Legislative Analysis of Mountaineering and Climbing Technical Qualifications in Spain

Joana Sans Osanz

Eduard Inglés Yuba

*Corresponding author: Joana Sans Osanz jsans@gencat.cat

Original Language Spanish

Cite this article

Sans Osanz, J., & Inglés Yuba, E. (2021). Legislative Analysis of Mountaineering and Climbing Technical Qualifications in Spain. Apunts. Educación Física y Deportes, 143, 52-72. https://doi.org/10.5672/apunts.2014-0983.es.(2021/1).143.07



Previous research shows an increase in practitioners of outdoor sports, a rise in companies and professionals working in this field and the need to train qualified instructors. The training system for professionals in the sector is still being organised and the qualifications required to work as an instructor are currently being defined. Royal Decree 318/2000 of 3 March established the qualifications for mountaineering and climbing sports and some autonomous communities (Spain’s regions) drew up their own specific syllabuses. Over the following twenty years, the new teaching content was implemented and taught. Royal Decrees 701/2019 and 702/2019, both of 29 November, were published on 10 January 2020 and updated these qualifications. The texts of the previously applicable regulations and the ones recently published concerning the technical qualifications required for these specialities were systematically and exhaustively analysed. The analysis of the regulations in force until 2019 indicated that they varied in the autonomous communities in comparison with the state-wide regulations in key issues: total study load, professional skills, professional practise, training modules completed, time distribution and proportion of hours of theory and practice. Thus with a view to ensuring common and state-wide guidelines for practising as a professional in these specialities, there is an evident need for consensus and homogenisation of the regulations governing qualifications across the autonomous communities. The new qualifications that emerged through the publication of the new decrees address some of these aspects, although they also give rise to other questions and potential issues.

Keywords: Legal System, Mountaineering and Climbing Sports, Outdoor Sports, Professional Qualifications, Sports Instructors.


Some years ago, there was talk of a boom in what is called outdoor sports and physical activities (OSPA), of a progressive increase in the number of practitioners and a greater number of professionals engaged in this activity (Camps et al., 1995, p. 44). The number of active tourism companies has also burgeoned over the last two decades (Nasarre, 2016, p. 102). The outdoors has become a sports setting that anyone can use; in turn, accidents have increased (Inglés & Seguí, 2012b, p. 89). Numerous studies have provided data about the rising accident rate in mountaineering activities in Spain and other countries (Avellanas, 1995; Nerín & Morandeira, 2005; Powell, 2007; Wild, 2008; Vela, 2009; Mediavilla & Villota, 2012; Sánchez, 2016; FEDME, 2017; Departamento de Interior de la Generalidad de Cataluña, 2019). Despite the existence of regulations governing the responsibility of the stakeholders involved in the activity, the professional setting and qualifications (Inglés & Seguí, 2012b), it would seem that “the legal system is still an unknown quantity in the sector” (Inglés & Seguí, 2012b, p. 90). 

The qualifications of sports instructor and higher sports instructor (SI and HSI) were integrated into the education system by means of Royal Decree 1913/1997, subsequently repealed by Royal Decree 1363/2007 when these qualifications went on to become known as enseñanzas deportivas de régimen especial (special-regime sports education; SRSE). The SI and HSI qualifications in mountaineering and climbing sports were established by Royal Decree 318/2000 (RD318/2000), which required the autonomous communities (AC) to draw up their own syllabuses based on the observance of minimum content (MC). The implementation of the aforementioned SRSE was described as slow, complex, somewhat heterogeneous and insufficient to meet demand, since it was conducted differently in the AC and in different teaching centre models (Madrera et al., 2014). In 2005, the training range in OSPA was described as highly varied and a degree of confusion was reported with regard to the competencies taught in each training course (Sáez & Giménez, 2005). There is a very close link between SRSE and the professional sphere and the planning of professional venues (Madrera, et al., 2015) and while great progress has been made since the beginning, the qualifications required to work as an OSPA instructor “are still in the resolution stage” (Inglés & Seguí, 2012a, p. 188). Moreover, these activities have a constant creation cycle and evolve by merging or mixing with each other, meaning that regulations rapidly become obsolete (Mediavilla, 2014). Royal Decrees 701/2019 and 702/2019 (RD701/2019 and RD702/2019, respectively) were published in January 2020. These decrees propose substantial changes in the structure, competencies and syllabuses of technical training in the mountaineering and climbing specialities, repealing RD318/2000 and all the other provisions of the same or lower rank which conflict with the new regulation (single repealing provision of RD701/2019 and RD702/2019). New syllabuses for these teaching contents must be implemented as of the 2020/2021 academic year (third final provision, RD701/2019 and RD702/2019) and the educational administrations of the AC must establish the corresponding syllabuses (art. 15, RD701/2019; art. 28, RD702/2019). Until these new syllabuses have been implemented, the teaching contents envisaged by RD318/2000 and those provided for in the regulations brought in by the AC will continue to apply.

There are studies addressing the training of sports instructors in general (García, 2002; González, 2011; Instituto Nacional de las Cualificaciones and Consejo Superior de Deportes, 2007; Projet Vocasport, 2004) as well as analysis of the applicable Spanish legal system for active tourism (Nasarre, 2000, 2008; Inglés & Seguí, 2012a; Bonnet et al., 2018). Even so, the status of sports instructors, their conditions of employment and the prevailing scenario with regard to the regulation of what they teach is under-addressed in the literature (García, 2002) and for the moment there is a shortage of research analysing contents, specific competencies and syllabuses in the legislative texts concerning the OSPA instructor qualification.

Exhaustive assessment of the current situation of technical training in OSPA is warranted on account of the increased number of practitioners and sportspersons, the need to train professionals, the growing number of SRSE students, its uneven implementation and the new legislation enacted.

This context provides the rationale for this article, which sets out to analyse and compare the state-wide regulations to the regulatory developments in the AC in SI and HSI qualifications in the mountaineering and climbing sports speciality by analysing both the previous syllabuses and the new ones.  


Systematic and exhaustive analysis was performed of the content of the state-wide regulations and the corresponding regulations implemented by the AC governing qualifications in SI and HSI for mountaineering and climbing sports that were applicable until 2019 as well as of the regulations for the new qualifications. Table 1 details the state-wide regulatory framework analysed along with the corresponding regulatory implementation enacted by the AC to establish the relevant syllabuses (cells with a diagonal line through them denote the absence of any regulation).

Table 1
State-wide regulatory framework and regulatory implementation by the AC with regard to the sports instructor and higher sports instructor qualifications in the mountaineering and climbing sports speciality.

See table


1. Identification of the qualifications, organisation of teaching and equivalences between qualifications 

In the qualifications in force until 2019, all the AC regulations were limited to the two-degree and three-training-level structure provided for by the state-wide regulations. Nevertheless, different names were sometimes given to the same qualification: certificado de primer nivel de técnico deportivo [first-level sports instructor certificate] (SI1). This was known as primer nivel de excursionismo [first-level hiking] (Catalonia), certificado de iniciador de montañismo [mountaineering introduction certificate] (Asturias) and primer nivel de TD en media montaña [first level higher instructor in walk-up] (Navarra) to name but a few. The new and currently applicable RD702/2019 proposes standardisation under the name of ciclo inicial de grado medio en senderismo [Initial vocational training in hill walking] (IVTWalking); as yet, it is unknown whether this name will be universally adopted until the AC have developed their own syllabuses. 

The new teaching courses have dispensed with the high mountain SI and the ski mountaineering HSI, providing solely the IVTWalking, medium-level vocational training in hill-walking, climbing and walk-up (MLVTCanyons, MLVTClimbing and MLVTWalk-up, respectively) and advanced vocational training in climbing and high mountain (AVTClimbing and AVTHigh).

It should be noted that the new regulations provide for specialisations within each qualification (Table 3), although the objectives, content and evaluation criteria have not yet been established.

Table 2
Organisation of teaching courses in force between 2000 and 2019.

See table

Table 3
Organisation of the new teaching courses: vocational training and specialisations by type.

See table

With regard to the equivalences between qualifications, SI1 is equivalent to IVTWalking; the previous second-level SI qualifications (SI2) are equivalent to the new MLVT (except the high-mountain SI2, which no longer exists) and the previous higher sports instructor (HSI) qualifications are equivalent to the new AVT (except for the ski mountaineering HSI, which no longer exists). Any person already qualified will enjoy the same professional and academic effects that are provided for in the new legislation (third additional provision of RD701/2019; fourth additional provision of RD702/2019). Now that the high-mountain SI2 no longer exists, two qualifications (MLVT climbing and MLVT walk-up) or the former high-mountain SI2 will now be necessary to be eligible for the new High Mountain AVT.

It does not clarify where the qualifications that no longer exist (high-mountain SI2 and ski mountaineering HSI) fit into the professional sphere.

2. Professional profile    

With regard to the qualifications effective up until 2019, the professional profile was established on the basis of competencies, professional skills, location in the sports field and responsibility in work situations. The regulations of the AC and the RD318/2000 were analysed, it transpiring that the structure presented overlapping and on occasions contradictory information in different sections: for example, for the climbing SI2, the possibility of practising on “difficult” routes up to 3500 m (Annex III, 4.4 of RD318/2000) whereas in another part of the text, “very difficult” routes of up to 3500 m were cited too (Annex III, 4.3 of RD318/2000). 

The analysis of the SI1 professional profile showed that the Basque Country, Catalonia, Aragon and Navarra did not textually cite the units of competency and professional skills of the state-wide regulation, using different wordings and/or additions (pertaining to gender equality, the promotion of hiking activities, informing about the characteristics of the route and the area, natural values, environmental protection regulations, the necessary equipment, etc.).

The analysis of the SI2 yielded differences in the wording and the units of competency and professional skills added and/or removed from the state-wide regulation.

For example, Catalonia added SI2 high-mountain competencies that did not appear in the state-wide regulations with regard to informing the group about the scheduled route using maps, providing information about nature and culture, suitable equipment and maintenance and other points. It was the only AC which specified, for the walk-up SI2, the possibility of engaging in high-mountain activities in summer (Annex 6, 3; Decree 243/2003), a competency not provided for in RD318/2000. Mention should be made of the inconsistency in the type of canyon where the SI2 qualification could be used; only Andalusia and Aragon provided for practice in horizontal and dry canyons, whereas Catalonia also provided for practice on low ground, walk-up and unspecified terrain. The new legislation clarifies this point by explicitly referring to competency in dry and water canyons. 

A lack of terminological consistency was also observed, since certain AC used both the “excursionismo” [hiking] and “senderismo” [hill-walking/rambling] terms, and some other concepts were not clear either. The new regulations clarify this point by adding a glossary (Annex I, RD702/2019).

The HSI analysis showed a textual citation of the units of competency and professional skills (except for Andalusia, removing the professional skill pertaining to the design, planning and management of ski mountaineering competitions).

The new qualifications define professional profile on the basis of general competency and professional, personal and social competencies. Relevant changes of competencies are made; previously holders of the SI1 could not practise without the supervision of an SI or HSI whereas the new legislation dispenses with this restriction. Now, a person holding the IVTWalking qualification can cooperate in controlling safety in adventure parks in trees or artificial structures and can also facilitate free-time and environmental education activities. 

The MLVTCanyons takes on greater competencies such as the design and installation of equipment in canyoning itineraries, equipped via ferratas and adventure parks, the design of hill-walking teaching programmes, progression, orientation in delimited natural spaces, camping and introduction to climbing.

The former climbing SI2 was qualified to guide in non-equipped via ferratas, clear or adventure terrain, whereas the new MLVTClimbing loses this competency; however, they are qualified to equip and secure controlled adventure spaces, equip or re-equip rock-climbing routes and design climbing itineraries for climbing walls or artificial structures. 

Unlike the previous regulation, a person holding an MLVTCanyons and/or MLVTClimbing qualification will now be able to operate as a guide in low-mountain and walk-up activities in summer and equipped via ferratas (the level of difficulty is not specified). The three MLVT qualifications will be entitled to monitor safety in adventure parks and trees and will be able to facilitate and organise free-time activities within the general programming of hill-walking and walk-up activities in summer. 

In accordance with the foregoing, a person holding the previous SI2 climbing qualification will now automatically have the new competencies of the new qualification without actually having studied them (for example, low-mountain and walk-up guides in summer, via ferratas, etc.) and will also retain the previous qualifications, meaning that a person qualified according to the previous syllabus now has more competencies. 

Unlike the previous qualifications in HSI, the AVTHigh clarifies competencies in ice climbing and the training of mountaineering and climbing instructors, whereas the AVTClimbing clarifies competencies in designing and equipping climbing routes (high difficulty).

3. Professional, occupational and sports environment

revious qualifications specified the type of organisations in which it was possible to practise. In this regard, differences were also observed between the AC: five of them provided for the possibility of practising in the areas of free-time, leisure and active tourism, for which no provision whatsoever was made in the state-wide regulations. The new legislation remedies this heterogeneity by stipulating the sectors pertaining to sport, leisure, free-time and tourism and also detailing where they can be practised (for example, rural accommodation, campsites, hostels, etc.).

The previous qualifications did not detail the main activities that could be carried out; only Catalonia did so. The new legislation does establish the most relevant jobs for each qualification (Table 4).

Table 4
Most relevant activities and jobs for each new qualification.

See table

4. Total teaching time. Time distribution

With regard to the above qualifications, the total teaching time provided for by the state-wide regulations and the corresponding AC regulatory developments was analysed. Heterogeneity was found for the same levels, meaning that the time required to obtain the same qualification could be lower or higher depending on the AC (in bold in Table 5). The total duration envisioned by the new legislation was also included, showing a marked increase in teaching hours in comparison with the previous qualifications.

The modules established by the AC for the same qualification were also different in terms of time distribution. To demonstrate this, the difference, in terms of modules and blocks, between the times provided for in each AC’s regulatory development and those provided for in the MC of RD318/2000 was used (Tables 6, 7 and 8). Certain AC allocated times that were well above the MC to their syllabuses, whereas others allocated fewer hours than those provided for in the state-wide regulations. The major differences in the times allocated to the different blocks by the AC are shown below: Common Block, Specific Block, Complementary Block, Practical Training Block and Final-Year Project (hereinafter: CB, SB, ComplB, PTB and FYP, respectively) (Tables 6, 7 and 8).

Table 5
Comparison of the total duration of teaching courses in force until 2019 as established by RD318/2000 and by the regulatory implementation of each AC and total duration of the new qualifications.

See table

Table 6
Previous teaching: time distribution, difference with MC. Level: SI1.

See table

Table 7
Previous teaching courses: time distribution, difference with MC. Level: SI2.

See table

Table 8
Previous teaching courses: time distribution, difference with MC. Level: HSI.

See table

The new legislation establishes a core syllabus. At the time of writing of this article, no AC had published its own syllabus. It should be mentioned that the new training will be divided solely into CB and SB, meaning a simplification of the previous structure.

5. Teaching modules

For the above qualifications, the differences between the modules established in the AC regulations and those provided for in the state-wide regulations were analysed (RD 318/2000). The state-wide regulations stipulate that the AC “may complete the syllabus in each one of the specialities with other modules different to the ones provided for in this Royal Decree” (Art. 11.2 of RD318/2000).

On the one hand, it transpired that certain AC were teaching modules that were not proposed in the state-wide regulation: Catalonia was the only autonomous community where “Group didactics and dynamics”, “The psychology of mountaineering sports and climbing”, “Climbing facilities equipment” and “Technical training and methodology of climbing teaching” were taught (they are not provided for in RD318/2000). It should be noted that Andalusia did not teach “Technical training and methodology of ski mountaineering teaching” and was the only autonomous community that offered “Technical training in mountain progression”. Certain modules are given different names in different AC, for example “Safety and risk management” in Aragon (called “Safety in sports” in the state-wide regulation) and “Knowledge of the environment” in Catalonia (this name replaces “The canyon environment”).

On the other hand, the HSI qualifications of all the sports are homogeneous: all the AC have the same modules, coinciding with RD318/2000 (except for Order ECI/858/2005, of 28 March, in which a module that is not contained in RD318/2000 is taught in HSI Ski mountaineering and Climbing “Leading in mountaineering and ski mountaineering”). 

The new teaching courses established by Royal Decrees 701/2019 and 702/2019 have reformulated and changed the structure and the name of the modules to be taught. The modules are grouped into CB and SB. It should be mentioned that there are three same modules for the three MLVT modules in SB, meaning that if someone studies more than one sport they will only have to do these three modules once. The AVT teaching contents share a CB dedicated to high performance and the training of sports trainers. The AVTClimbing SB is comprised of six modules and the AVTHigh of seven, one of which is practical training. 

New teaching contents include topics that were formerly studied only in some AC. For example, IVTWalking, “The basics of sports behaviour” now includes contents related to “Group didactics and dynamics”, formerly taught in Catalonia alone. In the four MLVT sports, “The basics of sports learning” includes some contents related to “The psychology of mountaineering and climbing sports” and the “Climbing facilities equipment” module, formerly only taught in Catalonia, and these contents are now included in the “Advanced climbing technique” module in MLVTClimbing. 

The new state-wide legislation clarifies that the AC “will establish the corresponding syllabuses, observing the provisions” of RD701/2019 (art. 15) and RD702/2019 (art. 28). As yet, it is unknown whether each AC’s regulatory development will or will not stick to the module structure provided for by the new regulation.  

6. Proportion of theory and practice hours

The previous qualifications (RD318/2000) established a proportion of hours of theory and practice. The regulations developed by the AC established their own distribution of theory and practice hours. Tables 9 and 10 display the percentage of theory and practice hours out of total CB and SB time and the difference between this percentage and the one which is established in the MC. The analysis shows that in the CB and SB of all training levels, most of the AC, had a larger proportion of practical time compared to the proportion established in the MC. 

Tabla 9
Previous qualifications: Percentage of theory and practice hours out of the total number of hours of CB and SB. Difference with regard to the percentage corresponding to the MC. Level: SI1 and SI2.

See table

Table 10
Previous qualifications: Percentage of theoretical hours and practical hours out of the total number of hours of CB and SB. Difference with regard to the percentage corresponding to the MC. Level: HSI.

See table

Some AC presented substantial differences in percentage terms compared to the provisions of the MC in RD318/2000 (for example, the highest difference value highlighted in tables 9 and 10). It should be noted that the Balearics AC did not distinguish between theory and practice hours in its regulation of SI2 and TDS (it designed “theoretical-practical” hours), and was therefore not analysed in this section. 

Moreover, the new legislation makes provision for a core syllabus which, unlike the previous MC of RD318/2000, makes no distinction between theory and practice.  


Previous papers reveal heterogeneity in the legislation governing OSPA in Spain and describe a lack of clarity and consensus (Inglés & Seguí, 2012b), concurring with the results of this article. On the one hand, such heterogeneity may be seen in a positive light as it allows each AC to adapt to their specific needs (Inglés & Seguí, 2012a) and adjust the legislation to the activities performed in each area (Nasarre, 2000). On the other hand, the need for homogenisation emerges in several areas related to OSPA. With regard to qualifications, there is an evident need to promote homogeneity of the different disciplines involved in mountaineering (Nasarre, 2016), which is also endorsed by this paper, since “there is a lack of sufficient awareness to propose regulation by means of a single regulatory instrument for all outdoor sports” (Nasarre, 2016, p. 103). In sports teaching in general, the paper by Madrera et al. (2015) points to the need to review the diverse implementation by the AC. This heterogeneity seems to go beyond Spain and extend to the European Union overall: extensive analysis of vocational training in sports in general was conducted, the conclusion being that there was great diversity in the forms of regulations in place and diversity in sports vocational training and education policies (Projet Vocasport, 2004).

This heterogeneity among regulations also occurs in active tourism (Inglés & Seguí, 2012a) in important areas such as safety, insurance (Mediavilla, 2014), the type of activities regulated and the qualifications required to work as a professional (Bonnet et al., 2018). Generally speaking, the requirements provided for by the different autonomous community regulations do not converge. This means that “national regulation involving minimum contents” because this is a young sector in the process of consolidation (Mediavilla, 2014, p. 85), convergence between regulations (Nasarre, 2008) and the implementation of “legal and economic instruments to standardise” such regulation (Bonnet et al., 2018, p. 53) are all needed. These conclusions are aligned with this study: legislative heterogeneity between AC that runs counter to the state-wide validity of the qualifications. The new legislation that establishes the qualifications partially remedies the aforementioned acknowledged heterogeneity and is an opportunity to establish common lines to consolidate teaching and to ensure that it is tailored to the sector’s real needs. 


The qualifications that were in force up until 2019 presented an evident heterogeneity between the different AC and the state-wide regulations for SI1 and SI2 in terms of the identification of qualifications, units of competency, professional skills and professional profile. Although there was a majority consensus with regard to location in the sport setting, only some AC provided for and defined the performance of the profession in the areas of free time, leisure and/or active tourism. This generated problems in professional practice and also in boundaries between autonomous communities, mobility between them and also rendering it difficult to draw comparisons with other countries. The current qualifications make provision for names, a structure that defines the professional profile, competencies and professional environment, remedying the gaps and inconsistencies of the previous legislation (provision is now made for via ferratas, clarification is provided in terms of competency in leisure, tourism and free time, as well as with regard to instructors who can be engaged to work as summer walk-up and low-mountain guides, among others). The new regulations have established specialisations, although a structure has yet to be determined. One noteworthy consequence of the equivalences between previous and new qualifications is that differences in competencies between instructors of the same level are created. 

In the previous qualifications, some AC added or simply did not teach some of the modules provided for in the state-wide regulation, and some people who trained in different AC have worked professionally although they studied different syllabuses. The new qualifications force the AC to observe the provisions of the state-wide regulations. 

Total teaching time and time distribution of modules were heterogeneous across the different AC, meaning that obtaining certain qualifications required more or less time depending on the autonomous community. None of the AC in any training level observed the proportion of theory and practice hours provided for in the MC (RD318/2000). The new regulations also make provision for total course time and a core syllabus that the AC must stick to. No provision is made for separation between theory and practice hours in the new regulation. On the one hand, the AC are free to regulate time distribution. On the other hand, they have no basic guidance for distributing theory and practice and must do so as they see fit, which once again could lead to a situation of widespread heterogeneity. 

Mention must also be made of the increased number of hours required to obtain the new qualifications, calling for greater time and financial commitment by students. In turn, problems related to the difficulty in accessing the AVTHigh qualification are heightened since students are obliged to study IVTWalking, MLVTClimbing and MLVTWalk-up with the resulting investment in terms of time and money involved in comparison with the previous qualifications.

With regard to the goal of convergence in professional practise, there is an obvious need for consensus in the main lines (units of competency, professional skills, professional profile, total course duration, modules and time distribution). The new legislation clarifies many of these aspects, although it also raises some questions: Will the AC develop syllabuses for the 2021/22 academic year? Will all the modules provided for in the state-wide regulations be taught in all the AC? How will hours and the proportion of theory and practice be distributed in the syllabuses ultimately drawn up? When and how will the specialisations be defined; how many teaching hours will be necessary? Will they be compulsory? Will the increased number of teaching hours compared to previous qualifications affect the students’ situation? Does the new distribution of competencies, the elimination of two qualifications and the new restructuring truly cater to the needs of instructors, companies and other stakeholders? Moreover, a comparative analysis will need to be performed once the AC have published their own syllabuses. 

The comparison of these conclusions with qualitative data that include the appraisal of the situation made by the instructors and entrepreneurs who engage in mountaineering and climbing along with training schools and other stakeholders could be of interest in the future, as might the subsequent application of this analysis to other specialities in technical training in OSPA  


The contribution made by each author to this research is as follows: 

Second author: formulation of the theoretical approach, supervision of the methodological process and review of the final manuscript.

First author: content analysis and drafting of the manuscript.


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[24] Wild, F. J. (2008). Epidemiology of mountain search and rescue operations in Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks, 2003–06. Wilderness & environmental medicine, 19(4), 245-251. doi.org/10.1580/07-weme-or-141.1

ISSN: 2014-0983

Received: 9 March 2020

Accepted: 7 July 2020

Published: 1 January 2021