Q&A with Dale Remsberg of the American Mountain Guides Association
It’s an organization with clarity of vision and abundant drive to achieve it. As a proud sponsor of the AMGA, we’re supporting a culture of skill, safety, and well-prepared mountain adventure.
While the AMGA is well known for high standards in its guide certification programs, the leadership has also diligently been evaluating and expanding the standards it sets for itself. Dale Remsberg, technical director of the AMGA, is leading the AMGA instructor team in elevating professionalism and inclusivity, alongside the all-important technical skills of mountain guiding.
We recently sat down with Dale to talk about the evolution of the AMGA vision and how our long-standing partnership supports guide excellence and a safer mountain experience for all.
Dale is an IFMGA-certified guide, with over 30 years of experience. He has served the AMGA as technical director for 13 years, ensuring course standards are up-to-date and assisting with training and instructing the AMGA Instructor Team. He is currently sponsored by Arc'teryx, La Sportiva, Petzl, and Sterling Ropes.
Photo of Dale Remsberg
GORE: Hi Dale! Thanks so much for joining us today. You’ve been the technical director of the AMGA for 13 years, and a Board member before that. How did you turn your love of climbing and mountains into a career as a professional guide?
Dale Remsberg, AMGA: This is my 30th year guiding, so I’ve been at it for a while! I started climbing and mountaineering in the Cascades, in Washington State, and I dabbled in guiding. It was in “the Dark Ages” of guiding, as I like to say. The AMGA had been around [for about decade], but wasn’t very established yet. There wasn't much formal guide training at all.
GORE: So when did you begin to engage with the AMGA?
Dale: I took my first AMGA program in 2002, which means I’d already been guiding for nine years at that point.
GORE: Given what we now know about your trajectory, is it fair to say the experience was positive?
Dale: Yeah! I had the good fortune to be instructed by an IFMGA guide by the name of Art Mooney. Under his mentorship, I saw what a truly professional guide could look like. With that image of what my life could be and what I could become, I went all in and decided to make it a full-time career. I finished my IFMGA certification in 2006, and started working for the AMGA as an instructor team member and advisor right away. I was hired as technical director in 2010.
GORE: Do you still work with private clients?
Dale Remsberg: I do. I spend around 75 days a year with my private clients.
GORE: What’s the biggest reward–personally–of leading the AMGA instructor team?
Dale Remsberg: Ultimately, the biggest rewards for me have been helping shift the professionalism of the AMGA within our programs, and making those same programs a more safe learning space for all people.
GORE: Can you please expand on those?
Dale Remsberg: It’s pretty easy to identify that guiding has been a primarily white, male-dominated industry. We had to acknowledge we had a problem if non-white and non-males didn’t feel comfortable in our courses. We brought in consultants and trained our staff on how to create safe learning environments, how to create positive course norms from the start, and how to properly debrief people and provide feedback. We identified what poor or inappropriate behavior looks like, and we don’t tolerate it. This is what I mean when I say I’m proud to be holding our instructor team to high standards around professionalism.
GORE: And that’s helped to make AMGA courses more diverse and inclusive?
Dale Remsberg: I think so. We're not 100% there yet, but I’m proud of the direction and positive, inclusive culture shifts so far. In the last 10 years, we’ve made great strides toward a culture where women, people of color, and people from under-represented places can feel more comfortable and more welcome in AMGA courses. I’m truly proud of my team for genuinely improving the guiding experience in the big picture.
Outdoor Gear and the AMGA Curricula
GORE: Do AMGA courses include discussions around gear or outdoor apparel?
Dale Remsberg: They do. We mostly cover more technical gear on our programs for rock, ice, and Alpine climbing, and skiing. We've also produced a lot of informative videos over the years that cover how to pack your gear, what gear for different types of outings, and that sort of thing.
GORE: Do discussions around soft goods and clothing ever come up?
Dale Remsberg: Oh yeah! The informal conversations that happen on the skin track or on the approach to a climb can get very in-depth about clothing! “Hey what pants are you wearing?” Or “What jacket is that?” Clothing isn’t an official curriculum item, but it's very much in our checklist for what students need to bring.
GORE: What about with your private clientele?
Dale Remsberg: For sure. They ask a ton of questions! I've built trust with my private clients, so most of the time they’re asking me what to get. I send links, and they show up with the gear.
GORE: We’re always going to advocate for high-performance, waterproof and breathable as attributes. What other qualities and features do you look for in apparel?
Dale Remsberg: There are three additional key qualities for apparel when you’re active in the mountains. One is functionality. The fit and design needs to be functional for the activity. Two is weight. Guides are hypersensitive to weight. And three is durability. There’s an environmental component to that, and there’s the reality that guides don’t make a lot of money. We need our gear to last.
A 15-year Partnership Looks to the Future
GORE: The GORE-TEX Brand has been a sponsor of AMGA for over 15 years. How do you summarize this partnership?
Dale Remsberg: It's shared excellence. With waterproof products, a lot of apparel brands have tried to branch out to other offerings. They almost always come back to GORE-TEX products because it’s the top option. AMGA provides the top guide training in the U.S., and I think globally, too. So you have two category leaders coming together for an important mission: to educate the public on proper outdoor use and experience, and to be safer in the mountains through proper training and products.
GORE: How does it work when the AMGA team tests GORE-TEX products?
Dale Remsberg: It depends. The AMGA has done some specific GORE-TEX products testing in the past. More frequently, and how I personally have contributed, is that our team tests pieces sent by our individual sponsors, who are often GORE-TEX brand partners. I personally have tested a bunch of GORE-TEX gear from Arc’teryx.
Photo of Dale Remsberg
GORE: How do you evaluate the gear?
Dale Remsberg: Every test and every year is a little bit different. Generally, I put enough core use into a product [in different conditions], then I respond to a questionnaire or interviews about every aspect. At this point, it’s not so much about the GORE-TEX products performance attributes, because GORE-TEX products are always top performers. It's really about how it interfaces with the fit and functionality of the piece.
GORE: Ahh, we blush! Thank you. Good reviews are always welcome and appreciated; it’s what we aim for. But we learn the most from critical reviews. Have you provided any feedback for using GORE-TEX products that a brand partner then implemented into the consumer version?
Dale Remsberg: I like to think I helped move Arc’teryx in the direction of pioneering some of the GORE-TEX hybrid products over the years. By hybrid, I mean where a hardshell GORE-TEX product is placed strategically in certain zones, and not in others.
GORE: Can you provide an example?
Dale Remsberg: I do a lot of ice climbing and you get dripped on from overhead. So it makes sense to place the waterproof material strategically to deflect as much water as you can based on the specific activity. For ice climbing, that’s in the quads, the shoulders, and the hood. But when you're working hard and putting out a lot of internal energy, you need to balance with soft shell areas in the back to vent the heat and dump the moisture that you're producing. Using GORE-TEX products strategically, Arc’teryx has produced some amazing pieces over the years that have really nailed that hybrid line up.
GORE: Would you like to name names?
Dale Remsberg: Ha! Sure. Arc’teryx has a brilliant new piece, called the Alpha Hybrid Pant. Arc’teryx placed GORE-TEX PRO in all the right places! The result is a very functional Alpine and ice climbing pants that articulate really well and are waterproof exactly where you need them to be.
GORE: That’s great to hear! The GORE-TEX PRO product is designed to be waterproof, breathable, and windproof, but also extremely rugged. A hybrid pant is an excellent application of it. Switching gears a bit. How has our partnership with AMGA and the GORE-TEX Brand evolved over time?
Dale Remsberg: GORE-TEX Brand began as a sponsor of AMGA in the early 2000s, by providing a scholarship for people going through the final guide exams. I was actually granted one of those early scholarships!
GORE: No kidding? That’s great.
Dale Remsberg: I was fortunate. I was the 29th IFMGA-certified Guide in the U.S., and I was asked to write a review of the exam process for the GORE-TEX Brand. After that, our organizations began partnering more definitively as GORE-TEX Brand sponsored AMGA attendance at climbing festivals around the country. Through the generosity of the GORE-TEX Brand, AMGA instructors would teach clinics to the general public and help raise awareness and enthusiasm for both organizations.
The partnership has continued to evolve and the GORE-TEX Brand has really upped its support of the AMGA. Currently, among other initiatives, the GORE-TEX Brand support is enabling us to produce a series of Pro Tour Tips for the public and members-only technical videos for our guides. It's really evolved to be a very symbiotic relationship.
GORE: How can this partnership continue to contribute to the industry as a whole?
Dale Remsberg: With continued support from the GORE-TEX Brand, together we can continue to push to make this industry more inclusive for all people. We can initiate outreach programs to under-represented communities, and provide a different vision for young people that don’t want to follow a traditional career path.
From all the training we've had, we know that a young girl is not going to become a mountain guide unless she has a vision of a female mountain guide that is inspiring to her. The more opportunities we can create for people from different backgrounds to have that vision, the more we can grow this industry in an inclusive and sustainable way.
I think we're just scratching the surface of how we can make these places more inclusive. It doesn't change overnight, and I think that's where a lot of people get frustrated. We identify problems and we want change to happen immediately. But it really takes a continued effort across generations of people to make a difference. That's one significant area where, I think, a long-term continued relationship matters.
GORE: Well said. Let’s wrap up with some quick hitters into the life of a mountain guide! Where was your most recent trip?
Dale Remsberg: I just got back from Kauai, for a fun, relaxing trip. As for most recently in the mountains, I was on a 10-day trip in Washington State administering an Alpine exam for the AMGA.
GORE: Where are you headed next?
Dale Remsberg: Las Vegas for a month of work at Red Rock Canyon, beginning with some private clients then administering some AMGA programs.
GORE: Favorite is a tough word, but are you willing to name a “favorite” range or peak?
Dale Remsberg: How about two? I have an original photo by Bradford Washburn of Mount Huntington in the Alaska Range. I've tried three times to summit and I haven't, so that's a really special peak for me. I'm not sure if I’ll ever make it back, but I like to think I will. And the Matterhorn in Switzerland. I spent a lot of my professional career guiding there. Plus, the history of mountain guiding there runs over a hundred years. It's nice to be surrounded by that history and heritage and culture of mountain guides.
GORE: Let’s say you stop work at 5 p.m. At 5:15 p.m., what will you be doing?
Dale Remsberg: Actually, I’m going to duck out a bit early with a colleague and we run in, then solo climb the First Flatiron, above Boulder. We do it as a workout, so we’re always trying to shave time. But it’s just a nice time to reflect on the day, too.
GORE: Well that sounds a lot more appealing than, say, grocery shopping. But we’re still going to ask this next question. What would you wish you were doing at 5:15 p.m.?
Dale Remsberg: I tend to kind of do what I like to do (laughs), so I’ll be happy.
GORE: And for the shameless plug: What’s your favorite GORE-TEX product?
Dale Remsberg: Right now, it's the Arc’teryx Alpha Hybrid Pant, with GORE-TEX PRO.
GORE: Thanks so much for your time and the work you’re doing. We look forward to a continued partnership with the AMGA.