The High Mountain Guide and Director of the Chamonix Adventure Festival on the call of the mountains, being proud to be female and how being a mother hasn’t changed how she climbs
I have lived in Chamonix for over 10 years. It is the world’s capital of adventure sports and after working on mountain festivals in both the US and Europe, I realised Chamonix was missing a big cultural event. They needed an event which would bring the local community together as well as attracting an international, dynamic audience to the town for a week to share stories and enjoy film, photography and the mountains.
This is the second year of the Chamonix Adventure Festival, and already there is a real buzz about what is to come this summer. Particularly about our mountain film and photography courses. Along with my two other female directors Katie and Lisa, we believe the festival has now become a permanent fixture on Chamonix’s calendar.
I have been passionate about the mountains for a long time and became a high mountain guide just over six years ago. It wasn’t a natural path for me after growing up in suburban New Jersey, but when I was a teenager I got the chance to go on a climbing trip and fell in love with the mountains. That summer I didn’t go home, instead choosing to live in a camper van with newly found friends, climbing every day. Then in 2001, I decided that the mountains of Europe would be my next stop. I bought a ticket to Paris (not realising how far Paris is from the Alps!), a pair of telemark skis and on my own headed for Chamonix. That was a defining time in my life. That season I went from a beginner skier to skiing some of the steepest terrain in Europe.
After spending time between Chamonix and the States, I finally set up home full time in France in 2007. I was only the second female mountain guide in the US system at the time and it was hard at times in a very male dominated world.
At the start of my career I tried very hard to fit in with the guys, but then after a few years I realised that I was different and that I didn’t need to compete with the male mountain guides.
That is when I said actually I am proud to be female. I can wear pink and I actually then became much more comfortable ‘in the mix’ and decided I should save my energy for other battles!
I love my job and that didn’t change last year when I had my first child. Of course I had to make changes and it was hard not being in the mountains during the last few months of my pregnancy. I really missed the buzz. People ask me now whether I approach my work and my time in the mountains differently. Most people ask whether I take fewer risks. My response is that I never embark on routes to take a risk, always to minimise the risk.
I want my son to love the mountains and the outdoors as much as my husband and I do. So it was natural to take him on a surfing and climbing trip to Australia when he was just a few months old and to take him ski touring during the amazing snow of last winter. People thought we were mad, but actually it was great fun sharing our experiences with him.
As I have got older I have become much more about helping others, particularly women, achieve their ambitions in the mountains. I hope the Chamonix Adventure Festival will play a part in this, inspiring people to get out there, as well as helping them learn. The festival is not about the extreme but about inspiration. I hope I have inspired people throughout my life, and I hope I will inspire my children (I am now pregnant with my second!). If I have just a few words of guidance for women who want to get into mountain sports; be flexible, problem solve and don’t be intimidated.
Chamonix Adventure Festival runs from 15-20 July 2013 in partnership with Patagonia and the towns of Chamonix Mont-Blanc and les Houches. It brings together adventurers, explorers and enthusiasts to share tales and display their work through film, photography and art in Europe’s premier adventure destination.