mark_synnott.jpgEverybody has a dream job. The problem is that for most of us, that’s all it is—a dream. What we actually do for money is often a far cry from what we wish we did for money. But it seems the best advice an old-timer can give the young is this: “find a job that you love, no matter what.” The bottom line is that you should pick something that makes you happy since you’re going to spend most of the rest of your life doing it. The problem is that dream jobs are like dream girls who don’t have boyfriends—hard to find. Let’s take a look at mountain guiding as an example.

So you’re a climber, and nothing makes you happier than being out on the rocks. You need a job, and you can see that every time you’re at the crag, the guides are there too, doing roughly the same thing you are. Only they’re getting paid. Sounds good, right? You go to the climbing school and ask for a job. And they ask what guiding experience you have, which is a problem because you have none.

In the old days you would be plain out of luck, but with the growth and development of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) in the United States, you now have clearly defined steps you can take to get into the guiding profession. Think of it as your guide apprenticeship program. The sooner you get started, the better.

The very first step in the AMGA apprenticeship is the Top Rope Site Manager Course. It is four days in length. The exam typically takes one or two days, and can be taken directly after the course or any time up to three years afterward. Unlike other AMGA certifications, which are good for life, the TRSM certification is good for three years, provided you keep your AMGA membership and first-aid certification current. After three years, you need to recertify by retaking a two-day course that includes a curriculum review and a one-day skills evaluation. The great thing about the TRSM is that it allows a relative newcomer to the sport to achieve an introductory certification level. Prerequisites for the course include:

  • Two years of climbing experience
  • A resume showing at least 40 days of climbing and/or climbing instruction in the past two years or a minimum five years of climbing experience
  • Ability to climb 5.8 on top rope
  • Ability to safely set up top rope climbs, belay stations, and rappel stations without guidance
  • Familiarity with basic anchoring principles
  • Possession of the necessary equipment, including rope, rack, slings, etc.
  • Possession of current basic first aid and CPR
  • Age of at least 18 years

While not trivial, this list of prerequisites should be achievable for anyone who is serious about going after a dream. With your TRSM under your belt, it should be relatively easy to find a summer job working as a climbing instructor at a camp, university program, or school. At this point you’ll be on your way, and if you decide to continue with the certification process, your next step will be to take the Rock Instructor Course. So what are you waiting for? You can find everything you need to know at

Mark Synnott is the owner-operator of Synnott Mountain Guides (, 603-383-6976), located in Jackson, New Hampshire, in the heart of the White Mountains. He is a member of The North Face Athlete Team.