Simple, but it’s more than just that.
Sierra Mountain Guides provides high-quality mountain experiences in the Sierra Nevada and premier mountain destinations worldwide, in a friendly, competent, professional, service-oriented, environmentally responsible, and culturally sensitive style. We specialize in ski mountaineering, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine mountaineering, avalanche education, all forms of backpacking, and mountain running. In other words: We are your “Ambassadors of Fun!™”
Sierra Mountain Guides was formed in 1997 by a group of forward-thinking veteran local and international guides based in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. These folks carried the torch from the likes of Smoke Blanchard, John Fischer, Allan Bard, and Doug Robinson, who pioneered modern guiding from the Eastside of the range. Guides have since come and gone from the group, but since the beginning SMG has included some of the most accomplished and reputable mountain guides in the US., including former President of the AMGA John Cleary (who was largely the founder of the company), legendary IFMGA mountain guides Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley (Kathy being the first female American IFMGA guide), veteran Sierra guide Robert “SP” Parker, and Yosemite guide Doug Nidever, just to name a few. Long time local IFMGA guides Howie Schwartz and Neil Satterfield took over management of SMG in 2006 and have since built the organization into one of the top guide services in the nation. SMG programs are innovative and well-executed. SMG guides remain among the most qualified and skilled in the industry.
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 International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA).
Program Quality & Value
At SMG our commitment is to offer only the finest trips and most effective courses, in the highest quality venues, and at reasonable 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. Our offering of trips and courses is not comprehensive. We do not do everything, and therefore everything we do, we do well. What we do is what delivers. There is a lot of hype out there and we hope our offering helps you narrow down what is truly a classic, high value, and rewarding mountain experience. We have something special for everyone with a sense of adventure and a love for the mountains. Our guides will prove it to you.
Custom & Scheduled Options
Most of the trips we run are scheduled on a custom basis. This is because custom trips are generally the best way to go. You get to go
where you want, when you want and with who you want. We ask you to play an active role in helping us plan your experience for you and your group. We have found this leads to incredible results in satisfaction. Where there is opportunity to put like-minded strangers together with a guide or two, we schedule trips and courses at reduced promotional per person rates. Scheduled programs are therefore more social outings at more attainable prices. No matter which you choose, we are certain the experience will be well worth the costs.
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 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 willing to fully embrace this hiring standard as an important part of risk management in mountain guiding.
Our guides are also chosen for their proven dedication to their clients, their passion for the mountains, their specific expertise and experience in their respective guiding disciplines, their overall professionalism, and their obvious other interpersonal skills. 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.
Sierra Mountain Guides owners (Howie Schwartz and Neil Satterfield) are IFMGA/AMGA Ski & Mountain Guides themselves, each with over 20 years of active guiding experience. Together they still do a majority of the guiding for the company. They understand first hand 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 experience conceived by, administered by, and even sometimes guided by those directly responsible for the entire guest experience from start to finish.
Local Sierra Nevada Expertise
AMGA and UIAGM certification means 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. SMG guides are highly trained and qualified, and we also know the Eastern Sierra like our backyard – because it is our backyard! Don’t hire a guide service for the Sierra based somewhere else. Let us take you to our favorite places to discover one of the best ranges on Earth.
Exciting Destinations and Inclusive Travel Support
Once you find “your guide” it is nice to go travel to the other great ranges with them. Sierra Mountain Guides is a travel agency that offers guided trips like none else to incredible destinations such as Alaska, the Alps, South America, and other exotic destinations on every continent. Once you get on our program, we will keep you busy if you let us, consistently looking ahead your next custom mountain adventure! Book your own flights, give us your other travel and lodging specifications, and let us handle the rest. We’ll set you up with inclusive guided climbing, skiing, hiking, backpacking, and mountain running itineraries in amazing locations for no added agency costs or commissions.
Company Size: Relatively Small
SMG is big enough to function efficiently, and small enough that we get to know all of our guests. We are not beholden to outside investors and shareholders. We run the company the way we want to as guides. The friendships we create with fellow mountain lovers run strong from our communication and experiences together. Unlike at larger guide services, your guide will always contact you directly to check in prior to every trip, and follow up with you afterwards as well. Each guest is a significant asset to our small business. We like it that way and we think you will too!
We love that we get the opportunity to personally get to know most everyone we guide. Most of our guests come back to go to the mountains with us again. We cherish the friendships we have developed over the years. 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.
Ambassadors of Fun!™
We are a group of fun-loving mountain people living a mountain lifestyle. We didn’t invent mountain fun, but we all have it pretty well dialed. Relax, have a snack, take a photo, enjoy a story, and have a good laugh. Now fasten your pack straps, it’s going to be a wild ride!
We really can’t think of a good answer for this.