(Alta Via 1) A guided group at the Rifugio Nuvolau, Alta Via 1

Our leaders and the IML award: An introduction

Walking guides - see all our background pages

Expert leadership

The International Mountain Leader award (the IML) is the qualification needed to lead treks in the Alps. Alpine Exploratory's guided treks are led by our superb IMLs, who bring their skills and charm to the group. Please join us.

The Alpine winter; wind effects
The Alpine winter; wind effects (Les Diablerets, Switzerland)

Mountain leadership awards in the UK

The UK's system is built up of many awards. The Walking Group Leader (WGL) covers valleys and lower hills. The key award is the Mountain Leader (ML) which covers hillwalking in summer conditions. The ML is a prerequisite for the higher awards. The Winter Mountain Leader covers hillwalking in winter conditions. All three awards (WGL, ML and Winter ML) have as their professional body the Mountain Leader Training Association (MLTA).

The Mountain Instructor Award (MIA) adds rock climbing and the higher Mountain Instructor Certificate (MIC) adds winter climbing. MIA and MIC holders have the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) as their professional body.

The International Mountain Leader (IML) has an international remit as well as being valid in the UK. The IML covers hillwalking in both summer and winter. The British Association of International Mountain Leaders (BAIML) is the professional body for British IMLs.

The Guide (IFMGA/UIAGM) covers the lot, up to Alpine mountaineering and ski touring. Like the IML is also has an international remit. The Guide's training and assessment courses stand alone instead of being based on lower courses as above. The professional body for British Guides is British Mountain Guides (BMG).

Confused? You should be. Many other countries including the US and Canada have their own schemes, but in the Alps the two awards of note are the IML and the Guide, for their respective activities.

Alpine Exploratory's leaders

Meet our IMLs Allan, Joy, Kathy, Keith, Pete, Phil, Rob and Tim:

Allan Gibbs at Alpine Exploratory Joy O'Flanagan at Alpine Exploratory Kathy Grindrod at Alpine Exploratory Keith Miller at Alpine Exploratory Pete Ellis at Alpine Exploratory Phil Jarratt at Alpine Exploratory Rob Gale at Alpine Exploratory Tim Ayriss at Alpine Exploratory


  The UIMLA logo in action    Tour du Mont Blanc

The IML award

The IML started life in 1992 as the European Mountain Leader (EML). The aim was to harmonise standards of leadership assessment across European countries. In 2005 the award became the International ML as it opened itself up to non-European members and left the aegis of the European Union (EU).

Member countries
The Union of International Mountain Leader Associations (UIMLA) administers the IML scheme. However, each member country's association runs its own training and assessment courses. The member countries are Andorra, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK. Countries in the process of joining UIMLA are Croatia, the Czech Republic, Macedonia and Peru.

Descending to Courmayeur on the TMB
Descending to Courmayeur on the Tour du Mont Blanc (Courmayeur, Italy)

Becoming an IML
Gaining the IML is a long process. The IML candidate must hold the ML award (itself involving much experience in the UK hills and a week's training course and week's assessment course) and must have a certain amount of experience internationally in both summer and winter conditions. He or she then takes the IML summer training course in the UK, which includes a timed navigation test on the mountain. This is followed by a summer assessment course and a winter training course, both in the Alps. (This winter training can be replaced by the training course of the Winter ML, plus personal experience in the Alpine winter.) Finally, and after more experience has been built up, a successful winter assessment course in the Alps lets the candidate pass out as an IML. This is the current scheme of courses which was brought in during 2008.

Keeping skills current
BAIML, the professional body for British IMLs, has a scheme of continuing professional development (CPD) which aims to keep IMLs' skills up to speed. In each four-year period an IML must complete a number of courses, on a choice of topics relevant to leading in the mountains, that keep things fresh.

Names for the IML
The official name of the qualification is the IML, or International Mountain Leader, but in everyday life in French-speaking countries the IML is called an accompagnateur. IML lacks the right tone in France or French-speaking Switzerland... some things might never become harmonised. In Italy it is an accompagnatore.

A distant Dent Blanche on an IML assessment course
A distant Dent Blanche from above Cabane d'Ar Pitetta on an IML assessment course (Zinal, Switzerland)

What it means for the trekker

For the trekker joining a guided holiday in the Alps, there are two legal qualifications: the IML and the Guide. In practice the IML is the qualification to seek, because Guides concentrate on the mountaineering and because the IML is such a sound award for trek leaders. Quite apart from the legalities there are many reasons for the IML to be a mark of good leadership:

+ In crossing snow patches, safeguarding (as far as possible) the party using various means and if needed a rope.
+ In navigating, skills in micronavigation rigorously tested over many courses; for example, staying on course in thick cloud where the path on the ground is unclear.
+ On steep ground and on fixed equipment (chains, ladders and other aids) ensuring smooth and safe passage of the section.
+ On the local environment, good knowledge of flora and fauna. This is a skill separate from those essential to safety above, but is made much of by the IML scheme during assessments.

Join our IMLs on our guided trips

Alpine Exploratory offers guided walking holidays in the Alps, led by our skilled and personable IMLs.

Guided walking holidays - see all our guided Alpine trips

Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
About us