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How to Tip a Mountain Guide

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Mike Cherim (right) with two clients on the summit of Mt Monroe in New Hampshire’s White Mountains

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. 

6 comments

  1. 15-20% of what, the entire trip? That could vary a great deal if a guide service is also providing meals and lodging or if you are on your own for those items. Are you suggesting this amount per guide or do they pool tips. Interesting article but it could use some additional practical information.

    Thanks

  2. This is based on my personal experiences in this geographic area and would be 15-20% of the day rate, per person, per guide, exclusive of lodging, meals, and gear. So a $200 trip would be $36-40. That is not uncommon on the trips I lead and I assume others see typical amounts. On Mt Washington and similar venues we are really giving it our all and lives are often at risk due to the weather. I think clients sense this and respond accordingly when they are back safe and sound.

    • Mike,

      Does the 15-20 percent per mountain guide apply to alpinists who lead the higher, technically involved mountain expedition climbs throughout the world? The registration costs involved for these climbs can run into the thousands of dollars. I returned recently from a mountain expedition climb where there were nine climbers and three professional mountaineer guides (1:3 ratio). Five team members summited. The other four (including myself) returned to base camp awaiting those who were successful summiting to return to base camp for all of us to head down the mountain. As noted, these expeditions cost thousands of dollars. Does one give 15-20 percent of the fees to “each” mountaineer guide, or 15-20 percent to the professional guide on your rope line. When I turned back to head down my rope guide hooked up with others and continued the climb to the summit. I and three others were led down by another mountaineer guide. So, at the end of the climb after we return to the training camp I gave the gratuity to the leader of the mountaineer team, believing that he would decide how to distribute the gratuity among the other two guides. I felt comfortable doing this since most of the personal and individualized attention given to me during the climb was by the mountaineer team leader, although all three guides at some point also assisted me substantively. In summary, do I give 15-20 percent one time to the team leader, or 15-20 percent to each of the three mountaineer guides? 15-20 per cent x 3 can become a sizable gratuity whereas 15-20 percent to the team leader to distribute subsequently among the other two guides seems more reasonable to me. I welcome your comments.

      • I would guess not, but maybe, since it should all be relative. That’s a guess. The article I wrote is based on my personal experiences guiding in the White Mountains.

      • Jerry
        I’ve done several guided trips to various South American countries. Each trip has had a different cost but all have been high altitude experiences. Each time, each member of the group has contributed $50 on the average into a pool that we then gave to the lead guide. He (and she)would then distribute the tip among their people as they see fit. It has worked well each time

  3. I have only climbed with RMI out of Ashford Wa. On these climbs they suggest you tip to be in the 10-15% range. I have always given 15%. Now if there is more than on guide: which most of the time there is, I give the money to the head guide for him to decide who get what. In Ecuador we had daily guides that would assist our head guide. On one climb I did tip my personal guide an extra amount for the day. Don’t be cheap, they risk their live for you.

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