Remembering Bela Vadasz: Skier, Guide, Groundbreaker

Ski mountaineer and guide Bela Vadasz died last Tuesday. Outside of California’s Sierra Nevada, many may not know his name, but his impact on the backcountry community stretched far across the world.

Vadasz, 62, cofounded the Truckee, Calif.-based guiding and instructional outfit Alpine Skills International in 1979 with his wife, Mimi Maki-Vadasz. Vadasz taught mountaineering courses at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center near Sonora Pass and taught special operations forces at Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, Calif. Together with Mimi, he skied the first freeheel descent of Alaska’s Denali; he guided on five continents and, in 1990, descended from 23,000 feet on Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest peak.

Bela Vadasz. Guide, educator, father, skier. 1953-2015. [Photo] Craig Dostie

Bela Vadasz. Guide, educator, father, skier. 1953-2015. [Photo] Craig Dostie

Vadasz had lasting influence in guiding and education beyond his own business, too. He established curriculum and standards with the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) and was instrumental in developing certification programs with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA).

“Bela’s passion for technical precision led to becoming involved in the quest to have the American guiding standards raised to an international level,” Craig Dostie wrote at According to California’s Adventure Sports Journal, Vadasz led the campaign to gain the AMGA acceptance into the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA). In 1997, along with Mark Houseton, Vadasz became one of the country’s first IFMGA-certified guides.

“(The experience) was absolute full circle,” Vadasz told California’s Adventure Sports Journal in 2007. “That IFMGA acceptance was a huge step, a milestone in recognizing the professionalism of mountain guiding in America.” Vadasz received the AMGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

“Bela could be very demanding, of both guides he was training and of his guests and clients,” Dave Riggs, a friend of Vadasz’s, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “The reason he was demanding was he took it very seriously that people had taken their time and money to hire him.”

According to, Vadasz had suffered from a heart condition but was recently given a clean bill of health. Last Tuesday morning, he checked into an emergency room and died unexpectedly during an exploratory medical procedure. He is survived by his wife, Mimi, and two sons, Tobin and Logan.

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  1. GeorgIana carr says:

    Nice tribute…

  2. His wife, Mimi, is the oldest woman to summit Everest. – thanks

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