Two climbers make their up a steep rockface, high above a rocky landscape.

United Giving: The American Mountain Guides Association

July 3, 2020

She Moves Mountains, a rock climbing guide service that aims to empower women through women-specific rock climbing clinics, had its opening weekend planned for March 27. It included guided climbing sessions, lodging at an adventure base camp in Bend, Oregon and a screening of the powerful femme-led documentary "Pretty Strong" at a local historic theatre. Then, COVID-19 hit. The organization’s rock climbing clinics and retreats guided by women, for women, came to a halt. Lizzy VanPatten, who founded She Moves Mountains three years ago to address the underrepresentation of women in the guiding industry and to promote inclusivity in the outdoors, didn’t know how to pick up the pieces. 

She turned to the American Mountain Guides Association and its Coronavirus Industry Response Center developed in partnership with The North Face. There, she found information about worker and workplace safety regulations, COVID-19 return-to-work checklists, medical guidance and legal considerations, as well as relevant legislation and communication strategies. 

“We are a small company of independent contractors that operates five months a year,” says VanPatten. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have access to this information. Trying to come up with this on my own would have been next to impossible.”

Five women in climbing harnesses stand side-by-side, laughing.

The AMGA sifts through the surplus of COVID-19 era information and provides its members with straightforward and applicable resources, providing guidance on how, when, and where members can return to guiding and outdoor education. Information is shared through an online resource center housing professional webinars, templates for return to work plans, informational summaries, and links to the best outside resources. 

“As a professional organization, we have the unique ability to cross organizations, businesses and services,” says Jake Gaventa with the AMGA. “Our responsibility is to prop up the industry and get everyone back to work as soon as possible,” Gaventa says. 

When it came to supporting the workforce for the outdoor industry, The North Face wanted to build upon a 22-year history with the AMGA, including providing educational support for its guides and members. In February 2018, we became the sole sponsor of the AMGA Access Advocacy program, allowing the AMGA to advocate for improved access opportunities for guiding and instructing in the U.S. 

In 2019, we launched the first Women’s Rock Guide Course, a professional training course specifically for women and taught by women of the AMGA Instructor Team. Our contribution this year as a part of our $1 million COVID-19 relief commitment through our social impact and advocacy platform, the Explore Fund has helped spread out the AMGA’s resources to reach a broad and diverse list of partners, including Explore Fund grantees like the International Rescue Committee in Washington, which helps newly arrived refugees and other nonprofits like Outdoor Outreach, City Kids to Wilderness, Bay Area Wilderness Training, and SOS Outreach.

A woman in a helmet and climbing harness smiles as she holds a climbing rope in both hands.

Early on, VanPatten used the resource hub to see if the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act offered any relief for She Moves Mountains. Now, she’s using the network to determine when and how she and the seven female guides she employs can go back to work. “We are a non-essential business that relies on people traveling, and our job as guides is to minimize risk,” says VanPatten. “COVID adds another layer of risk management to our work.”

At this stage, with so many unknowns, She Moves Mountains still isn’t back to work. It pushed its reopening from the beginning of July to the end of the month, when it hopes to safely host its backpacking retreats and outdoor day trips. For its fall rock climbing and yoga retreats, She Moves Mountains is looking into new venues and shrinking group sizes. VanPatten is following the lead of the AMGA and its high-profile members like Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and Colorado Mountain School. 

New Hampshire-based Mooney Mountain Guides, which guides rock, ice, mountaineering and ski mountaineering in New Hampshire, New England and on Washington’s Mount Baker, also found AMGA’s Return to Work webinars helpful. “Hearing best practices from larger guide services both validated the policies we put into place, and offered ways in which we could continue to evolve and improve our return to work,” says Laurie Watt, a 54-year old climbing guide for Mooney Mountain Guides. 

A man wearing a backpack looks up at a steep wall, trying to figure out his next climbing move.

Organizations like Mooney Mountain Guides and She Moves Mountains have historically turned to the AMGA for certification and credibility, but now the AMGA has become a resource for so much more.

“Now I see the AMGA as this multifaceted resource for how to run our business and how to address major issues like this,” says Watt. “We are incredibly grateful for their support.”

Check out the AMGA's Coronavirus Industry Response Center here.