Ecuador Ring of Fire Ski Expedition

11 Days in Ecuador / (Skill level: Intermediate)

Price per person

$4,750.00

About this trip

Ski two of Ecuador’s biggest peaks, including Cotopaxi the world’s tallest active volcano. Learn high altitude climbing and skiing skills and progress from backcountry skier to ski mountaineer through the skills you learn on this trip. Experience the rich Ecuadorian culture in Quito and Otavalo.

Overview

  • skill level

    Intermediate

  • Duration

    11 Days

Alpenglow is thrilled to be offering the Ring of Fire Ski Expedition. Our high altitude guides are also big mountain ski mountaineers. The combination of their expertise and high-end logistics that have been a priority of Alpenglow’s for over a decade, has us uniquely positioned as the first guide service to offer international, high altitude ski expeditions. We created this program as a perfect segue for backcountry skiers looking to gain the skills that will enable them to ski higher and more technical mountains. This program is for the backcountry skier who wants to become a ski mountaineer, and the ski mountaineer looking to progress to high altitude peaks.

Alpenglow Expeditions’ guides have been climbing and guiding in Ecuador since 1994 and believe it is unparalleled for learning the essential skills of high altitude climbing while also exploring a friendly and interesting culture. These mountains are also the ideal place for bringing your backcountry skiing to the next level. On the Ring of Fire Expedition, we focus on teaching you technical skills that you might not have needed in the backcountry settings you’ve previously experienced. You will be utilizing ropes for glacier travel and on exposed terrain, while also managing the effects of high altitude. Incorporating these elements and skills with your backcountry skiing experience is a significant step in your progression from “backcountry skier” to “ski mountaineer.” Throughout our attempts to summit and ski both Cayambe at 18,997 feet (5,790 meters) and Cotopaxi at 19,347 feet (5,897 meters), we will be preparing everyone on the team with the skills and knowledge needed not just for these peaks, but for bigger peaks around the world.

Our ski expedition begins in Ecuador’s capital of Quito. The city, surrounded by four glaciated peaks, sits at 9,500 feet (2,896 meters), so your acclimatization begins immediately upon arrival. We spend the first day exploring the old colonial center of Quito and enjoying fantastic food and hospitality. We continue our acclimatization by riding the local telepherique to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) on Rucu Pinchincha and then hiking to its 15,700 foot (4,785 meter) summit.

After spending time in Quito, we move to the town of Otavalo, which is known for its local markets and beautiful culture full of textiles and amazing food. We base out of Otavalo for a couple of days as we continue our acclimatization on day hikes, before we move up to the base of Cayambe.

Once we are settled into the hut at the base of Cayambe, we spend a full day discussing and practicing high altitude climbing and skiing skills on Cayambe’s lower glaciers. This day is essential in becoming a competent team member on this ski expedition. We will cover crampon and ice axe techniques; traveling on a rope team; snow and ice anchor placement; companion rescue; and advanced skinning techniques.

At this point, we are ready to put our skills to use on Cayambe. We wake early to begin our climb and ski. We’ll scramble on scree, skin on mildly glaciated terrain, beginning with low angle touring, and progressing in steepness to the point of transitioning to crampons for the final section to the summit. Cayambe’s terrain will push everyone to utilize their complete skill set, while still allowing us to take in the beauty of the glaciated volcano. Once we ski down, we head back to Papallacta and visit the natural hot springs in the cloud forest of the Eastern Cordillera.

Once we settle into the lodge inside Cotopaxi National Park, we prepare to wake early for our climb and ski descent of Cotopaxi. This is a long day of climbing during which we will spend more time in crampons than we did on Cayambe. This also means that on our descent we will be able to put our more technical ski mountaineering techniques into practice, including belayed skiing. The climb and ski on Cotopaxi are much more demanding than on Cayambe and the team is rewarded with a long technical descent and unmatched views. After skiing Cotopaxi, we head back to Quito for a final day of celebration before departing for home.

One or more of Alpenglow’s AMGA certified lead/ski guides will guide our Ring of Fire Ski Expedition. The AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) certification is the highest possible training available to guides and only the most experienced and dedicated attain it. Our lead guides have also traveled and climbed extensively in South America and know the Ecuadorian volcanoes intimately. Our guide’s knowledge of Andean culture and mountains, and their passion for teaching others to become competent mountaineers, guarantees that your experience will be one to remember.

We combine our ski guides’ experience with the local expertise of our close friend, guide, and expert Ecuadorian logistics operator, Jaime Avila. Jaime is one of Ecuador’s most respected climbing guides, and he guides with Alpenglow around the world. Our small team size and low ratio of skiers to guides (3:1) ensures that you stay healthy and strong, and are able to enjoy each component of this unique experience.

Preparation

  • Fitness

    Climbers must be in excellent physical shape to join this expedition. This is perhaps the most important aspect of high altitude climbing, and cannot be stressed enough. Regular, challenging exercise for many months in advance of departure is the only way to gain the necessary level of fitness that is needed on big peaks. We highly recommend a structured training regime with a gym or personal trainer to assist you in preparing for climbing at altitude. Please contact us for more information on physical training.

  • Technical Experience

    Skiers must be competent on a variety of terrain and snow conditions. Skiers must be able to link turns in steep terrain (up to 45 degrees) while maintaining control. Skiers must also have basic snow climbing experience including use of ice axe and crampons.

  • Altitude Experience

    It is required that climbers have prior experience at altitudes up to 14,000' and it is strongly recommended that climbers have prior experience at altitudes over 15,000'.

    • Day 1 — Arrival

      Arrive into Quito (9,500 feet/2,896 meters) in the evening. Our guides will pick you up and bring you to our hotel, a local family-run place close to excellent restaurants and the tourist center of the city. (Saturday)

    • Day 2 — Explore and Organize

      Explore the colonial section of Quito. This historical city is famous for its beautiful churches, president’s palace, and ever-present views of the glaciated peaks that surround it. After touring for half the day, we spend the afternoon preparing for our acclimatization climb on Pinchincha, practicing fixed line techniques, and organizing all our ski and climbing gear.

    • Day 3 — Acclimatization Hike

      Our first acclimatization hike. We ride the telepherique from the center of the city to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) on Rucu Pinchincha. Two hours of hiking brings us to the rock ridge, which we climb, conditions permitting to Pinchincha’s 15,700-foot (4,785 meter) summit. This climb is a proud peak on its own and it is also important acclimatization for bigger peaks.

    • Day 4 — Move to Otovalo

      We move to the town of Otavalo. Otavalo has some of the best food in Ecuador and is renowned for its local markets. We will spend most of the day taking a day hike around Quicocha Lake, a stunning crater lake, and then spend then evening at the Hacienda Pinsaqui.

    • Day 5 — Move up to Cayambe

      We move up to Cayambe and settle into the mountain hut. We spend the afternoon out on Cayambe’s lower glacier. Sitting just below the hut, the glacier is an ideal venue for practicing self-arrest skills and avalanche beacon practice.

    • Day 6 — Skills day on the Glacier

      We spend the morning reviewing the skill set that we will need for climbing and skiing Cayambe. This day includes instruction on crevasse rescue, advanced glacier travel, and ski touring techniques. We spend the afternoon resting, hydrating, eating, and getting to bed early for the summit of Cayambe.

    • Day 7 — Summit and Ski Day

      Cayambe Summit Day! We wake at around midnight, have a hot drink and breakfast, and then begin our climb. The route takes us across scree to the glacier, and then winds up through progressively steeper slopes and heavily crevassed areas. From there, moderate slopes lead to another steep headwall. Often icy, this slope will require all of our climbing techniques to make it to the top. From the summit, we will strap on our skis for an amazing glaciated ski descent off of the summit. Once back at the hut we will descend back to the town of Papallacta. We will spend the evening recovering in Papallacta’s natural hot springs.

    • Day 8 — Drive to Tambopaxi

      Depart Papallacta midday and drive to Hosteria Tambopaxi. Tambopaxi is a beautiful lodge located in Cotopaxi National Park, where we will be set up well for our climb and ski.

    • Day 9 — Rest & Skills Day

      Rest and skills day at Tambopaxi.

    • Day 10 — Summit and Ski Day

      We will wake around midnight and move up to the parking area below the Cotopaxi hut. We will then begin our climb of Cotopaxi starting on a series of trails through the lower scree slopes. We will climb the lower glaciers up to the summit headwall where the terrain steepens as it leads us to the summit. Once on top we will begin our ski descent back down the glaciated slopes. After arriving back in the parking area, we will descend and continue to Quito for the evening. 

    • Day 11 — Weather Day & Departure

      We can use this day as an extra summit day if needed, and end up in Quito that evening. If not, we get an extra day in Quito to explore the city, before catching our flights home that night.

      • Head

      • Smith I/O goggles

        These will be worn on stormy or windy days. Make sure you are getting a snug fit with lenses that are appropriate for bright and low-light conditions. Ventilation and anti-fog features are recommended.

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      • Kaenon Klay sunglasses

        Must have dark lenses. Minimal light should come in below, above, or around the sides of the lenses.“Wrap” style is best. Ventilation is important and a retainer strap recommended (Chums or Croakies).

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      • SmartWool Balaclava

        We recommend a tight-fitting balaclava that is worn under your hat. Make sure that it covers as much skin as possible and yet still comfy.

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      • Patagonia Lined Beanie

        A comfortable, warm well-fitting hat that covers your ears. Make sure that your beanie fits under a helmet. We also recommend the Marmot Summit Hat.

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      • Marmot PreCip Baseball Hat

        A great hat to help keep the sun out of your eyes and keep you cool on warm days.

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      • Hands

      • Black Diamond guide glove

        These gloves should be full GORE-TEX®, with a removable fleece liner (so you can take the liner out and dry it at night). The warmer the liner the better.

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      • Marmot Windstopper glove

        You will rarely take these gloves off.  They should be snug-fitting, and have some sort of reinforced palm.

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      • Feet

      • Darn Tough 1/4 cushion hiking sock

        These are your every day sock, good for day hikes, trekking and town days.

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      • Darn Tough Cushion boot sock

        Your go-to mountain sock. It is very important to dial in your boot/ sock combo, as everyone will have a slightly different fit in their boots. Merino wool has become a guides favorite, and we have found these socks to be a solid performer.  NO COTTON.

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      • LaSportiva Bushido hiking shoe

        These light to mid-weight shoes are for every day use. The ideal shoe is comfortable to wear for multiple days and scrambles decently on rock. A Gore-tex lined shoe stays drier when hiking in rain or snow. High top hiking boots are heavy and unnecessary.

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      • Upper Body

      • Icebreaker long sleeve Top

        A merino or poly-pro base layer that you will wear often. Fitted, light-weight and quick drying.

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      • Marmot Greenland Jacket

        A puffy jacket with a hood that will keep you warm during the coldest of conditions. The higher the quality down, the better (800-fill is best). However, be sure the jacket is still lightweight.

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      • Marmot Minimalist Jacket

        A lightweight, waterproof and breathable jacket WITH A HOOD that can withstand extreme weather conditions. Make sure you have pit-zips and if you are using an old jacket, re-waterproof it. PacLite® is preferred for lightweight.

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      • Marmot ROM softshell jacket

        While this item isn’t required, we know that those who don’t have one wish they did! More breathable than Gore-tex, these jackets block wind and light precipitation.

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      • Patagonia Nanopuff jacket

        Warmer than your expedition weight top, but not as extreme as your big puffy jacket. Full zip is recommended.

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      • Patagonia R1 hoody

        A poly-pro mid-layer that you will wear often. Fitted, light-weight and quick drying. Make sure it is long enough to tuck-in and we recommend zipper collars for more ventilation.

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      • Patagonia tropic comfort hoody

        This lite weight hoody has become a guide favorite for almost every day spent in the mountains. This layer can be worn on hot or cold days, and shields you from the sun during long hours spent outside.

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      • Icebreaker Tech Lite shirt

        Light base layer that effectively wicks moisture away from your body and is breathable. Quick-dry is important as well. One light colored shirt is recommended for extremely sunny days.  We have found that merino wool is the superior material for base layers, as they regulate body temperature very well, and are extremely odor resistant.

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      • Lower Body

      • Arc'teryx Atom LT insulated pants

        Full-length side zippers are recommended, for throwing on top of all of your layers.

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      • Marmot Minimalist Pant

        Your waterproof bottom layer for extreme weather days. Make sure you have water-resistant zippers, crampon patches + good pockets.

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      • Marmot Scree Pant

        You will spend most of your days in these pants. Choose Schoeller® or a soft-shell equivalent. Breathable + water-resistant. These pants should have an ankle zip so they will accommodate your mountain boot.

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      • Patagonia expedition weight bottoms

        Fitted, light-weight and quick drying. The mid-weight will be a base-layer that will get you through a wide range of temperatures.

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      • Icebreaker long underwear

        Fitted, light-weight and quick drying. This base-layer will get you through a wide range of temperatures. NO COTTON.

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      • Patagonia Shorts

        Throw these on under other layers for when the sun begins to beat, or you have a sudden urge to jump in a glacial lake. Lightweight, durable and comfortable. NO COTTON.

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      • Equipment

      • Backcountry Access Stealth Probe 240

        Simple, lightweight probe, 240-300cm. Must have an auto-locking feature.

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      • Pieps Avalanche Beacon

        A digital transceiver that is simple to use or that you are extremely comfortable using.

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      • Black Diamond Transfer 3 shovel

        Simple, metal bladed avalanche shovel. Extendable handle recommended.

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      • Black Diamond HotWire Carabiner

        Lightweight, non-locking carabiner.

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      • Black Diamond VaporLock Screwgate Carabiner

        Lightweight, locking carabiner.

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      • Black Diamond ATC-XP belay device

        Light, easy to use + simple. Should have teeth/grooves for skinny ropes.

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      • Black Diamond Raven Ultra ice axe

        Non-technical ice tool, 50-60 cm long. Make sure axe has a comfortable hold, and is lightweight.

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      • Nalgene 1 liter water bottle

        Two Lexan 1 liter, wide mouth bottles.

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      • Black Diamond Serac crampon

        Steel crampons with anti-balling plates are required (so that snow does not build-up in the base of your foot). Make sure that crampons have a heel bail. * crampons are also available to rent at no charge from Alpenglow expeditions on a first come, first serve basis.

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      • Black Diamond Trekking Poles

        Must be collapsible poles. Make sure that they are durable, lightweight + easily adjustable. You must have at least one, but we recommend 2.

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      • Petzl Sitta harness

        Must have belay loop, gear loops and adjustable or stretchable leg loops so that you can layer up underneath it. Easy to pack, lightweight + comfortable. *Harnesses are also available to rent at no charge from Alpenglow expeditions on a first come, first serve basis.

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      • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

        L.E.D. headlamps are required.. Make sure they have 3+ bulbs. Bring extra batteries. We highly recommend a tilting lamp.

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      • Marmot Col sleeping bag

        Rated to -20º F. Choose an 800+ Fill Premium Goose Down bag. Make certain that the sleeping bag is the right length. DON’T FORGET A COMPRESSION SACK FOR THE SLEEPING BAG. Many climbers also like a silk liner. Recommended: Granite Gear Compression Sack.

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      • Therm-a-rest NeoAir Therm sleeping pad

        72 inch long inflatable pad required. Make sure you also purchase and bring a repair kit + bag for the sleeping pad.

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      • Marmot Long Hauler Duffel

        These bags should be extremely durable, waterproof, and big! You should feel comfortable leaving it in a puddle for several hours. Remember dry clothes are hot commodities in the mountains! Large enough to fit everything you own, plus what you anticipate buying.

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      • Black Diamond Speed 50 pack

        Internal frame pack that is between 50 and 60 liters. This pack should be comfortable, lightweight and fitted to your body.

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      • Black Diamond Bullet pack

        A small pack for city days and trekking. Streamlined, neat and lightweight (10-20 liters). This pack is also great to use for your carry on luggage.

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      • Ski Equipment

      • Salomon ski/ climbing helmet

        This helmet is very light, comfortable, and is certified for both skiing and climbing.

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      • Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32 ski pack

        A ski-specific backpack is preferred to a regular pack, due to the external pocket for avalanche rescue gear. 20-35 liters.

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      • Backcountry skis, bindings and skins

        These skis should be relatively lightweight, 90-110mm underfoot, and have a shape that works well in  a variety of snow conditions. "Tech" style bindings strongly recommended. Make sure your skins are trimmed to your ski.

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    • Would you consider doing a custom Ecuador Ski expedition?

      Absolutely. We always consider doing custom itineraries. Call or email to get started!

    • What sort of experience is needed for the Ring of Fire?

      This trip is suitable for advanced backcountry skiers and riders only. You must be very comfortable on steep terrain, and have significant touring experience. While having mountaineering experience is preferred, there will be time on this expedition devoted to learning the necessary skills to travel in the high mountains, on glaciers, and on steep terrain.

    • What level of fitness is required?

      Climbers must be in excellent physical shape to join this expedition. This is perhaps the most important aspect of high altitude climbing, and cannot be stressed enough. Regular, challenging exercise for many months in advance of departure is the only way to gain the necessary level of fitness that is needed on big peaks. We highly recommend a structured training regime with a gym or personal trainer to assist you in preparing for climbing at altitude. Please contact us for more information on physical training.

    • Do you rent gear for the Ring of Fire?

      For a trip of this magnitude, we recommend and find that most climbers already own personal climbing and skiing gear. If needed, Alpenglow can provide harness, helmet and crampons, reservations required. Participants must have their own backcountry ski equipment, and be very familiar with its’ use.

Logan Talbott

Director of Operations / Guide

Logan has been guiding professionally for over 10 years in the disciplines of Rock, Alpine and Ski Mountaineering. When not out guiding, Logan keeps things running smoothly as the director of operations at Alpenglow Expeditions. From one day ascents of El Capitan to big Alpine climbs in the Himalaya, from ski descents on Denali to backyard ski tours in Lake Tahoe, he can’t help but smile when out running around the hills. Logan is an IFMGA aspirant mountain guide, a certified Ski and Rock Guide through the AMGA, an Avalanche course leader through AIARE, as well as a wilderness EMT. In addition to guiding, Logan has extensive experience in mountain rescue, having worked for rescue teams in both Yosemite and Denali National Parks, and volunteering locally for Tahoe Nordic SAR. When not out in the hills, he lives in Truckee, CA with his lovely wife Lynette and spotted dog Arlo.

Guide Certifications
  • AMGA Certified Rock Guide
  • AMGA Certified Ski Guide

Ben Mitchell

Ben has been in love with the mountains from a young age. He began hiking and skiing with his family and quickly decided he never wanted to stop. After finishing university in Portland, OR Ben moved back to Washington State and began guiding on Mt. Rainier and around the Cascades. For the next many years he followed the seasons, skiing, climbing and pursuing the art of human flight through out the world. He has made expeditions into both polar circles, skied first descents in Afghanistan and climbed throughout the Americas and Europe. When not looking forward to the next adventure he thoroughly enjoys roasting coffee, reading and taking his dog out for walks.

Ben is a fully certified IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide, Certified Level III Avalanche Professional, and Wilderness First Responder.

Guide Certifications
  • AMGA - American Mountain Guide
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

Zeb Blais

From bushwhacking miles of Manzanita in ski boots to traversing huge glaciers in exotic ranges, adventure draws Zeb in. Originally from Vermont, Zeb has been hooked on big mountains since his first ski tour in Jackson Hole and has pursued skiing, climbing and exploring ever since. Zeb has climbed and guided in the Himalaya, Alaska, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador and Asia among others and he’s working hard to keep that list growing. Working as a mountain guide allows Zeb to share his passion for human powered movement in the mountains and to pass along what he’s learned along the way.

Zeb has successfully guided Mt Everest [29,029′], Mt Cho Oyu [26,906′] including a ski descent from the summit, Lobuche East [20,075′],  and four expeditions on Denali [20,320’], including a ski descent from the summit. He has completed 64 summits of Mount Rainier [14,410’]. Additional credentials include 12 summits of Mount Shasta [14,179’]; 5 summits of Mount Shuksan [9,100’]; 3 summits via Mount Baker [10,678’], including one ski descent from the summit, and two ski descents via the North Ridge; 2 summits of Aconcagua [22,841’]; 1 summit of Cotopaxi and 1 summit of Cayabme; 2 summits of Ixtacihuatl in Mexico; 3 summits of Orizaba in Mexico, including a ski descent from the summit; and numerous rock, alpine and ski summits from the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, Coast ranges and Rockies.

Zeb is an AMGA certified ski guide.

Guide Certifications
  • AMGA Certified Ski Guide

Brian Warren

IFMGA/AMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide

Brian is a very passionate climber, skier and mountain guide.  He has been climbing for over 13 years and has spent the last 8 of those years skiing as many days as possible.  Brian currently works as a professional mountain guide year round and can be found guiding in various parts of the world including Jackson Hole, WY, the Pacific Northwest and the European Alps in the winter months.  Brian has also spent time climbing and guiding in Alaska, Canada, South America and the Himalaya.  He currently enjoys beautiful alpine traverses, warm desert rock and technical ski mountaineering.  He recently completed a ski mountaineering traverse enchaining the East Face of the Grand Teton, the Chounaird Couloir of the Middle Teton and the South East Couloir of the South Teton in a one day push car to car.  He is also an accomplished rock and ice climber and is always looking for new and exciting venues.  Brian presently holds IFMGA/AMGA Aspirant status as well as a Wilderness First Responder, Leave No Trace Masters, and an Avalanche III certification.  Brian is always excited to guide people in the mountains and to help individuals obtain their personal goals of mountain travel.

Guide Certifications
  • AMGA Certified Alpine Guide
  • AMGA Certified Ski Guide

Adrian Ballinger

Adrian Ballinger is one of the USA’s premier high-altitude mountain guides, and the only American guide to have both AMGA/IFMGA guide’s certification (one of roughly 100 in the USA) and more than 10 summits of 8,000 meter peaks (12 total, including 6 summits of Mt. Everest). As founder and head guide of Alpenglow Expeditions, Adrian has been guiding full-time for fifteen years and has led over 100 international climbing expeditions on 5 continents.

In 2011 he, along with 2 Sherpa partners, became the first people to summit three 8,000 meter peaks in only 3 weeks (Everest twice and Lhotse once). He is also the first person to ski Manaslu, the 8th tallest mountain in the world, from its summit, and the first American to successfully ski two 8,000-meter peaks. These personal successes are combined with Adrian’s passion for guiding and teaching others. Adrian has led expeditions where more than 100 clients have successfully summited Everest, Lhotse (the 4th tallest mountain in world), Cho Oyu (6th tallest) and Manaslu (8th tallest).

Whether on skis, in rock shoes, or mountain boots, Adrian thrives on sharing the big mountains with friends and clients, and helping them to build their skills and experience to be successful on the world’s most beautiful mountains. In the coming seasons Adrian plans on continuing to enjoy big-mountain skiing, climbing, and guiding in the Himalaya, South America, Alaska, and of course closer to “home” in Squaw Valley, CA. Adrian is a sponsored athlete for Eddie Bauer, La Sportiva, Petzl, Kaenon, Goal Zero, Hypoxico, Alpenglow Sports and High Altitude Fitness.

Learn more about Adrian at adrianballinger.com

Guide Certifications
  • AMGA - American Mountain Guide
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

Gaspar Navarrete

Gaspar Navarrete

ASEGUIM Certified Mountain Guide

Gaspar hails from Ecuador, and has been guiding for over 18 years, and climbing since he was 12. He has extensive experience in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Patagonia, Aconcagua, the Himalaya, the Cascades, the Alps and the Pyrenees. Gaspar has established new routes in both Ecuador and Bolivia. As an active instructor with the Ecuadorian School for Mountain Guides, he has trained in Ecuador, Bolivia and France. He is a Wilderness First Responder, and has spent a great deal of time working at high altitude.

Gaspar joined one of Quito’s oldest climbing clubs at a young age, which gave him the opportunity to mentor under very experienced climbers. He considers the Andes, including Patagonia, his home, and he love to share his enthusiasm for the mountains, the Andean traditions, food and culture with his guests.

Guide Certifications
  • ASEGUIM

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    Ecuador Ring of Fire Ski Expedition