About The Northwest Mountain School
As IFMGA guides we have each passed rigorous courses and exams on our way to becoming American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) certified Rock, Alpine, and Ski guides. Both college graduates, John with a BA in English Literature, Olivia with a BS in Wildlife Biology, we have ended up spending our adult lives guiding and have built a business that will allow us to raise a family, provide our customers with a very high quality experience, and remain involved in protecting the very fragile environment in which we work.
Organizing and leading your trip of a lifetime is a job that we take seriously. We will work hard on your behalf while keeping things light enough to keep you smiling and coming back.
By 1994 John was looking for a new guiding challenge and started the Northwest Mountain School (NMS) at age 25. The idea for NMS was a young person's idea, but a good one that was originally intended to teach environmental education and climbing to high-school aged students. Successful DC area businessman John Ourisman and a group of past Denali customers backed John in the startup of the NMS despite any evidence that John could balance a check book much less run a business. John operated this program in addition to his adult trips until around 2003, when it became clear that youth programs were always going to be desperate financial propositions. As the youth programs were slowly phased out, John became more involved in training offered by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) and he set himself the goal of becoming an AMGA certified Rock, Alpine, and Ski guide. If certified in all three areas, this would give John his full IFMGA certification and the ability to work in other IFMGA countries such as France, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Canada. When John finally passed his AMGA ski mountaineering guides exam in Valdez, AK in May of 2006, he became the 30th American's to reach full IFMGA certification.
2022 will be the 34th consecutive season that John has made his living guiding and he hopes it will lead to another 15 seasons as interesting and rewarding as the first. John spends The majority of his time in Leavenworth, WA and currently guides many of our domestic programs so that he can be close to his family. He also leads yearly programs to Japan, Europe, and will be going to Antarctica and Argentina in late 2022 and early 2023. John previously served on the AMGA Board of Directors where he was the Vice President and worked to improve the level of guiding in the US and to open new opportunities for other guides going through the AMGA program.
Starting in 2003 Olivia became involved in the training offered by the AMGA, becoming Rock certified in 2006 and then Ski and Alpine certified in 2007. In September of 2007 at the age of 31, Olivia passed her final AMGA exam and became the 3rd woman in US history to reach IFMGA certification (the 1st was Cathy Cosley, and the 2nd was Margaret Wheeler). Anyone who has visited John and Olivia in Leavenworth or been on a trip where Olivia was cooking can attest to the fact that in addition to being a "rippin" skier, and climber, Olivia loves cooking, particularly for tired friends back from a day in the mountains. Olivia is currently a member of the AMGA Instructor Team.
John and Olivia togetherIn December of 2007 John and Olivia were finally married at Rob Newsome's Boudreaux Cellars, and are currently one of the few couples in the world to be working together as IFMGA guides. They live together in Leavenworth, WA where they run the Northwest Mountain School. Olivia tends to hold the books, permits, and staff together, while John spends a lot of time designing and selling trips. Both lead most of the programs that they participate in, but whenever possible they run programs together.
Our PhilosophyEmpowered by dual IFMGA certifications we started to see some possibilities on the horizon that had not seemed reachable before. At the heart of all of our guiding is the ethos of delivering a professional, well-organized, and enjoyable program for our customers while keeping a close eye on managing the inherent risks in all climbing and skiing programs. This is what we have chosen to do for our life's work and we take great pride in making sure that our customer's time and money are well spent on any program we are involved with.
Why So Small?Having worked for many of the largest guide services in the US we recognize that the bigger you get, the more you have to compromise on the quality of individual trips. Our schedule is usually 70% booked about one year in advance and we have been focusing on having a more European approach to guiding with small groups of return customers doing one or more trips per year with either or both of us. We have both found that by running programs to a wide variety of places each season we can work very demanding schedules and not get burned out. In the past we have each worked in environments where we climb the same mountain over and over all summer and we found that after a certain number of trips the quality of later programs suffered.
Running a good trip requires extensive pre-trip planning and we balance our schedule seasonally so that we have enough office time each year to help our existing customers to get ready for their program. We can help with any aspect of your trip from the trip itself to equipment purchase and selection, training, and travel arrangements. Consulting for corporate groups, helping design equipment for the military, fetching more beer for our summit team, we are happy to do whatever it takes to make your trip work well.
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