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Polish mountain guiding scene has a growing range of companies offering courses, individual guiding, holidays and expeditions. There are some very good operators, but also one or two less reliable outfits. There also are a few things you need to be aware of to make an informed decision.

Once you contact a guiding company, be sure to ask who your guide is likely to be. If you have a favourite guide or would like to climb with someone you have heard good things about, then ask for them by name. Once you have built a personal relationship with a guide they are more likely to look after your interests. Hire a guide properly trained and qualified to work in the area you are going to visit, for the activities envisaged.


Guiding Ratios
You should go for the lowest client/guide ratio you can afford. Smaller teams move much faster in the mountains and by that increase safety and their chances to succeed. You also get more personal attention during teaching sessions. It's worth looking carefully at stated ratios, always seek clarification if you are unsure. Lower ratios are more expensive but usually they are well worth the cost.

In Poland the number of trainees per an instructor can't exceed:
4 on a crag climbing course,
4 on a high mountain skiing course,
3 on a summer Taternik course (Tatras multipitch climbing),
2 on a winter Taternik course.

Qualifications and Training
There are two bodies within Poland that administer mountaineering qualifications. The Polski Zwiazek Alpinizmu (PZA) set standards of training and assessment for qualifications valid within Tatra Mountains and the Polskie Stowarzyszenie Przewodnik?w Wysokog?rskich (PSPW) train Polish candidates for the IFMGA/UIAGM international mountain guides carnet.

Below we have explained what each mountaineering qualification means and where it is applicable:

IWS - Instruktor Wspinaczki Skalnej

UK equivalent

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Holders of this badge are allowed to take groups on single pitch rock climbing on crags and indoor walls.




SPA - Single Pitch Award pza_blacha.gif
 
IT - Instruktor Taternictwa

UK equivalent

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Covers all IWS activities, in addition to high mountains multipitch summer and winter climbing as well as trekking. The holder may also take a role of a course leader on PZA summer courses.



MIC - Mountain Instructors Certificate pza_blacha.gif
 
IA - Instruktor Alpinizmu

UK equivalent

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Covers all IT activities and a holder can take a role of a course leader on PZA winter courses and train aspirant guides.

A list of PZA licensed instructors.


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PZN - Instruktor Narciarski

UK equivalent

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Holders of Polish Ski Federation (PZN) badge are ski instructors allowed to instruct on maintained ski pistes. To hire a ski instructor see the PT qualified instructor link. If you decide to go for an off piste or skimountaineering guide refer to PZA high mountain guides link. Always check the relevance of qualifications of your ski instructor as not all of them will have a solid skitouring or skialpinism experience.




Ski Instructor,
Skimountaineering Guide
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PT - Przewodnik Tatrzanski (grade I)
UK equivalent

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Allows to guide groups in High Tatras and Western Tatras in summer on routes no more difficult than grade IV UIAA and in winter no more difficult than grade III UIAA.

The most popular guiding regions:
Tatra Mountains- from easy walks in pretty valleys to climbing on the highest summits,
Pieniny Mountains- the most spectacular scenery in Poland, rafting on Dunajec river,
Beskidy, Gorce, Bieszczady, Podhale, Orava, Spis, Liptov- submountain countryside trekking,
Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise)- full of limestone canyons and via ferratas.

Many PT guides have other mentioned above mountain guiding qualifications others are Polish Ski Federation (PZN) qualified ski instructors and some belong to the High Mountain Rescue Team (TOPR). To hire a PT guide please see a list of PT qualified guides.
MLWinter - Mountain Leader Winter
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PSPW - Polskie Stowarzyszenie Przewodnik?w Wysokog?rskich
UK equivalent

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The Polish High Mountain Guides Society (PSPW) was established in 1996. Its main aim is training Polish high mountain guides to meet IFMGA international standards. In October 1996 PSPW gained status of member candidate of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA). The Guides’ Training Scheme has been designed and developed so that the PSPW can offer a thorough training and assessment in all disciplines associated with the international guiding profession. Currently (June 05) PSPW has 38 members and 7 candidates. It has trained 28 IFMGA instructors including 8 senior instructors.

See here for a list of PSPW trained, IFMGA qualified guides.


BMG - British Association of Mountain Guides pspw_blacha.gif
 
IFMGA - The International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations UK equivalent Logo



This is the highest award in mountaineering and the only internationally recognised qualification for working in mountainous glaciated terrain. All national guiding associations of 25 member countries work to the same strict training syllabus and assessment standards which are regularly monitored between nations. Guides are allowed to work freely in the mountain regions of other member nations. To guide in the Alps instructors must have the IFMGA qualification.
The essential difference between the IFMGA carnet and other qualifications is the higher climbing standard required and the broader range of guiding specific techniques that need to be mastered in order to move quickly and safely on glaciated terrain.

Holders are licensed to practice rock and ice climbing, mountaineering and off piste skiing, worldwide without grade limit.


International carnet

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High Mountain Guide License


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Qualifications indicate an individual has attained a certain level of competence they are not however a guarantee. Always check the relevance of qualifications and look for an appropriately experienced guide.

Cold weather and fickle conditions can make Tatras a daunting place to venture out in winter, so Polish winter skills courses have become very popular. Hopefully the above information will have answered many of your questions about the types of qualifications and training to look for when booking a guide in Tatras.

Another thing you need to understand is the nature of Tatras weather and climbing conditions. Frequent heavy snowfalls and a cold crisp climate make for difficult mountain conditions. Those clear days are truly magical but many dangers like frequent avalanche risk shouldn't be underestimated. Provided you are well prepared for it, climbing will remain safe and good fun. Good fitness as well as complete and appropriate kit are essential. See here for our gear guide.

Climbing Expeditions
Always find out exactly who your guide will be and what their guiding ratio is. Each expedition must be professionally planned, staffed by IFMGA guides and have thorough medical safety and evacuation contingencies, as well as radio and satellite communications at base camp and on the mountain. Also worth finding out about, is the planned style of ascent. Ask if you are expected to be climbing Alpine style, or fixed ropes and intermediate camps are going to be used. Keeping your team small in size makes a big positive difference to the experience you have on a trip.

Due to the seriousness of remote and high altitude ranges, you should climb with IFMGA guides who have extensive experience climbing at the altitudes you will be visiting. A list of Polish fully trained IFMGA guides can serve you as a check point and a and as a reference to your chosen operator.

Off piste and skimountaineering
Because of high risk of avalanche and the speed at which you can get into danger, off piste skiing is considered to be the most serious form of winter sports. PZN instructors are allowed to operate in Tatras, however in the Alps on glacial terrain you will need an IFMGA guide. IFMGA guides teach off piste awareness, avalanche safety and all the mountain skills associated with ski touring. Ensure you have a full mountaineering insurance which covers off piste skiing as part of the cover, check the terms carefully.

Equipment and expenses
It is a frequent policy that Polish guides supplement some of your kit by lending you their own gear for free. However always find out exactly what you are expected to provide yourself, what is provided for free and how much the other items will cost to hire.

There are very few operators who do fully inclusive packages. Most of them will provide transportation during the course. They will book you a place in a hut and help you to arrange valley accommodation be it a good hotel, B&B or self catering. Ski lift costs, lunches, boot hire and travel to the course base are usually excluded. To help you, we've put down approximate costs for various items which most probably will not be included in a package.


  Travel The UK - Poland return flight 150 Euros, trains and buses 1-3 Euros per 60 miles distance,
  Accommodation Hotel in Zakopane 15-25 Euros, B&B up to 10 Euros, Mountain Hut 6-10 Euros (per night),
  Lifts 60-70 Euros per week,
  Diner Restaurant 6 Euros fills you well up, Mountain Hut 4-6 Euros,
  Lunch Bar or Mountain Hut 3 Euros.

Polish uniqueness
Safety, flexibility and personal service are the most important values written into Polish guiding courses' syllabus. Majority of operators are small teams and you get to know them well. This leads to building long lasting friendships with the clients. Good operators assure your satisfaction through thorough trainee skills assessment, solid planning, good logistics, and flexibility.

The mixed character of Polish winter climbing ensures acquired skills remain practical in Scotland. Truly alpine fell of Tatras scenery and the length of routes will prepare you for more demanding Alpine courses. More reliable weather, atractive prices and a mixture of exotic culture and Polish hospitality will compensate for that extra travelling effort you will need to make.

It's true that there is comparably small amount of Polish IFMGA guides (172 in the UK, 28 in Poland). There is however a number of highly reputable PZA licensed instructors many of whom have very good command of English. Follow our advice and you will find a perfect PZA or IFMGA guide to make your course or holiday truly an exceptional experience. PZA instructors are aspiring and awaiting to be trained to gain the IFMGA International Carnet. Compliance of their qualifications to IFMGAs' standards and their career depend on the productivity of The Polish High Mountain Guides Society (PSPW). This still young body needs to do their best to fulfil its major objective.

It is the courtesy, a nice gesture of appreciation and a wise investment in future to buy a meal and beer for a guide at the end of a successful and satisfying course.