Becoming A Mountain Guide | Susi Süßmeier | Part 3
‘The most beautiful job in the world? To be out in the mountains. To do what others pay money for, and earn money in the process. Sounds like a dream, doesn't it? But what do you have to do for it? And does the fun really come without a down side?‘
In part 3 of this 4-part series, certified mountain and ski guide Susi Süßmeier, takes us through her insights into the world of guiding.
Words by Susi Süßmeier. Cover photo by Boris Textor.
Becoming a Guide Part 3: Insights
What makes the job so special?
If you are one of those people who feels right at home outdoors in nature and in the mountains, then you have definitely found the most beautiful place to work as a mountain guide. It can also be incredibly satisfying to bring the beauty of the mountains closer to others and to spark or share with them your own enthusiasm for mountain sports. As a mountain guide you often give your guests unforgettable moments and that makes you happy yourself. The variety that the profession has to offer is also enormous. The spectrum ranges from easy to challenging, course or guided tour, known and unknown destinations, in the Alps and around the world. And all of this on an independent basis, which means you are your own boss. You can also choose the level of organization yourself: If you lead for mountain schools, the preparations are limited to what is necessary to carry out the tour. People like to plan and organize, so they can fully enjoy themselves with private clients.
📷 One of the nicest things: a shared enthusiasm for mountain sports! (Pictures: Susi Süßmeier)
What are the difficulties you have to overcome as a mountain guide?
You travel a lot, it's not easy for your private life. There is often not much time to see friends and family during the season. My own hobbies, for example climbing for me, are often neglected. Most people start their mountain guide training as ambitious alpinists, but it is not as easy as it may seem to realize your own goals in addition to guiding.
The job is also very physically demanding. You have to keep fit all year round and depend on your physical integrity. Illness or injury mean loss of earnings. Good insurance is a solution. Your own musculoskeletal system will certainly suffer from the strain over the years. A good feeling for your own body is necessary in order to recognize signals in good time and to protect yourself.
As a woman in a male-dominated profession, what is it like?
That depends a lot on your own perception. If you pay close attention to gender biases, you will still find them frequently. I don't really notice such things myself, and when I do, they create a lot of amusement. And let's be honest: don't we fall into the gender trap ourselves and people surprise us?
As a woman, as a mountain guide, you can sometimes be “overlooked” if you don't wear the badge on your forehead, but this can also have its advantages in some situations.
Basically, one often still arouses astonishment in the men's world, but with every year that there are more female mountain guides, I am sure that it will become more normal. And there is a demand for female mountain guides, “women's mountaineering” is booming, and offers for women and girls are popular. And I am convinced that this is justified, there are simply differences between the sexes. Women often seem more reserved to me and more often underestimate themselves. As a woman in women's groups, you can specifically encourage them. For the profession, too, I believe it will be enriching in the future to have more female mountain guides with their perhaps somewhat different approach.
Are there any exceptions for women in training?
No, because the goal is the same for men and women - to become a mountain guide and be able to guide clients on any tour (which you trust yourself to lead). There are no longer any “women's mountains” (as the Säuleck was once called in the Ankogel group because it was so easy to climb for a 3000 meter ...). If you want to become a mountain guide, you have to be able to cope with the demands that the mountains place on you, regardless of gender. It is acceptable that women sometimes have to train a little more and a fit man is still fitter. Everything has advantages and disadvantages, even if I haven't found the advantage in some things…
Can you do an internship to get a taste of the mountain guide profession?
I think anyone who does a lot of mountain sports will have come into contact with a mountain guide and can imagine how the work goes. And this “doing a lot of mountain sports” is a prerequisite for becoming a mountain guide. You can do (tour guide) training through alpine associations such as the Friends of Nature and Alpine Associations and gain experience in leading within the association.
Up to what age can you become or be a mountain guide?
Many mountaineers start their mountain guide training between their mid-20s and their mid-30s, although there are always outliers up and down. Since the job is very diverse, there are still fields of activity for advanced age, if you want. We’ve all met them, the veterans who, without breaking a sweat, run up the mountain at a mad pace, in summer as in winter.
What skills should a mountain guide (aspirant) have besides their own "technical" ability in the mountain sports disciplines?
You have to be a “philanthropist”. So enjoy working with people and enjoy doing something for others. This requires an infinite amount of patience and the ability to put your own needs second. It takes empathy to recognize the worries, fears and problems the clients have, to give them the right help and to make the right decisions for them. Communication skills can help you deal with difficult characters. Foreign languages such as French or Italian are also very practical in the corresponding parts of the Alps. The most important thing is to be authentic. Not everyone is outgoing and not everyone can read every wish from everyone's lips. But not every client wants to have the class clown or a mom as a mountain guide.
📷 Being a 'people person' is a must for Mountain Guides (Pictures: Susi Süßmeier)
Can you make a living from leadership?
Yes, absolutely. There are many mountain guides in the Alps who make their living from it.
In Part 1 of this blog series, I wrote more about the recommended daily rates for mountain guides. However, they are only indicative and should be seen as gross income. All of the social security contributions and of course taxes are deducted from this. If you consider that a working day on the mountain is often long, you shouldn't calculate an hourly wage with a mountain school daily rate of € 300. More than 200 days of leadership are unrealistic, on the one hand due to the seasonal work, on the other hand also physically. As a mountain guide, however, you are an entrepreneur and with appropriate concepts you can definitely earn a good income. It remains important that you do not sell yourself short. A guided tour on the mountain is a luxury product, guiding is serious work and it has its price.
Many still guide, at least in the long term, only as a part-time job and have a second mainstay.
Do you have to live near the Alps as a mountain guide?
It certainly makes it easier, but there are definitely mountain guides who live further north. Depends on what and how you want to lead. If I have mountains of tourist interest on my doorstep, the local knowledge certainly gives me a home advantage compared to guides who have traveled there. Even having day guests or weekend tours from time to time are pleasant for your own social life. This is only an option if the journey is not too far. But many mountain guides lead across the Alps and then the home advantage is no longer an argument.
How can you be on tour with strange clients on whom you have to rely for belaying and security?
📷 Photos: Susi Süßmeier, Boris Textor
If you don't know the clients, it makes sense to go on a preparatory tour for challenging destinations. Basically you should be well above the level so that you can also be belayed by strangers. Your own level of climbing in the low levels of difficulty that some guests find hard should be demonstrably high, but first consider whether to take both hands out of your pockets.
📷 Susi hiking, ice climbing, climbing and skiing (Photos: Susi Süßmeier, Julian Resch, Bernhard Hangl, Boris Textor).
During my studies I had the opportunity to train as a “Tyrolean mountain guide”. I sometimes financed my studies by leading alpine crossings and hikes for a tourist association. In my private life I found more and more pleasure in all different mountain sports disciplines and was lucky enough to be included in the expedition team of the German Alpine Club. In 2016, I easily had all the tours that you had to complete to prove your skills before the mountain guide entrance exam. Since I really enjoyed guiding hiking, it made sense to expand my area of expertise. In 2021 I completed my training as a state-certified mountain and ski guide. More about Susi