During the recent annual meeting of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) in Smith Rock, Oregon, longtime guide and ski alpinist Bela Vadasz was presented with the AMGA Lifetime Achievement Award.
Bela and Mimi Vadasz founded Alpine Skills International in California in 1979 after they both graduated from San Francisco State University with degrees in outdoor recreation. They knew from the get go that they didn’t want just another guiding outfit teaching people how to rock climb, they wanted to teach the whole mountain experience, from rock to ice climbing to high altitude alpinism to ski mountaineering.
It was the latter emphasis, on backcountry skiing and ski alpinism, that made ASI distinct among American guide services, especially when they operated Donner Spitz Hütte at Donner Pass in Truckee, California. Every weekend the hütte was filled with skiers hungry for the secrets to fresh tracks and winter adventure.
By the late 80s Bela (pr: bay-lah) realized that American guiding, while growing, was also in danger of self-destructing for lack of standards. A cowboy attitude dominated guiding in America and he felt if guides were to be taken seriously as professionals, they needed to adhere to standards like European guides. That recognition led Bela to work with other guides in the AMGA to create a certification program, one that would be acceptable at an international level.
One of the early internal debates centered around this push for international acceptance, with many guides arguing that American guiding was different, not only because the terrain rarely required the full breadth of alpine skills, but also because the culture was different. Bela remained adamant that the technical standards must at least meet international standards, while allowing a distinctly American process to impart and maintain the cultural differences stateside.
In presenting the award, Rob Hess, the AMGA’s Technical Director pointed out, “Bela started the ski program which was the crux of the AMGA being admitted into the IFMGA. Without his vision and perspiration, the AMGA wouldn’t be where it is today.” Bela’s involvement with the ski program was a natural fit. ASI had always distinguished itself from other American guiding programs with one of the most robust telemark and backcountry skiing program in North America. Bela started and remains the technical director of the AMGA’s ski program.
Commenting on the award, Dick Jackson, owner of Aspen Expeditions and former president of the AMGA said, “Bela is the epitome of passion when it comes to mountains. You don’t realize it at first because he is so soft spoken, but it was more than evident in his attention to detail while developing the certification program.”
Through ASI, Bela and Mimi Vadasz have guided throughout the world. Mimi is one of the few American women to summit Everest.Together they completed what they believe to be the first American ascent of the Puterey Ridge on Mont Blanc, the longest alpine route in the alps. They also accomplished the first freeheel ski descent of Denali, and as would be fitting for someone who was instrumental in developing the AMGA’s guide certification program, Bela Vadasz was one of the first American guides to be internationally certified to IFMGA standards.
During the development of the AMGA’s guide certification program Dick Jackson became friends with Bela. He pointed out, “the most important part of the award is being recognized by his peers.”
In accepting the award, Bela G. Vadasz began by reflecting on the goals of the program. He said, “When we started this, it wasn’t really for our generation. It was for the future. We knew that we wanted American guides to be better than we were. But that future is now. Just look at everybody in this room.”
He followed that with a short list of acknowledgments, saying, “A great honor has been bestowed upon me by receiving the AMGA Lifetime Achievement Award. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved throughout my life of pursuing mountain guiding, helping enhance opportunities for American guides, along with further developing our industry.
“Special thanks go to the AMGA Board of Directors, Technical Committee, Technical Director, Rob Hess and my great friend, peer and mentor, Dick Jackson, along with all of the AMGA Administrative Staff, Certified Guides and general membership.
“It would have never been possible for me to continue a lifelong career track without the help of Mimi Vadasz who has done both front and back-end work, allowing me to go forward.
“I also owe great thanks to my parents, Bela Sr. and Eva Vadasz not only for starting me in the High Sierra at an early age, but always proudly supporting my career direction.
“Thank you all for this great honor.”
If it pleases the WildSnowers, please leave comments congratulating Bela.
(Guest blogger Craig Dostie is well known in the backcountry skiing world as founder and publisher of Couloir Magazine, the publication that led the way in making it legal for mainstream ski magazines to cover subjects other than resort ratings and how-to-snowplow tips. Along the way he coined and promoted the phrase “earn your turns,” and still does not own a snowmobile, though he has been seen riding a ski lift.)