Mountain guiding is a service industry, and a mountain guide is really no different from your taxi driver, your waitress, your hairstylist, or any other person or company catering to your wants and needs in the provision of a particular service.
In the case of the mountain guide, their service is to show you the way to go, help you avoid the way not to go, keep you safe, make sure you have the right gear, share information with you, enlighten and educate you, and help you achieve your short-term goals for the duration of the experience in the best way possible.
A mountain guide has three basic skills: technical skills (knowing the how-to of the craft); interpersonal skills (being fun to be with); and judgement (making sometimes tough but informed choices).
The latter is incredibly valuable to the preservation of life. Unlike your waitress or hairstylist, the guide may actually be the difference between life and death (like a taxi driver). On many winter Mt Washington ascents, the guide is absolutely necessary to the mission as without him or her, the chances of success would be slim to none. Go up there on a bad weather day and you’ll better understand.
Like other service industries, tips for mountain guides are deeply appreciated. It’s like sending a personal message to the person you just spent the entire day with. Especially if conditions were particularly trying. The guide, after all, isn’t just making sure your roots have been dyed or that your steak is served while still warm. It’s the life and well-being of you and those in your party that hangs in the balance. What is that worth?
In this industry a gratuity can run anywhere from 10-30%, depending on the level, intensity, and duration of the experience. The typical 15-20% is pretty standard, but exactly how you should tip depends on a number of factors:
- How was your experience, over all?
- Was the guide professional, passionate, and knowledgeable?
- Did the guide do the minimum or do you feel they went above and beyond?
- Did you feel safe and cared for?
- Was care given to your gearing up?
- Were you given adequate breaks?
- Was the pace yours, or did you feel unnecessarily rushed (know that there may be overriding safety concerns on this one).
- Do you feel as if you were part of the team or just excess baggage? It was supposed to be your experience.
Remember the guide can’t affect every part of the experience, some things are out of his or her hands like company policy or overriding safety concerns about things such as weather, but they do often make or break the experience. Show them you care.
About Mike Cherim and Redline Guiding
Mike Cherim is a mountain professional who has been actively guiding on Mt Washington and the northern Presidential range for a number of years. He owns a North Conway, NH, agency called Redline Guiding, and he caters to all ages and abilities offering a number of customized adventures — ranging from Nordic backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, to mountaineering — and several high-quality wilderness educational courses for hikers and other outdoorsmen both new and old. Also, as a NH Justice of the Peace, Mike is your go-to mountain-top wedding officiant. Check out their informative website to learn more about their cool offerings.