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SPI vs BSA Climbing Director


Original Post
Adam Gellman · · Jersey City/Burlington · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 140

So I am being sent to Camp School to be trained as a Boy Scout Camp Climbing Director. I am interested in how it stacks up against AMGA SPI, and if the BSA cert is recognized outside the BSA.

Also, as an experienced trad climber and top roping climbing instructor,  what can I learn there that I wouldn't get being self taught?

Jon Miller on the WS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 15

All depends on the instructor and course.  I've taken both courses (albeit nearly 15 years apart). The BSA course isn't officially recognized by anyone outside of BSA.  It is more on par with a college outings club training then the SPI.  You will learn some basic top rope set up, knots, first aid and instructional aids and tips.  When I took mine (in Nebraska on a climbing tower!?!). I ended up co-teaching almost the entire class as I had more real world experience then the instructor.  

You sound like you are in the same boat I was.  There won't be much if any technical skills that you will learn.  You might pick up some new soft skill things.  

Hopefully you'll be in a good group and make some new friends and maybe pick up a few good hints.

SPI is a whole different animal, serious guide training for serious guides.  It is a much better training then the old Top Rope cert.

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
Jon Miller on the WS wrote:

SPI is a whole different animal, serious guide training for serious guides.

Got a bit of a laugh on this one. SPI is not serious anything, it's entry level. It might be more serious than the BSA thing, but it's still basic. If you want a legitimate guide-level curriculum, you'll want to look into the rock guide certification which is several times more involved than SPI.

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

the new SPI course is much different and more involved than the old one.

climber pat · · Las Cruces, NM · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 215
Nick Goldsmith wrote:

the new SPI course is much different and more involved than the old one.

What has changed?  The description on the AMGA web site seems the same.  https://amga.com/single-pitch-instructor/  3 days instruction, 2 day exam, limited climbing prerequisites.  In my opinion this is the bare minimum I would be comfortable with as a guiding company for even the simplest most controlled guiding situation.

Jon Miller on the WS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 15

You've got to start some where in a guiding career.  You are right, I wouldn't want a SPI guiding me up the Tetons or an Eldo multi pitch, but it is a legitimate class that teaches and evaluates the nessessary skills for low consequence, relitivley easy access single pitch climbing.  By "only" being a 3 day class with a 2 day evaluation it makes the price tag a little more palitable.

Eplumer400 · · Cleveland, OH · Joined May 2016 · Points: 115

I know the requirements for the climbing merit badge changed this year, but I don't know what they exactly changed or if they changed the methods of teaching it. Two years ago I assisted teaching the merit badge class with a BSA instructor to get my "level 1" certification, and I knew more from reading Freedom of the Hills and applying it than the instructor did. When I was helping out they instructed the kids on belaying with the slap slide method, which blows my mind. Mind you I haven't been climbing for too long, but in my eyes the slap slide method is too complicated and leaves too much room for error when it comes to 12 year old kids learning to belay for the first time. Good thing they require back up belays. 

The BSA is weird in that they tend to only recognize people who go through their own training to become counselors for activities. You could be Tommy Caldwell and they'll still require you to take a BSA counselor course. 

George Wu · · Newport Beach, CA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 76

I've taken the BSA Climbing Instructor training three times including in the past year.  The training is focused on keeping the Scouts safe, and so parts of the course have little to do with the actual climbing itself.  There are a bunch of BSA rules regarding climbing that get covered, things like how many climbing instructors are required, what activities a Scoutmaster must delegate to others while (s)he is overseeing a climbing activity, keeping equipment logs to document the full history of gear, etc.

One can become a BSA climbing instructor with limited real world climbing experience.  When I first took the course, I'd only ever top roped on anchors built by guides in a classroom setting.  Boy Scouts must climb, belay, and rappel to earn the Climbing merit badge, so instructor training covers the rules for those activities to keep them safe.  Boy Scouts may not lead climb, so a lot of time is spent building top rope anchors.  Really inexperienced climbers may not be passed, or as I was back then, strongly encouraged to partner up with another instructor with more real world experience.

Maybe its just a local thing, but I also found the BSA climbing a little old school.  There's a distinct preference for figure 8 devices, for example.  There's little shock load when top roping and rappelling are the only activities, but I would still be more comfortable with a modern device when a youth is belaying another youth.  (A parent or older youth always backs up a young belayer.)

Anyways, I can't speak directly to the AMGA certification, but I would imagine that its a little less isolated in its goals and what it teaches.

@Jon Miller - Are you the same Jon Miller who was District Executive here in Orange County?  If so, hello from Troop 37.

Eplumer400 · · Cleveland, OH · Joined May 2016 · Points: 115
George Wu wrote:

I've taken the BSA Climbing Instructor training three times including in the past year.  The training is focused on keeping the Scouts safe, and so parts of the course have little to do with the actual climbing itself.  There are a bunch of BSA rules regarding climbing that get covered, things like how many climbing instructors are required, what activities a Scoutmaster must delegate to others while (s)he is overseeing a climbing activity, keeping equipment logs to document the full history of gear, etc.

One can become a BSA climbing instructor with limited real world climbing experience.  When I first took the course, I'd only ever top roped on anchors built by guides in a classroom setting.  Boy Scouts must climb, belay, and rappel to earn the Climbing merit badge, so instructor training covers the rules for those activities to keep them safe.  Boy Scouts may not lead climb, so a lot of time is spent building top rope anchors.  Really inexperienced climbers may not be passed, or as I was back then, strongly encouraged to partner up with another instructor with more real world experience.

Maybe its just a local thing, but I also found the BSA climbing a little old school.  There's a distinct preference for figure 8 devices, for example.  There's little shock load when top roping and rappelling are the only activities, but I would still be more comfortable with a modern device when a youth is belaying another youth.  (A parent or older youth always backs up a young belayer.)

Anyways, I can't speak directly to the AMGA certification, but I would imagine that its a little less isolated in its goals and what it teaches.

@Jon Miller - Are you the same Jon Miller who was District Executive here in Orange County?  If so, hello from Troop 37.

When I began buying my own climbing gear I bought a figure 8 thinking I would use it for rappelling since we used it in BSA. I've used it exactly once, and that was only because I forced myself to use it. 

George Wu · · Newport Beach, CA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 76
Eplumer400 wrote:

I know the requirements for the climbing merit badge changed this year, but I don't know what they exactly changed or if they changed the methods of teaching it. Two years ago I assisted teaching the merit badge class with a BSA instructor to get my "level 1" certification, and I knew more from reading Freedom of the Hills and applying it than the instructor did. When I was helping out they instructed the kids on belaying with the slap slide method, which blows my mind. Mind you I haven't been climbing for too long, but in my eyes the slap slide method is too complicated and leaves too much room for error when it comes to 12 year old kids learning to belay for the first time. Good thing they require back up belays. 

The BSA is weird in that they tend to only recognize people who go through their own training to become counselors for activities. You could be Tommy Caldwell and they'll still require you to take a BSA counselor course. 

This is another good example by what I meant in my reply about the BSA instruction being just a touch old school.  However, some of this is dependent upon your instructor.  In my most recent training session, we switched to PBUS.

Scouting has had its own unique set of safety  rules evolve, so kind of like the military, BSA does climbing differently than everyone else.  There's quite the bureaucracy, so they are never quite up to date with the latest practices.

Eplumer400 · · Cleveland, OH · Joined May 2016 · Points: 115
George Wu wrote:

This is another good example by what I meant in my reply about the BSA instruction being just a touch old school.  However, some of this is dependent upon your instructor.  In my most recent training session, we switched to PBUS.

Scouting has had its own unique set of safety  rules evolve, so kind of like the military, BSA does climbing differently than everyone else.  There's quite the bureaucracy, so they are never quite up to date with the latest practices.

They may have switched to PBUS since I took it then. 

Adam Gellman · · Jersey City/Burlington · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 140
Eplumer400 wrote:

When I began buying my own climbing gear I bought a figure 8 thinking I would use it for rappelling since we used it in BSA. I've used it exactly once, and that was only because I forced myself to use it. 

This has ALWAYS bugged me about the way BSA runs the program. I hate 8s and think we are teaching the scouts useless skills. As Climbing director this year i think we can fully transition to using only ATCs.  I agree that so many of the regulations and practices are super weird and outdated but its just working within the structure of the organization.

Adam Gellman · · Jersey City/Burlington · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 140
Eplumer400 wrote:

I know the requirements for the climbing merit badge changed this year, but I don't know what they exactly changed or if they changed the methods of teaching it. Two years ago I assisted teaching the merit badge class with a BSA instructor to get my "level 1" certification, and I knew more from reading Freedom of the Hills and applying it than the instructor did. When I was helping out they instructed the kids on belaying with the slap slide method, which blows my mind. Mind you I haven't been climbing for too long, but in my eyes the slap slide method is too complicated and leaves too much room for error when it comes to 12 year old kids learning to belay for the first time. Good thing they require back up belays. 

The BSA is weird in that they tend to only recognize people who go through their own training to become counselors for activities. You could be Tommy Caldwell and they'll still require you to take a BSA counselor course. 

Yeah this is what I am expecting to encounter this summer. I know a few climbing instructors that aren't even involved with climbing outside the Boy Scout setting. It creates a weird divide between real climbing and what is taught.

Eplumer400 · · Cleveland, OH · Joined May 2016 · Points: 115

I completely agree with you. I think for a long time it was a group of good ol' boys running the BSA and so they kind of fell behind on the times, but I think they're finally getting their heads out of their asses and/or retiring/dying off and so the organization is finally moving into the 21st century. I made Eagle in 2010 and my younger brother in 2015, and the amount of things that has changed just in those five years is incredible.

That divide doesn't help either when you have kids who take a serious interest to the sport and when they get on real rock instead of some climbing tower at a summer camp the instructors are lost on what to do.

benb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 0
Eplumer400 wrote:

When I began buying my own climbing gear I bought a figure 8 thinking I would use it for rappelling since we used it in BSA. I've used it exactly once, and that was only because I forced myself to use it. 

Heh - so true. I bought a figure 8 as a young teen for the same reason and had it for over 20 years. Never used it once after the first scout-y time. Then I went canyoneering in Zion for the first time a couple years ago. Day 1 rapping on the soaking wet ropes full of sand destroyed my reverso. Day 2 destroyed my fig 8 that I happened to have along. So, if you're tired of seeing that thing in your gear bin, just take a quick trip to the slot canyons and rap at your usual speed.

Eric L · · Roseville, CA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 115
George Wu wrote:

I've taken the BSA Climbing Instructor training three times including in the past year.  The training is focused on keeping the Scouts safe, and so parts of the course have little to do with the actual climbing itself.  There are a bunch of BSA rules regarding climbing that get covered, things like how many climbing instructors are required, what activities a Scoutmaster must delegate to others while (s)he is overseeing a climbing activity, keeping equipment logs to document the full history of gear, etc.

George nailed it - the program is focused on keeping the scouts safe, due to liability reasons.  People tend to sue big organizations (it's big, must be at fault or evil).  There is no other reason to require a second belay line on a rappel or require a rope once you are over shoulder high (bouldering).  Makes sense when you have inattentive belayers learning to keep someone else safe.  Basically, they teach you how to manage scouts while teaching climbing basics.  For the 3 required rappels, I require the scouts to use an 8, ATC and Grigri so they get to try each (not in that order). (Munter, maybe for someone I trust.)

DrRockso · · Red River Gorge, KY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 341
Adam Gellman wrote:

So I am being sent to Camp School to be trained as a Boy Scout Camp Climbing Director. I am interested in how it stacks up against AMGA SPI, and if the BSA cert is recognized outside the BSA.

Also, as an experienced trad climber and top roping climbing instructor,  what can I learn there that I wouldn't get being self taught?

The short answer is "It doesn't." I do not know of anywhere that recognizes the BSA cert outside of the BSA.

FoamFinger _______ · · Rad Town, Not set (USA) · Joined Jan 2013 · Points: 250

I was one of the Climbing Directors for The Summit last summer and I had to go through the BSA Climbing Directors program. Pretty much a waste of time. 

As for AMGA courses those all depend upon your long-term career goals.  If you only want to work with groups of introductory clients then the SPI course will be great for you.  If you want to work in more advanced terrain with more experienced clients then going for more advanced training would be a great choice for you.

Good luck! 

Adam Gellman · · Jersey City/Burlington · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 140
FoamFinger _______ wrote:

I was one of the Climbing Directors for The Summit last summer and I had to go through the BSA Climbing Directors program. Pretty much a waste of time. 

As for AMGA courses those all depend upon your long-term career goals.  If you only want to work with groups of introductory clients then the SPI course will be great for you.  If you want to work in more advanced terrain with more experienced clients then going for more advanced training would be a great choice for you.

Good luck! 

Sorry to here it was a waste of time, hopefully I can get something out of it.  I have big dreams so eventually i want to get moe advanced training but this is just the first step.

Are you gonna work at Jambo this year?

John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,053

http://www.scouting.org/Home/OutdoorProgram/COPE.aspx 

Here's the BSA stuff, level II instructor has gotten more in depth last couple of years look at the course pdf.

Camp director is a whole nother animal, you'll be learning program specific stuff not how to guide.

Bsa recognizes Amga and other certs, see the list in climb on safely.

I've been BSA level II certified for the last 11 years. It's more about working with a group and staying within guidelines than teaching someone how to guide.

It's been fun, if you have a kid in the program enjoy it while it lasts. JB

Adam Gellman · · Jersey City/Burlington · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 140
John Barritt wrote:

http://www.scouting.org/Home/OutdoorProgram/COPE.aspx 

Here's the BSA stuff, level II instructor has gotten more in depth last couple of years look at the course pdf.

Camp director is a whole nother animal, you'll be learning program specific stuff not how to guide.

Bsa recognizes Amga and other certs, see the list in climb on safely.

I've been BSA level II certified for the last 11 years. It's more about working with a group and staying within guidelines than teaching someone how to guide.

It's been fun, if you have a kid in the program enjoy it while it lasts. JB

Level 2 instructor looks really cool but my camp needs a climbing director (not camp director thank god). I just made Eagle recently so I definitely don't have a kid in the program lol

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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