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Guide Ripperger joins exclusive IFMGA club

Marc Ripperger becomes 189th American certified IFMGA guide
Marc Ripperger skis on the Pika Glacier in Alaska’s Denali National Park. Ripperger, a Durango-based guide, recently became the 189th American to earn his International Federation of Mountain Guides Association pin. (Courtesy of Marc Ripperger)

Marc Ripperger has been on adventures in mountains all over the world, from the San Juan Mountains to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest in the States to Ecuador, Peru, Russia, Africa and Jordan abroad.

After guiding guests on trips for roughly the last two decades while working on his International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations certification, Ripperger recently became the 189th American to earn his IFMGA pin, enabling him to guide rock, alpine and ski trips pretty much anywhere in the world.

“Finishing this process feels both rewarding and bittersweet,” he said. “I have dedicated over 20 years to guiding and look at the 15 years with the AMGA /IFMGA process as extremely rewarding and maturing. I have added so much to my life from those early years living out of my truck and traveling around and guiding/climbing. To now settle in and be a part of the community in Durango and continue to pursue my passion for guiding with my wife and two amazing girls is really the true reward. The IFMGA certification just puts a little icing on the cake.”

Marc Ripperger and his wife, Sondra, and kids Attica and Neely, gather after he earned his International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations pin. Kelly Ryan made him the 'Pin'ata to celebrate the achievement. (Courtesy of Marc Ripperger)

Ripperger has lived in Durango for about five years. He works with San Juan Expeditions and is also partner/owner of Cirque Guides. Her has also worked for the Farmington Fire Department for the last six years as a firefighter.

The international guide, however, didn’t grow up in the mountains. He grew up in Iowa and said he played baseball pretty seriously growing up. He discovered climbing while attending the University of Northern Iowa at the school’s indoor facility. He didn’t have climbing shoes, so he wore a pair of borrowed wrestling shoes to climb at first, and he still caught the climbing bug.

“It was essentially what I was looking for when I stopped organized sports: challenging myself on that level,” he said.

Ripperger also met his wife, Sondra, at the university’s climbing wall.

While in college, he entered an exchange program and ended up at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

“It was my last choice, but it ended up working out,” he said. “Albuquerque was a great jumping off point for me. The Sandia Mountains have incredibly adventurous climbing and was a great place to cut my teeth and develop my mountain skills.”

Ripperger stayed in Albuquerque after he graduated and worked at a climbing gym. He met his first mentor at the gym, John Kear. Kear was one of the first Americans to get his IFMGA certification and had climbed all over the world when he met Ripperger.

“We started climbing a lot together and he introduced me to the AMGA process,” Ripperger said. “He told me if you can climb in the Sandias, you can climb anywhere in the world.”

Ripperger didn’t believe Kear at first, but the route finding, dealing with loose rock and the mountain environment’s afternoon thunderstorms in the Sandias did prepare him well.

“It really shaped me as a climber and a guide,” he said. The early mileage he logged in the Sandias also helped him.

“I felt it was really important that if I got into instruction, my climbing be at an expert level,” he said. “I spent a lot of time climbing on a personal level so I was competent. A lot of guiding is like an invisible rope, demonstrating while guests watch me, so I felt it was important to be exceptional.”

Ripperger completed the rock portion of the IFMGA process in 2011 and the alpine portion in 2013. The third discipline, skiing, however, took him another 10 years to finish.

“I maybe went skiing one time growing up on a trash dump,” he said. “I was going to finish my career in rock and alpine; I was not interested in skiing.”

Ripperger guided with Kaer at Suntoucher Mountain Guides in New Mexico. He has also worked as an ice-climbing guide in Ouray for 17 years.

When he did start to ski, he said it was really humbling.

“I was almost placed in a client role, chasing my friends around because I was always the worst skier,” he said. “I spent 10 years becoming a good skier, which helped me teach skiing from a client’s perspective. I know how challenging it can be and how frustrating it is to struggle in powder. It helped me be more empathetic, and now it’s my favorite discipline to guide.”

He completed the ski portion of IFMGA this spring in Valdez, Alaska. During the eight-day exam, he had to design a weeklong ski vacation for high-level backcountry skiers in steep couloirs, complex glaciated terrain while also finding untouched powder in fun terrain. Each day he had to submit a local avalanche forecast for the area. He also had to complete a time-restricted rescue from a crevasse. Eight candidates participated, including Erin Laine of Silverton. Laine obtained her AMGA certification from the exam.

One of the examiners, meanwhile, was Kaer. The same man who helped Ripperger get involved in guiding was there when he finished his international certification.

“John was the one to pin me, essentially,” Ripperger said. “It was a neat way to end the IFMGA process of my education.”

He also said, “I couldn’t have done this without my wife’s support.”

Ripperger has now settled down in Durango after spending years as a nomad.

“I spent a lot of time living out of my truck over the years; it’s the best way to do it and travel from spot to spot,” he said. “My rotation was to spend the summers in Denali, come down for the rock in the fall, in the winter be an ice guide in Ouray and then either extend that and continue to ski or do desert climbing. That was always my rotation, but it gets hard. We wanted to settle down in a place where we have a community and figured Durango is a great spot to do that. This is a great spot for us.”

Some years, he said, he would spend 250 days guiding guests. Now he guides around 100 days for San Juan Expeditions and Cirque, which has been around for about four years.

“My focus has always been on the relational side of guiding – building relationships and partnerships with guests,” he said. “That led me to Cirque Guides. That’s our vision: empowering guests through instruction and challenging them. We try to customize the programs and keep it low ratio.”