on rock, ice, mixed, and mountaineering, all of which I want to do ;D I would love to get into the 3 month program, but thats 11k and I would also need to know how to ski~

If you are near canmore, you don't need any more programs after a basic introduction course. Some of the best climbers are around Canmore, just go out and find a mentor (free beers for him/her)!

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By ZaneL
From Winnipeg, MB
Feb 11, 2011
divnamite wrote:
If you are near canmore, you don't need any more programs after a basic introduction course. Some of the best climbers are around Canmore, just go out and find a mentor (free beers for him/her)!


Well, not really near. But close enough for a road trip or quick flight. I am in MB so it's not like I could go there all the time, and we're severely lacking in anything to climb here :) Good hiking though.
I figured if I take a few courses, as I'm interested in not only pure rock climbing, but mountaineering and backpacking related stuff as well, and it would be that much easier to meet people and have someone who would be willing to teach me, having a lot of the basics down.

Hoping to get out there this fall atleast, and plan to move to B.C. late next year. I have some friends out there and want to meet people interested in similar things to learn off of and just experience whatever I can :)

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By Wensley Barker
From Cos Cob, CT
Feb 11, 2011
It sounds as though you've already narrowed the list down but I thought I'd put in a plug for ISM. I've done a couple of their courses and had great experiences. Getting there is definitely pricier but the logistics of climbing in Europe are pretty compelling. There's so much climbing of all levels to be done and the accessibility and infrastructure are unparalleled with an extensive system of ski lifts and huts. The tradeoff is that you're not getting a wilderness expeirence but you can pack a lot of climbing into an abbreviated time period. Even the weather is pretty localized so that if it's not good where you are, you can frequently find something to get on.

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By Todd R
Mar 23, 2011
Death Star Pumpkin - My kids like Star Wars, what can I say...?
I might be biased, but think you would be remiss not to consider Mountain Trip. We have been running courses and trips in the Alaska Range since 1973 and while our focus is expedition climbing, our courses receive rave reviews.

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By superkick
From West Hartford, CT
Oct 11, 2011
Free Solo up hitchcock gully WI3
alpine ascents offers some great 3-13 day intro to mountaineering courses that include a summit climb of rainier. I have never done one, but know people who have, and have nothing but postitive thigns to say about the experience.

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By Taylor-B.
From CO & AK
Oct 11, 2011
Mt. Churchill, University Range
Wild Alpine in Alaska, and they allow to bring your planks. Or AMS.

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By Scott O
From California
Oct 11, 2011
Batman Pinnacle
I did a NOLS mountaineering course when I was 18, and it was probably the worst thing ever to happen to my climbing ambitions. It sucked. We trudged around on a glacier in Alaska for a month. Although I got very proficient with crevasse rescue, we didn't learn any of the skills necessary to protect technical terrain or ascend a peak more challenging than the walk-up routes on mountains like Rainier or Baker. I felt like I wasted a month (and a hell of a lot of money that I'd saved). I was so disenchanted that my interest in climbing disappeared for a good five years.

With the benefit of a decade's worth of hindsight, I'd do Yamnuska or do the American Alpine Institutes Alpine Mountaineering and Leadership courses. They seem to offer the best in technical instruction. I've never taken either, but I have climbed with their graduates.

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By David Hertel
From Sitka
Nov 29, 2011
Climbing a coulior of steep snow on the First Ascent of: The Ship's Prow, near Skagway, Ak
Just curious what people think of IWLS? Their criteria looks good. They offer certificates and some college credits. I know a certificate isn't as good as being liscensed by AMGA, but it seems like a step in the right direction. Alaska Mountaineering School (AMS) also seems like a good place to get glacier experience and leadership skills from. I called and they said they are more focused on glacier travel, rescue, etc. than AMGA so they don't associate themselves with them, but I'm curious what people have to say on the matter.
Also, how does IWLS and AMS comapre to the other schools mentioned. It seems like people agree that NOLS is more geared to people just gettig started without much (if any) experience, but how about other schools? How are mountaineering courses compared? Rock and ice courses? And how do the leadership skills you learn comapre? I have experience, but I can't get ahead as a guide based on my climbing resume alone.
Thanks for your input.

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By Josh Beckner
Jan 25, 2012
jugging on the salathe head wall, el cap.
David Hertel Wrote:
"It seems like people agree that NOLS is more geared to people just gettig started without much (if any) experience, but how about other schools? How are mountaineering courses compared? Rock and ice courses? And how do the leadership skills you learn comapre? I have experience, but I can't get ahead as a guide based on my climbing resume alone."

You might want to check out the School for International Expedition Training: expeditiontraining.org

I work for SIET and as far as I know, it's the only school that focuses on advanced mountaineering, at high altitude in foreign countries and all instructors are AMGA trained/certified with at least 10 years of guiding experience. There are prerequisites for each course and that ensures that each participant shows up to the course with the a similar background and similar aspirations- usually to work in the industry.

If these courses are too long, you might want to check out Kaf Adventures as well: kafadventures.com

There are so many mountaineering schools out there and the number one thing I would look for is the experience of the staff. Have they been on multiple expeditions in the big hills, do the have AMGA training, can they teach? If you are looking for advanced training these are the questions you should be asking when shopping. Good luck!

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By ravisurdhar
From Phoenix, CO
May 7, 2012
Hey, I'm looking for a similar sort of course this summer. My biggest restriction is that the only dates I have available are June 5 - July 5. I'd like to do a ~2 week course sometime in there, preferably in AK but I'm open to suggestions. AMS has their 12 day intro mountaineering course that looks good, but I'm a little concerned it might be too basic for someone comfortable climbing multipitch trad and ice (though I haven't lead ice)? The prereqs for their *advanced* course are "2 years of roped climbing experience, be comfortable in exposed locations, and be familiar with belaying, building anchors, and rappelling," which is why I'm thinking the basic course might be too basic. Unfortunately, the dates for the advanced trip don't work for me.

I just shot an email over to Alaska Mountain Guides and Mountain Madness to see if they have anything available that works for my dates...any other suggestions?

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By Bang
From Charlottesville, VA
Oct 27, 2013
Thanks Hank Caylor!
ravisurdhar wrote:
I just shot an email over to Alaska Mountain Guides and Mountain Madness to see if they have anything available that works for my dates...any other suggestions?


Hey Ravisurdhar,

Were you able to acquire a different date for their advanced mountaineering course?

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By David Hertel
From Sitka
Nov 2, 2013
Climbing a coulior of steep snow on the First Ascent of: The Ship's Prow, near Skagway, Ak
A follow up on all that IWLS/ AMS jazz. I did end up getting a scholarship with IWLS and did a 24 day guiding trip with them. Interesting enough, I now work for IWLS and AMG in Skagway. It's a good company and the work is bad ass! But as I'm sure you all may be aware, the long trips are based more upon seniority. Most first year guides end up working all summer as a climbing instructor and zip-line guides. The long trips are truely amazing though. Great place to to take courses and help your guiding career along as well as learn both soft and hard skills fro extended trips in the mountains.

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