We catch up with Emily Horridge to find out all about making a living in the Alps.
Right, first thing’s first, who’s Emily? Where’s she from and where is she now?
Ex-World Cup and National downhill racer turned mountain bike guide and occasional Enduro World Series racer. I’m originally from Somerset, spent a lot of summers working as a guide in the French Alps (most notably Morzine and Les Arcs), and I now spend most of my summers in Les Arcs ski resort.
You’ve just completed your British Cycling Level 3 Mountain Bike Leader and earned a Carte Professionelle through a new test devised by the French specifically for British guides, indeed become the first British woman to do the latter. What do you have to go through to get to there?
I did my TCL (Trail Cycle Leader) guiding qualifications almost 10 years ago, did the Mountain Bike Leader training but then never did the assessment. Because the French didn’t recognise our qualifications anyway (and were turning a blind eye), I was able to work over here nevertheless. After a couple years my experience and quality as a guide far outstripped my TCL qualification. During the summer of 2015 I was spending more time in the UK so thought it was a great time to go and update myself by doing the BC Level 3 guide training. Naturally the next step was to do the assessment, so I did that in early May 2016. I definitely learnt some cool little things on the training, but realised a lot of what we were learning are things I do automatically when guiding so it was good to have things reinforced. Because of my experience it was actually pretty straightforward for me, and in fact on the second day you are required to guide real-life clients. They know you’re on assessment but was still nice to know that on that day all I had to do was what I always do when I’m guiding.
The equivalence test I took with the French dudes is a really new and exciting opportunity for British guides who want to legally work over here. Sam Morris of Bike-Village has been working with the MCF guys and last year facilitated someone from Samoens taking an equivalence test. That obviously went well as they ran another this year and were really keen to have as many applications as possible. We had to submit various papers – the usual really – ID, proof of qualifications, proof you’re not a kiddy fiddler, that sort of thing. All pretty straightforward.
The test itself was a little drawn out and involved driving around to various venues which was odd as it could all have been done in one place on one day in my opinion. There were four elements – an orientation test, bike handling, accident management, and a skills coaching session. The orientation felt a bit like mountain bike orienteering, with a punch card to collect your stamps as you went round. I really enjoyed it and found the nav pretty easy although I was one of only three to pass that element! The bike handling was like a mini motorbike trials course (all dirt, no rocks), with very tight corners, steep ups and downs and you got points for clearing each section without dabbing.
Accident management was interesting – despite being required to have a valid First Aid Certificate for our British qualifications to be valid, they still wanted to test us on our First Aid, rather than just checking that we could call the emergency services in French. Still, it was a good practice scenario, especially as I’ve been lucky enough to never have needed to call the emergency services over here. Afterwards, we had a little bit of feedback with the assessors, again in French. So certainly the ability to converse in French to a reasonable standard is necessary to pass this test. The skills session was with some quite young kids and having to keep them in order and coach them in French was definitely a new challenge! I didn’t think I’d done too well on that, but had a good feedback session with the assessors afterwards and I think my responses to their questions saved the day on that particular part of the test!
Why is the Carte Professionelle such a big deal?
If you hold a Carte Professionelle you can legally guide anywhere in France. Personally, it means I can work freelance over here now which means instead of being paid an 18 year old chalet host’s pocket money wage, I can actually earn a grown-up person’s wage like the French guides do. It means I can actually make guiding a proper job and I can literally take people anywhere I like. I’m no longer dictated to by the constraints of the company I work for, or the resort I work in. I am really excited about that, I’ve got so many ideas about new places – some I already know, and some I am yet to explore. I just love showing people awesome trails and putting smiles on their faces, so getting a Carte Pro just means that I have way more freedom to do that.
What’s the riding like where you are based now?
So varied! You can ride big alpine epic stuff, out in the meadows surrounded by snow-capped mountains, or you can stay in the woods and ride ancient trails peppered with challenging (and not so challenging) switchbacks. I live in Bourg Saint Maurice, at the bottom of Les Arcs resort, so that’s where I’ll go on a daily basis. We have some bikepark/man made stuff, but also an incredible number of natural trails – on both sides of the valley. The Three Valleys feels different again – it’s so high in Val Thorens or Les Menuires that it’s pretty rocky and techy, but there’s some great manmade trails over there too. Today I did a fantastic traversy type trail (well, it had about 4 or 5 superb descents and 3 or 4 punchy little climbs) starting way up near Tignes and finishing all the way back down in Bourg, and it was so very varied. There is something for everyone here for sure.
What barriers are there to women old and young getting into biking, and how can people help to overcome these?
I feel like I’m really off the scene in this regard. I’m loving seeing what’s going on in women’s mountain biking right now. It seems to me like the barriers that perhaps we believed there were in the past are just falling down all around us. The Hopetech Women’s rides are such a great idea, and the Lake District Lasses launch was incredibly well attended – there are so many girls riding now, and riding with each other, and riding well. It sounds awful but whilst back in the UK after the summer season was finished 2 or 3 years ago I saw a group of 4 girls riding at Cwmcarn and genuinely wondered where the boys were! I think with the strength of British women in World Cup downhill that many girls are feeling inspired to give it a try, and when they see how many girls are out riding together they can see it’s not just a boy’s sport anymore. The Redbull Foxhunt that Rachel Atherton does with all the girls is brilliant too. All these things that are getting girls together riding bikes, pushing their boundaries and learning together are just awesome and I’m actually really gutted that because of my awesome summers I can’t get as involved as I’d like to. That said, I’ve got some ideas, and hopefully I will be able to do something in the future to get involved.
Who/what inspires you?
My friends – the ones with all the energy and enthusiasm to go and get something done – try a hard new route at the crag or go on a ski tour to somewhere a bit gnarly. When they’re not around, I do love a good gawp at Instagram! I love photos that make you want to try and push your boundaries and it’s mega cool seeing how women’s mountain biking in the UK is blossoming into something so great.
PlusSize? Sound awesome, once they’ve started making puncture proof tyres
E-Bikes? Explore more new trails more quickly?! Hell yeah!
Ham or Cheese? Cheese
Red or White? Red
Uplift of Man-Up? Man-up! That said… I’m never gonna turn down an uplift if it’s offered!
Strava or Honesty? Oooh… Suunto linked to Strava! Is that like a combo of honesty and strava?!
Dust or Mud? Hmm.. Hero dirt!
Wheelie or Skid? Skiiiiiiids!
What would you say to the ten year old you, looking at your first mountain bike?
Get a hardtail and learn to pick lines. Plus you can go dirt jumping too.