Guide Bela Vadasz – AMGA Lifetime Achievement Award

Post by blogger | October 28, 2008      

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.

Bela Vadasz

Bela Vadasz mountain life highlights, from left to right: Bridger Pass, Yosemite, 1959; NW Face Half Dome, 1978; Achievement Award, 2008, Integral Peuterey, Mont Blanc, 1988; Mer de Glace, Chamonix, 2002.

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.)


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8 Responses to “Guide Bela Vadasz – AMGA Lifetime Achievement Award”

  1. Nick October 28th, 2008 10:58 am

    I was recently looking for a good provider of a Level 1 avi course in North Lake Tahoe, and ASA came highly recommended. Signed-up for a class at the end of December. Looking forward to it and working with Bela’s outfit.

  2. Matt Kinney October 28th, 2008 12:06 pm

    Congrats. Had the pleasure of meeting Bela last winter as he finished working a group of skier/students across the Chugach from Tsaina Lodge to Valdez during really lousy weather. Always flattered and humbled to meet a real “guide of the mountains”. He really likes the Chugach!! Dostie was there and recognized him and they were gently surprised to bump into each other at Valdez Pioneer Airport. Hopefully the next time we meet it will be on skiis. Kudos once again.

  3. powderjunky October 28th, 2008 2:46 pm

    I like their idea of teaching the whole mountain experience. I think a lot of backcountry skiers these days are very talented skiers but miss the point that one should have good overall mountain awareness.

  4. Ray B November 18th, 2008 3:42 am

    Congratulations Bela!
    I skied the Sierra High Route wth him in 1984. An amazing trip.
    He is the consummate professional mountain guide but very down to earth.
    I spent many a fun night with he and Mimi at the old Donner Spitz Hutte.
    Are we haute yet?

  5. Charlie Hobbs UIAGM/IFMGA Guide August 1st, 2010 3:36 am

    That’s fantastic Bela. I had the pleasure to meet Bela when he came to Mt Cook New Zealand in the early 90’s to assist on a winter guides course I was assessing on. He brought with him some valuable techniques which have proved valuable within our training of winter guides. Would love to catch up again sometime.


    Charlie and Mary

  6. Steve Powell September 29th, 2012 2:23 pm

    I took a couple of trips with Bela back in the mid/late nineties. He was an outstanding guide and a really nice person

  7. Joshua Scholnick September 29th, 2012 9:24 pm

    It’s well earned! Congrats, Bela.

  8. Mark Brownell September 20th, 2017 10:30 am

    Bela, thanks for the Saute Pedale, pedal jump turn. I see now that on the internet it is a lost art form. What they do show by experts is not what you taught me, which is far easier and safer.

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