The immediate risk is that your unqualified walking guide or hiking leader could be arrested at any time leaving your holiday ruined. You may then find yourself required to give a statement to the police as part of their investigation. Clearly not how you wish to spend your holiday.
An unqualified walking guide – your safety at risk
Most importantly your safety and well-being could be at serious risk. What if the weather suddenly changes? Can your leader navigate in difficult conditions? If your route crosses steep, rocky terrain or even makes use of steep ladders and wire protected passages does your leader have the skills and experience to keep you safe? Early summer in the Alps large areas of old snow can make normally easy routes very serious with a trip or a slip potentially having serious or fatal consequences. Can your leader protect your safety?
The benefits of using a qualified walking or trekking guide
No. 1 – Your safety & well-being.
- Your leader will have been assessed on their navigation and map reading skills. In good weather finding the right route may be easy but even in summer in the Alps snow can rapidly cover footpaths and way marks. Low cloud may suddenly make route finding more challenging.
- Your leader will have been trained and assessed in the use of the rope to protect you on steep ladders, wire protected sections of the route or even large areas of snow lingering from the winter. These can look innocuous but a slip and an uncontrolled slide may have very serious consequences.
- Your leader has to undergo regular refresher training or “Continued Professional Development” to ensure their skills are up-to-date.
- Your leader is required to have a good knowledge of the flora and fauna helping you to get the most from your holiday.
- Your leader will have been trained in First Aid, usually a course specifically for remote environments in the mountains.
- Your leader is required to hold Professional Indemnity Insurance.
By insisting on only using a qualified Accompagnateur en Montagne (AeM) or International Mountain Leader (IML) you are assured of a leader who has gone through a thorough training and assessment programme.
It is also worth checking how your holiday insurance may be affected. In some cases your insurance may be invalid if you are injured when in the company of an unqualfied leader potentially leaving you with a large bill.
The Legal Situation in France
France has strict laws (references below) on who can lead walking, hiking and trekking tours. Indeed this applies to other outdoor sport professionals such as mountain guides (guide de haute montagne), rock climbing and ski instructors. There’s no requirement for leading genuine friends or family. The purpose of the laws is protect the public.
Consequences for an unqualified walking guide or mountain leaders
Regular checks (or contrôles) are carried out by inspectors from the DDCS or the Peleton Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne (PGHM) who also carry out mountain rescues. If they suspect someone is leading a group they will ask for proof of the leaders qualifications and to see if they have registered to work in France. Should they discover that a person is not qualified they may arrest them on the spot. These unqualified leaders face up to 1 years imprisonment and / or up to a Euro 15,000 fine.
A person who is remunerated for leading walks or hikes for (which includes payment in kind) is required to hold the relevant qualification or its recognised equivalent. They are also required to register with the French Sports Ministry. Those who work on a regular basis or are resident in France will also be issued with a “Carte Professionnelle” with their photograph and a link to the qualifications they hold.
It’s often decried as France being protectionist. Not true. Any person who holds the recognised qualification or equivalent may work in France regardless of nationality. As a UK national it was a straightforward administrative matter to have my International Mountain Leader qualification recognised. The same is true for IFMGA Mountain Guides and ski instructors. There are at least 350 British ski instructors working perfectly legally in France with no hindrance.