Sierra Mountain Guides was incorporated and named in 1997 by a group of forward-thinking veteran local and international guides based in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Over the years guides have come and gone from the group and now long time local guides Howie Schwartz and Neil Satterfield have taken the reigns of the new SMG. This team along with the guides they employ is among the most qualified and skilled in the industry, upholding the highest standards for guiding excellence in the Sierra and worldwide.
SMG has always operated in partnership with the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management as authorized commercial permittees in the Inyo, Toiyabe, and Eldorado National Forests, Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, and the Red Rock National Conservation Area. In far away and international venues, we operate with partnering permitees and/or under license from member countries of the Union Internationale des Associations de Guides de Montagne (UIAGM).
Why Sierra Mountain Guides?
Program Quality and Value
At SMG our commitment is to offer only the finest trips and most effective courses, in the highest quality venues, and at affordable prices. There are many types of trips we simply won't do, and seek to find only the most inspiring and valuable outings to offer. You can be sure that although our list of trips on this website is not exhaustive, it is nothing short of representing the most aesthetic and most rewarding programs of their type. We have something for everyone with a sense of adventure and a love for the mountains and can accommodate any budget.
Scheduled and Custom Options
We offer two great types of programs to suit your preferences. Scheduled courses are more social outings offered on specific dates at promotional prices. Custom trips allow you to get the most out of your experience by doing exactly what you want, where you want, and with whom you want. Scheduled trips are a great way to meet people of similar abilities and goals, while lower ratio custom trips are often the best way to get the most out of your guided experience. No matter what you choose, it is sure to be a great value, and we custom tailor every course and adventure to meet the needs of our participants.
We aim to not only show you all that is possible to achieve with a qualified guide in the mountains, but to also give you what you need to progress as a mountaineer on your own, no matter what terrain, location, or season you choose. We recognize that experiences with a guide are only one part of the joy of exploring the mountains. Nothing is more satisfying to us than seeing our clients progress to new levels of personal fun and adventure.
For this reason, at SMG we have designed both our guided trips and training courses to work "progressively" and to complement each other. We have designed trips in 4 levels for first timers to experienced practitioners to seasoned experts. Our courses have 3 levels, Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced that fit neatly within the progression of our 4 trip levels. We have found from experience that alternating the formal learning environment with real mountain application leads to the fastest learning and growth. Our philosophy is that the faster you progress, the more fun you can have!
Lower Guiding Ratios
In our experience, lower ratios lead to safer and more enjoyable mountain experiences. High ratio commercial-style guided trips don't fit in with our commitment at SMG to provide you with the highest quality experiences. Like many modern guide services worldwide, we have found that lower ratios are generally much safer, more efficient, more successful, and more enjoyable. We carefully consider the nature of the terrain, the activity, and the people in the group when we decide on a maximum guiding ratio. High ratio guiding techniques don’t apply with adequate margins of safety to many of the the types of trips we offer in the Sierra and internationally, and we feel they are largely unsatisfying in comparison.
SMG believes that guiding is a trade that must be learned through training, mentorship, and experience. We take the trust you put into our guides very seriously and we consider ourselves amongst the myriad of professionals such as doctors, airline pilots, lawyers, food handlers, and auto mechanics, whose expert skills we all regularly depend on for our survival and well-being.
That is why we require that all of our guides be professionally trained and/or certified through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) guide training programs specific to the terrain in which they work. This gives our clients the assurance that their SMG guide will meet a minimum standard for excellence and guiding ability for their chosen trip. Although in many other countries it is the norm, SMG is one of only a bare handful of American guide services capable of accepting this hiring standard as an important part of our business model.
Our guides are also chosen for their proven dedication to their clients, passion for the mountains, specific expertise in their realms, professionalism, and obvious other personal charms. We stand by the quality of our guides and offer you a 100% guarantee on their performance. We have never yet had to refund money based on a complaint about an SMG guide and we don't ever expect to.
Our owners (Howie Schwartz and Neil Satterfield) are AMGA and UIAGM certified lead ski and mountain guides for the company. We have been in the industry for decades and we understand the needs and desires of people who choose to go to the mountains with a guide. A trip with SMG is a unique opportunity to enjoy a guided experienced conceived by, administered by, and guided by the active lead guides of the company.
AMGA and UIAGM certification means our guides are trained to guide "on-sight" even in places they are going to for the first time. That said, nothing replaces local knowledge and experience for making the best possible judgments in the mountains. So not only are we highly trained and qualified, but we also know the Eastern Sierra like our backyard - because it is our backyard! Let us take you to our favorite places and discover one of the best ranges on Earth. We also lead trips in a variety of world class destinations that we have discovered in our travels.
Company Size: Medium
SMG is not so big that we lose personal touch with our clients, and we prefer it that way. The friendships we create with fellow mountain lovers run strong from our experiences together. Your guide will always contact you directly to check in prior to every trip, and follow up with you afterwards as well. Larger companies do not typically offer this level of care. On the other side of the coin, we are still large enough to be a thriving mountain guide service, capable and eager to serve all of your mountain guiding and logistical needs.
We love that we get the opportunity to personally get to know most everyone we do business with. We cherish the friendships we have developed over the years with our returning clientele. We feel it is inevitable that experiences in the mountains should bring people together. Climbing, skiing, and trekking in the mountains with good friends are among the very best things in life.
Leave No Trace
SMG is dedicated to the preservation of the mountain experience and local mountain culture. We are Leave no Trace Trainers and follow minimum impact and culturally sensitive principles/practices that are appropriate to our locations. We strive to do our part to have a positive effect on the land and people we come in contact with as recreational visitors. We feel very privileged to be able to climb, hike, and ski in the High Sierra, and to explore the mountains of the world. We think of it as our responsibility, where ever we go, to preserve the experience for the future.
When deciding to summit Whitney in the winter, we
choosing the right guide company would be crucial. After doing a
about of internet research and speaking with friends who are
the subject we decided on Sierra Mountain Guides. What a great choice!
We started the initial trip fact-finding with
Mountain Guides by grilling Annie. She was an absolutely amazing
us as we set out to learn about all the particulars that are involved in
trip. Over the course of several weeks, we spent countless hours on the
with her and the more questions we asked, the deeper and more personal
answers became! We were establishing a relationship with the Sierra
Guides team before we even left home. Amazing!
Once everything was set, we hopped in the car and
for Lone Pine. As we were driving we began to wonder: what if our guide
nut? Then we started to worry: What if he pulls up in a smoke-filled
bus? What if he says “Duuuuude!” a lot? What if every sentence ended
word “EXTREME!!” Luckily we had our trusty iPhones with us so we started
to find out about Jed. The more we read about him, the more confident we
about our guide.
When we finally did meet Jed the morning of the
immediately knew we were headed up with a great guy. Because we had
on such an expedition before, there were an unending number of questions
Jed as we began to ascend the mountain. Time after time, Jed proved to
knowledgeable about our questions and was more than happy to answer
Being a first-timer, most of the questions were
Because of Jed’s thorough understanding of both mountaineering and
guiding, we all felt safe the entire time. This is no small feat
that two of us were afraid of heights and had no formal mountaineering
experience at all. Throughout our four-day adventure Jed was continually
decisions based on the terrain and weather conditions and then was more
happy to share his decision making process with us. Because of this
to share, we came away from the trip feeling like we had taken a
course in mountaineering. What a great bonus!
As for the trip up Mt. Whitney, it was the epitome
from beginning to end. We crossed icy streams, saw flowing waterfalls,
watched walls of blue ice crack loudly and fall off the side of
mountains. We got our water from frozen lakes,
snow-blocks to make a wind barrier for our tents, and went through
avalanche training. We made a dining table out of ice, learned the
mountaineering, and bonded with each other in a way that can only happen
it’s you and your closest friends against nature. There were points
bodies were put to the test physically and others where the challenge
our minds. We climbed super-steep inclines on the way up and slid down
the way back down. We started in a tiny little parking lot and ended up
14,491 ft. on the peak of one of the tallest and most beautiful
country has to offer and through all of it we learned a lot about
mountaineering and a lot about ourselves. This is the definition of
To conclude, I’d just like to say that our summit
Whitney was absolutely extraordinary in every way and a huge part of
because of Jed and the Sierra Mountain Guides team. From start to
expectations were exceeded and our needs fulfilled. I wholeheartedly
Mountain Guides and the adventure of a lifetime they make possible.