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Mini Feature in IMB Mag

We had our friend Anthony Pease along for a guided ride back in July, and one of his shots was featured in IMB Mag a while after.. what a stunner! It was taken on one of the classic Les Arcs trails – a scenic yet exposed and techy challenge known as La Varda or Sketchy Dismount, depending on who you ask!

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Legally French!

Hoooooray!!! Today I found out that I can legally work as a mountain bike guide in France. Sooo excited! I can’t wait to be able to show people super rad trails again. Here’s a little story about the process.

I’ve been guiding in France on and off for the last few years, first in Morzine in 2007, then in Les Arcs and on the Trans-Provence route. In 2007 the Haute-Savoie (of which Morzine is a part) finally decided that they didn’t want British guides working on their patch, and arrests were made. Over in Les Arcs (part of the Savoie) it took a little longer for the authorities to notice/make a fuss about it, approximately another 6 years in fact. Initially it seemed like there was no solution and the safest thing for most of us was just to stop guiding rather than risk a hefty fine or even prison. However, with the help of Sam Morris at BikeVillage.co.uk that has now changed. You can read the full article here, but suffice to say that it is now possible to take an equivalence test to prove your abilities. If you pass, you’re able to legally work as a mountain bike guide in France.

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I did that exact test last week and really enjoyed it. I was worried my french wasn’t really up to scratch, but as soon as I was having to use it loads more than usual I found my confidence increasing.

I got off to a good start, being one of only 3 people to pass the navigation and bike-handling tests on the first day – the navigation caught some people out, but I guess using an IGN map (France’s equivalent to our British OS maps) for the first time in a long time isn’t easy. The next day we were tested on incident management which involved a first aid scenario and calling the emergency services – in french of course. I’d spent a few weeks revising body parts and phrases, although in the end I didn’t really need them – turns out my french is a lot better than I give myself credit for! It will certainly be useful for the future though – to date I’ve never needed to call the emergency services whilst guiding, but I’m sure my time will come.

The final element was to be teaching some 7-8 year olds about balance on their bikes. Initially I thought this wouldn’t be too bad, till Sam reminded me about how they have a really short attention span! I got a load of really useful phrases from him to keep them in control, and the session got off to a good start with me definitely in charge. It was pretty hard as I was showing them stuff and trying to explain stuff in French, and when they messed around a bit, it felt almost impossible to just look up from the kid you’re helping and shout across to the one messing around to stop it – whereas in English it’d be something you wouldn’t even think twice about. I got lots of feedback from the assessors afterwards, and the general line of questioning was about what I could’ve done to make it better. I wasn’t convinced I’d passed this element to say the least! But at last, I could just go home and not think about it any more.

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Even though I’d quite enjoyed the whole thing, it was undoubtedly quite refreshing to have a few days focussing my mind on other things. Then yesterday night I heard a few of the others had had their results. Where were mine!! Today I got the answer… I only flippin went and PASSED! Still can’t quite believe it, but it’s super cool!

So there we have it. If you want to guide in France, there is a solution! Oh, and I PASSED!!! Wooo hooooo! First female British guide to have taken this new equivalence test and passed. Hoooooray!

Where do you want to go?

Just a mere 9 years after getting my first guiding qualification, I’m very proud to be able to call myself a British Cycling Level 3 MTB Leader. That means I can guide people on mountain bikes anywhere in Europe (with the exception of France, for now. More on that another day), and for us Brits, it can be described as the gold standard in guiding. Hooray!

I actually did the training for the old Mountain Bike Leader (MBL) qualification right after my first season in 2007 but life took a different course for a few years so I never did the assessment.

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Fast forward to 2011, and I was back in the mountains working as a guide, and again in 2012, 2013 and 2014.. Not surprisingly my experience and quality as a guide now well outstripped my original qualification! Then last summer I had the opportunity to go on the training course for the new MBL equivalent, the British Cycling Level 3 MTB Leader Award. Bit of a mouthful eh!

The training course with Cyclewise was brilliant. Even after all the summers of guiding I’d done, I still got plenty out of it and went away with some good feedback and a few cool new things to think about. Of course, it was also enhanced by the chance to enjoy some good riding and banter with Rich & Craig, Cyclewise head shredders.

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The months ticked past until last weekend it was time to head back to the Lake District for assessment. I took the opportunity to spend a few extra days riding in the area as being based in France, it’s become a rare treat. Luckily the weather was well and truly on point, so much so that by the end of my new bike’s first week, I’d covered over 200km on it!

Saturday rolled around and I was quite nervous entering the classroom where we’d start the weekend. I knew I could do the do, but was worried about making some sort of silly elementary mistake which would result in a fail. First up was checking mechanics skills, luckily one of my strong points as I’ve always done all my own bike maintenance and fixing. Just what I needed to help put me at ease.

After lunch it was navigation test time. I don’t struggle with this, but in a pressurized situation, you know, a bit like the test I was on, I’m slightly lacking in confidence. Fortunately a few very intensive days of nav practice beforehand had helped with the confidence and I took us to all the right places!

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By the end of Saturday I’d gone from feeling a little nervous and apprehensive to totally looking forward to Sunday’s riding. We’d ridden some excellent trails and seen some stunning views and there was only going to be more of the same.

All day Sunday was spent guiding. There were three of us on the test and we had two real life folk to guide, one of whom was a local lass called Rachel who I’d read about and was really excited to meet – I still rarely get to ride with good female riders, and feel like I’m totally missing out on everything going on in the UK, like the Hope Tech Women’s rides for example.

This bit I was not at all concerned about, just needed to be on my best guiding behaviour. There were one or two things which I could’ve done better (and being knackered after 5 days on the bike definitely did not help, there was some mental fortitude required to look more energetic than I felt on Sunday!) but I got some really nice feedback from our guinea pig clients, Rach and Giles, both directly and through our assessor Rich. Happy days 🙂 .

So that’s it! I passed, and I’m really excited that I can take people biking in rad places now without having to be working through a chalet company… Where do you want to go??

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I love ski-touring!

I went on a two-day ski tour last week! Alright then, I hear you say, what’s so great about that?! Well, it was the first time I’ve done a two day ski tour, and I loved it.

Last season I did a couple of day tours, consisting of a morning of ascent and then descending back off on what was relatively uninteresting terrain. So last week’s plan had quite a few new facets compared to what I’d done previously: an overnight stay in a mountain refuge near the Cormet d’Arêches in the French Alps, a couple of cols (mountain passes) to cross, and a much more interesting descent. Add into the mix the fact that I devised the route myself and that we were passing a second refuge for lunch on the second day, and the scene was set for a whole bunch of new experiences.

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Our home for the night - Refuge de la Coire

Staying in a French mountain refuge in winter is like going bothying in the Lake District or Scotland, only better. There are cooking facilities, a huge stack of dry fire wood, chairs to sit on and even a cupboard full of Crocs so you needn’t stomp around in your ski boots making a racket and a mess all over the floor! The sleeping arrangements aren’t too bad either – mattresses and blankets – all you need is your sleeping bag liner and your ear plugs just in case there’s one of those dreaded snorers in your room!

My friend Julia and I toured up during the early afternoon on day 1, arriving just in time to enjoy a gin and tonic before the sun disappeared behind the mountain – although the clouds were trying to hide the sun from us prematurely too! Of course we’d had to carry this refreshing delight up with us, but it was worth it.

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Two goons enjoying a mountain G&T

We passed a good evening practicing our french on a young Parisien who was exploring from the refuge each day and waiting for the arrival of a friend the following day. We managed a reasonable night’s sleep, despite the efforts of the Dutch chap who’s friends had obviously banished him from their room to keep us awake with his snoring. Next morning it felt like the trip was really beginning as we left behind the familiar landscape around the refuge.

The weather was stunning and it was just superb to be out in the mountains with no one else around. We experienced a few challenges quite early on – a very undulating traverse, and crossing some avalanche debris – much easier to say than it was to do! After that it really was just the most perfect day. I was enjoying the ascent much more than ever before, loving seeing the winter version of mountains I’ve seen in summer, and comparing the terrain with the map – it’s cool to match up what you see with what the map says and invaluable in enhancing your navigational skills.

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Around lunchtime we reached our second refuge of the trip, Refuge de Presset. This refuge was completely rebuilt 3 years ago and is more like an up-market youth hostel than a mountain refuge. One day I’m going to have to go and stay there, it was so nice! The two hostesses (called guardiennes in french) were very welcoming and cooked us a fantastic omelette consisting of the local speciality cheese Beaufort, bacon, onions and potatoes. YUM! The view was just incredible, we couldn’t believe what a fantastic spot we had for lunch.
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What a view! The Pierra Menta dominating.

It was so sheltered and warm on the sun terrace that we really didn’t want to leave, but it was time to find out whether the descent consisted of a freeze-thaw impossible-to-turn-in ice crust, or soft spring conditions.. I don’t think anyone likes the former type of skiing, and I for one was certainly a little tentative in the first few turns wondering what it was going to be like. To our delight, the sun had been busy softening things up whilst we were enjoying lunch and we had excellent spring conditions for almost all of the 1000m descent. It was so much fun! We couldn’t get the grins off our faces and even the final part returning back to the van which involved quite a lot of “combative skiing”, as Julia put it, stepping over bare patches and poling, couldn’t induce a sense of humour failure.

I can’t wait for the next tour into new territory, and I definitely can’t wait for the next overnighter! It’s been a bit greyer here lately and the warmer temperatures are not being too kind to the snow on the southern aspects so how much more I’ll get to do I don’t know, but I think the memory of this trip’s going to carry me through. I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

If you’re a budding ski tourer like me and you’ve not done a two-dayer yet, you definitely should! I’m quite sure that you’ll love it.