What It Takes: One Guide’s Story of Chasing Prerequisites for the AMGA Ski Exam

Words and photos by guide Matt Scrivner

Base camp at Hellroaring Lake below the Finger of Fate, April 2019

The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) “Mountain Guide Track” is easy enough to follow – it’s posted on their website.  Ten courses/exams in three disciplines (Rock, Alpine, and Ski), each course/exam having its own prerequisites a candidate must meet beforehand. Easy enough right? But what really goes into each individual course or exam for the guides? How much effort does it really take? I’m prepping for my Ski Exam currently and here is my story.

On the plane ride home from Valdez in April of 2018, I’m scratching notes on a pad of paper casually coming up with a plan for meeting the Ski Exam requirements. I just finished my Aspirant Exam and did fairly well, not perfect but I’m pleased. All these prereqs look so easy to get and frankly, fun too! Ten days guiding in ski mountaineering terrain, 5 complex glaciated descents, and 5 descents steeper than 45 degrees. It really sounds like I’ll be able to get all this done during the upcoming SMG Ski Mountaineering Camps. Sweet! Except for the glaciers…

Mountains and ocean in Iceland.

Matt and Sara on the Troll Peninsula in Iceland.

April 2018 in the Sawtooths: Warm at all elevations, no freeze overnight except high north. We’re forecasting large, wet loose and wet slab avalanches, almost certain. Given the conditions, this means almost no time in avalanche terrain. Well, there goes the possibility of ticking off some of the prereqs. I think to myself, “well you still needed the glacier prereqs before applying so let’s get everything done next season!”

2018-19 comes but another significant instability plaguing our region caused many of us to avoid avalanche terrain for most of the early winter. Best laid plans and all… Darn, I guess I’ll have to make up a few descents during a working hiatus during March. Thankfully the Troll Peninsula in Iceland isn’t having any significant instabilities, but there’s also not much snow… Despite this, when my wife Sarah arrives we do our best to get after it. We ski variable snow well above 45 degrees for multiple days straight, with only a few harrowing stories. I’ve finally ticked that off the list! Whew! Good thing too because it’s time to come back home.

Yep, this meets the prereqs. Over 45 degrees in Iceland.

While I was gone it seems we had a great March in Central Idaho. In early April, during what was a rapid turn-around hut trip for me, we ended up getting rain to 10,000’ in the Sawtooths! Darn! Shut down again. Ski-Mo season continued to be variable, to say the least, but the weather cooperated just enough to get most of the guided days I need. Glaciers though…

Last day of the Ski Mountaineering Camp is done, and I head home to meet Sarah and pack. We’re off to Canada to ski in the Rockies. We decide on a mellow hut to hut trip after reading about buried facets and an unfortunate accident in the last week. Good thing we chose mellow. I’m not sure either of us would recognize any of the mountains we skied this week. It wasn’t the worst whiteout conditions we’ve had, but I did have to break out all the navigation and travel tricks in the book. We end up missing many of the descents we were hoping for but did enjoy beautiful glaciers and along the way.

A rare moment of visibility on the Wapta Traverse.

Whiteout on the Wapta.

Hmm… I think these days from Canada work for all my glacier prereqs but I don’t want to have any doubt. I’m not excited to skate through on “technically it qualified”. So we get back to Hailey, move to Stanley for the summer, throw the skis back in the car and head for the Pacific Northwest. On the way, I try to add up how many days I’ve spent away from home this spring for work and chasing down prereqs. It’s a lot. I miss the dogs and I miss my bed. At least Sarah is game to be out here with me though!

And it’s a good thing because when we get to Mt. Baker the forecast has deteriorated and we are getting rain. Oh well, we’re going fast and it’s part of the Northwest splendor. Summit morning comes and thankfully the skies have cleared! As we move out onto the Roman Headwall, my observations of wind transport are confirmed as we encounter a group of climbers who just triggered a slide and were lucky enough not to be carried into a crevasse. Type 1 data, live human triggered avalanches. We turn around.

On the approach to Mount Baker.

We both are bummed but happy to be heading to drier places. I drop Sarah off at the airport so she can return to prep for her upcoming river season and I carry on to Seattle and old friends. Plans are made and adjusted. We don’t want to tangle with the same NE loading pattern so we decide to ascend the Emmons glacier on Rainier. What was supposed to be a wild and scenic descent west on to the Tahoma glacier rapidly becomes apparent as too wild. So we bail. Good thing. Storm’s coming in. We race down the Emmons as fast as we can safely go.

Morning of the last day in the Northwest for me. Motivation is hard to find. We’re wet. We’re cold. All of us are tired. Craig and Matt both have to work in the next days but we find the motivation to ascend and ski the Winthrop glacier. Too much fun! Light graupel from the day before fills in the slope and it’s fantastic skiing. We ride the high of this great morning all the way to the cars, say our goodbyes and part ways.

The sun rises on Mount Baker.

What a winter! Not even thinking about all the other days of work with fun and interesting guests, teaching avy courses, flying around and skiing good snow. It’s been an overwhelming season. One I will never forget. One my feet and knees and thighs won’t ever forget either… And best of all, I got those simple prereqs done and can’t wait to apply for next spring’s AMGA Ski Exam.


Nearing the top of the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier.

It finally comes together on Mount Rainier!