Mountain Instructor

orange square Mountain Training are the awarding body for these two professional qualifications and you can find the full course handbook available to download for free from their website. With a participation statement beginning, "Mountain Leader Training (MLT) recognises that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death". You know that you are looking at an award scheme that takes itself seriously. According to Mountain Training, the scheme provides training and assessment in the skills required to teach, train and assess general mountaineering, rock and ice climbing and related activities. If you are reading this, you are probably either relatively new to mountaineering, or you have already taken your mountain leader and are looking to progress to the mountain instructor level. To help us get a better understanding of what the courses cover, what you need to be able to do to achieve the qualifications, and the types of opportunities available to instructors who hold the Mountain Instructor Award (MIA)/Mountain Instructor Certificate (MIC), we spoke to a couple of people who have been through the process and who now hold these qualifications.


mountain instructor award

Mountain Instructor Award (MIA)

For people who already have the Mountain Leader award, how much of a step up is the MIA?

Chris: The difference between Mountain Leader (ML) and Mountain Instructor Award MIA is considerable. The ML is a leadership award and deals with leading groups in UK mountains under summer conditions. The terrain encountered will be appropriate to the levels of the group members. In almost all cases this means straight forward walking terrain that does not require the use of a rope.

The MIA is an instructional qualification that covers all summer mountain related activities. The ML(S) is one of the requirements before an MIA assessment. Activities that are covered by the MIA include summer mountain walking, single and multi pitch rock climbing, mountain scrambling, gorge walking/scrambling and sea level traversing. An MIA is also the minimum level for offering training and assessments of the SPA and ML(S) courses. There is also potential for MIA's to offer their services as technical advisers. Once at assessment level a candidate will have a wide range of mountaineering and climbing experience from across the UK that will have been built up over a few years. During this time they will usually have worked with a wide variety of different client groups and be able to adapt there delivery accordingly.

Am I right in thinking that you'd generally only go the MIA/MIC if you were looking to make mountaineering your profession?

Chris: The cost and commitment to the MIA and Mountain Instructor Certificate (MIC) awards does generally mean that people who hold the awards are predominantly working in the outdoors in some form or another. Some might be on the ground delivering courses while some might be running centres or working for outdoor education providers.

You've got to be a pretty accomplished climber too?

Chris: Both the MIA and MIC awards place a lot of emphasis on climbing. The level required is not excessively high but candidates must be efficient and demonstrate best practice and good judgement. Before an assessment you are required to have a bulging log book from a wide variety of locations across the UK.

So the MIC is a serious commitment that is going to take time to achieve?

Chris: An MIC holder has proved their skills in every aspect of UK mountaineering both summer and winter. From no qualification to MIC could be achieved in about 5 years of constant effort. MIC holders will have passed a minimum of ML(S), ML(W), MIA and MIC. Each of these awards includes a training and assessment phase. Between training and assessment consolidation of skills is required.

We like to think of mountaineering as a sort of vertical chess. I suppose the ability to think and problem solve is as important as technical ability?

Chris: Vertical chess - problem solving, I don't think this is a very good analogy when we are talking about the work of an MIA or MIC. Mountaineering Instructors should be able to construct a mountaineering or climbing experience that is suitable for the client(s) they have on the day. The day will be geared around the needs of the client, it will be structured and planned and will include contingencies. I think you need more consideration of assessing people's abilities and aspirations than you do problem solving.

Do most people who hold the MIA go on to do the MIC, or is there plenty you can do with the former?

Chris: Not all MIA's continue to the MIC. The MIC is the award to have if you want to work in Scotland through the winter. As the winter climbing season in England and Wales is so much shorter and much more fickle there is simply not the same amount of MIC work. An instructor living and working all year round in Cornwall would get everything they needed from the MIA award.

How do you use your qualifications in your day to day business?

Chris: Having the MIC award allows me to offer the widest possible mountaineering experiences to my clients. During the summer I run introductory climbing sessions for families and guided rock climbing days for people looking for something more challenging. I also provide activities like gorge scrambling and coasteering. During the winter when the water is cold and the rock is less appealing I deliver winter mountaineering and snow and ice climbing courses in Scotland. When I am not entertaining my own clients I will often freelance for other providers.

Chris Thorne runs Llŷn Adventures near Llanaelhaearn, Caernarfon, where they offer Winter climbing and mountaineering, Mountain Leader Refresher, Rock Climbing, Mountain Navigation and Scrambling courses. Call: 07751 826714.



mountain instructor certificate

Mountain Instructor Certificate (MIC)

To discover more about the MIC we spoke to Adam Hughes of Hughes Mountaineering, and to Ric Potter of RPM Guiding, about their experience of the award, and how it differs to the MIA. They also share some great advice and tell us about their favourite mountain routes in the UK and beyond. We started by asking them how they got interested in climbing and mountaineering.

Adam: I had always walked with my parents whilst growing up, but football and other sports took centre stage. It was when I stopped playing football at 21, I found climbing by mistake almost. Walking with friends had started to become more adventurous, with winter scramble of Crib Goch and Tryfan. We had no idea what we were doing really, it all seemed good fun. I became aware that to try some slightly harder scrambles might require a rope. A friend and I went to the local climbing wall to see if they could help, but they said they didn't do that sort of thing. Instead, they could show us how to climb in a climbing wall. Why not! Was the answer, and it was all go from there. Within 3 months of being at the wall nearly every day, I was working there part time. After 6 months I had changed my career path completely and started working at a young peoples centre to be closer to the crags etc.

We have mountains in Scotland, but is mountaineering something someone can aspire to make a living at here in the UK, or are you always going to be looking at working in Europe and beyond?

Adam: Making a living in the outdoors is not easy, but can be done. It would be very hard to be busy on the hill all year round mountaineering and climbing. You either need to be based somewhere with hills that require a greater experience level than the normal walking peaks, like the Cullin. Or spend time on the road if you want to be working in a guiding capacity. Working on NGB courses is another line you can go down, but there is less work again. Some MIC's work as Technical Adviser's to centres and climbing walls as well.

The MIA a pre-requisite for the MIC but how much of a step up from the MIA is the MIC? And would the MIA plus the ML Winter come close to giving you similar skills to the MIC?

Adam: The machanics of the skills you acquire when completing the MIA are very much the same skills for the MIC. This is reflected in the assessment process, as the problem solving/rescues section is not assessed again. The environment you work in, makes the award a big step up. The experience you have needs to be much more varied to give you the level of judgement required to work in the extreme and dynamic environment that is Scottish winter. Although the Winter ML is a good award, it only covers a fraction of the skills required to be an MIC. The MIA does not teach to how to transfer those skills into the winter environment and the Winter ML is a walking award. This does not mean that there are MIA WML holders out there who are extremely experienced, but have chosen not to continue with their Qualification. Any qualification is an assessment of someones competence based on experience.

As we already discussed above, to hold the MIA/MIC you've got to be quite handy at climbing. When you are training for the certificate, what proportion of time is spent specifically improving your climbing skills?

Adam: Quality Mountain Days are part of the MIA and MIC pre requisites, but they are climbing and mountaineering awards. This does mean that a large proportion of the experience required is climbing. The actual climbing standard for both awards is quite low by modern standards, and most successful candidates generally climb above that standard. Most of the time spent in gaining the qualifications is focused on improving the management system used when climbing and teaching clients. I would hope that people doing these awards would have a passion for climbing and mountaineering. Being active themselves in the outdoors, and having that passion to enthuse and teach others.

Is it possible to say how long would you say it takes to get from mountain leader to qualified MIC?

Adam: The length of time is open ended. Someone in full time employment that is not outdoor focused will take a fair while. Someone working I the industry will have greater opportunities to tick off the days and climbs required to present themselves to a training or assessment course. I have worked in the industry since leaving University in 2000, and only started climbing in 2000. I went from nothing to MIC in 6 years, taking a couple of years off in that period from any assessments to go climbing abroad.

Can you give our readers one valuable piece of advice if they are just starting or about to start making the transition from mountain leader to MIA/MIC?

Adam: Remember that you are meant to enjoy what you are doing. Make sure that you still climb and mountaineer for you, it's not all about a logbook.

How do you use the MIC in your day to day business?

Adam: I have my own business Hughes Mountaineering. I work on NGB's, Technical Advise for a number of centres and walls and provide instruction/guiding. Winter is my busiest time of year, when I am based in Scotland for the season guiding and instructing.

And finally, can you tell us about your favourite climbs, one UK and one overseas perhaps?

Adam: My favorite rock climb is Free Blast on El Captain in Yosemite. A 300m or so E4 that has every style of climbing you could want. In Britain, a winter ascent of Unicorn VIII,8 in Stob Corie Nan Lochain.

Adam Hughes runs Hughes Mountaineering professional guiding and instruction in all aspects of climbing and mountaineering based in Yorkshire. Call: 0796 867 3689.


Ric: I was lucky, as annual walking holidays to the Lake District got me into the mountains, and I quickly noticed that climbers seemed to be doing the really cool stuff. As a 14 year old I booked myself onto a 2 day course with a climber in Ambleside, and I was hooked. After that I opted for all the opportunities I could do do outdoor stuff and climbing in particular, through scouts, d of e and school. I owe a lot to interested teachers, my parents and also finding like minded souls at school who wanted to climb too.

We have mountains in Scotland, but is mountaineering something someone can aspire to make a living at here in the UK, or are you always going to be looking at working in Europe and beyond?

Ric: One thing that my life has taught me, it's that if you have a passion for anything, you can make it work. If your passion is guiding in the Scottish or Welsh hills then you can make your living doing that. Its really about choices and having the desire to make it happen for you in the place that you want to be.

The MIA a pre-requisite for the MIC but how much of a step up from the MIA is the MIC? And would the MIA plus the ML Winter come close to giving you similar skills to the MIC?

Ric: The two awards are quite different and therefore my answer to the second question would be no. The choices that face the winter climbing instructor as opposed to the winter ML person are much greater, and having training in that specific environment is an important part of the learning process. What the 'on paper' requirements can't really show is the benefit of experience, which is what will help you make the right choices on the hill and keep you and your clients safe.

As we already discussed above, to hold the MIA/MIC you've got to be quite handy at climbing. When you are training for the certificate, what proportion of time is spent specifically improving your climbing skills?

Ric: For any award, you are wise to be operating well above the required climbing standard. If you are struggling with the climbing you can't be thinking about all the other aspects that you need to be concerned with, and communicating clearly and calmly with your clients. So, Yes! Climb well and you'll be more confident and thinking about belays, or avalanches or how your clients are, will be easier.

How long would you say it takes to get from mountain leader to qualified MIC?

Ric: The cop out answer here is "it depends" of course! What it depends on is your experience...and whether you are learning from near the beginning or whether you are "professionalising" what you already do or know at least in theory. In the latter case it's probably 3 years or so, in the former, much longer, but the main thing is, "It shouldn't be a race"

Can you give our readers one valuable piece of advice if they are just starting or about to start making the transition from mountain leader to MIA/MIC?

Ric: First and foremost you need to have a passion for climbing - if you have that and you like taking people out, then everything will fall into place.

How do you use the MIC in your day to day business?

Ric: All the time. I work as a Guide now but the grounding that I had going through the MIC is something that runs through all my work.

Can you tell us about your favourite climbs, one UK and one overseas perhaps?

Ric: I am fortunate in that I have been able to climb all over the world during the last 30 years. I also realise that many of the climbs I have done have been equally as beautiful whether they are 1000m walls or 3m boulder problems, and that much of the experience is about who you share it with. For me, starting climbing was always about discovery: finding new places, unearthing crags, travelling to new countries, taking on challenges, but equally, repeating old favourites is fun as they are so familiar. However, my favourites are usually the ones I have done most recently and for the first time, so its an on-going list. If I had to be pushed into actually naming routes all I can do is name the last 2 in that category - the 'gomez-cano' in calpe, spain for the overseas one and a new route we did recently on anglesey for the UK one (as yet un-named!)

Ric Potter runs RPMGuiding a professional mountain guiding business based in Snowdonia and Chamonix. Call: 01248 364551.


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Instructor characteristics >>

Mountain Biking

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Mountain Instructor awards

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Mountain Instructor awards >>