MAR 10, 2017
Caroline George is a mountain guide, ski mountaineer, mother, and mentor based near the mountains of Chamonix. We chatted with her about juggling her various roles and the women who have helped shape her lifestyle.
#sheskis is a movement about community and mentorship. Can you tell us about female mentors and teachers that have helped you on your path in skiing?
It might sound cliché, but my mother was a huge mentor to me. She is an inspiration. My mom showed me that if you want to do things, then you need to do them, no matter what people around you think. The people who love you will be there for you even if they don’t agree with what you have set your heart on. She also taught me that it is possible to have a family and live your dreams and push your limits and without knowing it, she led by example. She won ski mountaineering competitions back in the 80’s when women were just starting to compete in these events, when women were still in the shadow of men in the mountains, but also in many other areas of life. So as a child, I learned that women could do and be whatever they wanted. It is only when I started my own career in the mountains that I understood what she must have faced back then. Hats off, mom!
Can you describe your process of learning about and becoming a ski mountaineer and guide?
To be a UIAGM/IFMGA/IVBV guide, you have to go through a ski certification process. It’s similar in every country, though Canada and the US have a huge emphasis on avalanche courses as well. I think this is a key component to ski guiding, as you are mostly out there on your own, making your decisions based on the terrain, the weather (wind, visibility, radiation, precipitation, etc.), the people you are with, and of course the snow stability, and your decision can have life or death consequences. The whole process was fascinating and eye opening for me, as once you have learned all these different aspects about decision making in the mountains, you will never feel the wind in the same way, see the snow in the same way, understand group dynamics in the same way, or see the terrain in the same way. This training creates a sort of matrix in your head, where all these elements are combined to compute a decision that could change your life and that of people around you. When I first went into the training, I mostly relied on my gut feeling and instinct to make decisions (still important by the way), but having the tools to make a thought-out decision is key in guiding. The process of learning about ski guiding evolves constantly: each time you go out, you learn something new through mistakes (or good decisions) you or people around you make. I would say it’s literally a school for life!
You live outside of Chamonix and do most of your work in the valley. What intensities and opportunities arise being so close to the birthplace of ski mountaineering? How does living in a place like Chamonix shape you?
We just moved from Chamonix a year ago. We were looking for a quieter place to raise our child and get closer to the mountains again. Of course, in Chamonix, you could not be any closer to the mountains, but the way you experience mountains in Chamonix is very different from most other places in the world. It is very high paced. No matter how much it snows, every steep run gets tracked out right away. Chamonix is definitely intense, but it’s also a good school to learn how to push yourself, learn from others, and see what is possible. So it’s really nice to live really close and yet not be in this vibe the whole time. It’s a great stimulus, but it’s good to take a break from it too at times.
Any advice for newcomers arriving in Chamonix?
Stand your ground, learn the skills you need to know to be safe in the mountains, be the cool-girl in town who can push her limits but in a calculated way, and learn everything that these mountains and the people can teach you. It’s a steep learning curve here, but you will become the best skier you can be.
You are also a mother. Can you explain what it is like balancing the world between career and home life in your line of work?
It’s a lot of organization and determination and relying on people to help. But I believe that if you really want something and work hard then the stars will align. I love my job, it’s really rewarding, fulfilling and I learn something new everyday. I need this balance to be a good parent. Of course, there are risks involved in this profession. And that is not always easy to manage. I am really grateful to my parents and in-laws (and everyone who help to make my husbands and my dreams come true) and to be in a relationship where we understand each other’s needs and passions and support each other. That is truly the key to balancing it all.
How does skiing help you live a more authentic life?
While in the mountains, I can think a lot and this time spent on my skis gives me insights on life. If we could all live a life that resembled gliding seamlessly though a perfect field of glittering fresh powder, life would be nice. But it is all the bumps, gullies, couloirs, and other features that we encounter as skiers that provide this glittering field of fresh powder the edge we all want for our lives. I think skiing is the most beautiful metaphor for life and I try to take home each day the lessons learned in the field to improve my life and hopefully empower my daughter like my mom did with me.
#sheskis is a movement connecting skiers around the world. Skiing more confidently than we thought we could and crashing more than we should. We are a community of skiers, united by our love for skiing.