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What's Going On?

2010 Spring Newsletter

Greetings everyone,

I hope you've all had a prosperous winter guiding season and are looking forward to springtime. I'm writing today to explain the exciting transition process that's occurring with Certified Guides Federation (CGF) and seeking your support as we move forward in creating a cooperative for mountain guides.

As many of you are aware, the CGF has been successfully operating for several years. This March marks the two-year anniversary of the CGF insurance policy which allows Certified Guides to guide at various locations in the US and abroad.

During the past year of operation, we've been working closely with the AMGA to develop ways to restructure the CGF. By this point, you may have had the time to read about the need to shift the CGF to a co-op – the Certified Guides Cooperative (CGC). This article gives some background on cooperatives and how a guides' cooperative can work. If you haven't had a chance to read it, you can find a copy of it here:

A little background-

Over the past two years, we've been working within our initial business model, obtaining insurance, and holding permits. While this model has worked for many of our members, there are clear limitations to our current structure. One of the significant hurdles the CGF faces is permit acquisition – specifically related to the issues of subcontracting and worker's compensation. When a CGF member conducts a day of guiding on a CGF permit, the National Park Service and the National Forest Service view this action as a form of subcontracting due to the current structure of the CGF. This concern of subcontracting is preventing the CGF from expanding our permit base. In addition to the subcontracting issue, some permit entities require Certified Guides to have worker's compensation insurance. The need for and cost of worker's compensation insurance has also been a limiting factor in the growth of the CGF. These two concerns are hampering our efforts to obtain new permits and increase membership to a level that allows the CGF to function and grow as a healthy organization.

Throughout 2009 the AMGA and the CGF have examined various business models that will allow the CGF to fulfill its original mission statement and work within the permit system in the US. We've considered two main structures for the new model: an employee-based system (similar to a guide service) and a cooperative. Concerns arose surrounding the high cost of an employee-based system, so at the January meeting the AMGA board reviewed the CGF/AMGA subcommittee's findings and recommendations, and we set a timeline for the creation of the Certified Guide's Cooperative.

The chicken and the egg -

We are in a unique situation. For most cooperatives, the formation process involves a series of meetings whereby members work together to identify their shared needs, outline the cooperative structure, and prioritize tasks. Yet the Certified Guides in the US are spread across the whole country, and we are transitioning into a cooperative from an existing organization. These two facts create the chicken/egg problem: how can we gather membership if we don't have clearly defined costs and benefits for our potential members yet? Imagine the following conversation:

Scott: Would you be interested in becoming a member-owner?

Certified Guide: Perhaps. But I want to know what it‘ll cost. And how does this benefit me?

Scott: We have to create the cooperative, and then the member-owners will decide.

What is certain is that the cooperative will be the entity that holds permits and the necessary insurance for the use of Certified Guides, and the cooperative model is the best fit for the permit and insurance, financial, and political climates in the US. We've had positive talks with land managers about the reality of a functioning cooperative as a permit entity with the goal of serving the needs of Certified Guides and the community on public lands. We also know that for the cooperative to be a successful model, enough members must join the organization to spread the operational costs across a broader membership base.

Immediate benefits versus future benefits -

In the big picture, think of the CGC as a means to create viable access for Certified Guides in the future of American guiding. In its initial stages, the coop will provide member-owners the ability to work on selected permitted lands and non-permitted areas within the United States and abroad. It will also give the member-owners the ability, along with the responsibility, to manage and direct the actions and priorities of the co-op going forward. The cooperative structure needs to have a good starting point, and it needs to create a plan for growth in the future. It needs your support in its current form in order to grow its benefits for guides in the future.

The next steps -

As of March 5, 2010, we are now incorporated in the state of Washington as the Certified Guides Cooperative. The CGF is still in existence and fully functional, and will continue to operate until the CGC becomes operational or March 1st 2011 – whichever comes first. Going forward, our next steps are as follows:
  1. We will be contacting Certified Guides and guides in training, and we will be conducting a survey of potential member-users to determine what their needs are in terms of immediate and future access for guiding.
  2. We will conduct a use cost analysis based on the level of interest in the CGC. Some of this analysis will be based on the information gathered in the phone survey, such as: guiding rates, desired permits (and the costs associated with obtaining them and managing them), and the number of potential members. Once the information has been gathered and the cost analysis is complete, we can finish the comprehensive business plan that will detail the framework and the costs associated with running the new CGC.
  3. From here, we can then build a steering committee of interested potential members and begin to formulate the CGC bylaws. Guides who wish to be a part of the creation of the bylaws will have the opportunity to form an organization that best suits the need for access both here in the US and abroad.
  4. Once the CGC is functioning, we will close down operations of the CGF and shift the active members to the new CGC. The timeline on this will be determined as we gather more information; ideally we would like to be operational by fall 2010.
The co-op model is the structure of choice; now we need enough members to make it successful and work for the majority of Certified Guides in the States and international guides seeking reciprocal access within the United States. The AMGA and the CGF have done several years' work and spent thousands of dollars researching this issue. We have done our due diligence to find the best legal and financial structure, and now is the time to act on completing our mission of providing access to the Certified Mountain Guides. Put simply – if you would like to support the idea of credential based access in the US, the best way to do so is to contribute the cooperative however you can, regardless of whether or not you intend to guide on CGC permits.

Stay tuned for more info to come and please feel free to get in touch to find out how you can contribute and be a part of this historic evolution in American guiding.


Scott Schell
Executive Director
Certified Guides Federation


amga                     bradley alpinist                     Kees Brenninkmeyer


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