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Forging a career as a woman in the MTB guiding industry


Words and photos: Julia Hobson, Endless Trails MTB about challenges she’s faced in MTB guiding industry.

In the 20 years since I first entered the world of mountain biking, the number of women discovering our awesome sport has been steadily increasing before rocketing over the last few years.  We’ve come a long way from those days when it was rare to see other women out on the trails, and most of us were used to being the sole female rider in a group of men. It’s fantastic to see this gender diversity increasing in what has traditionally been a male-dominated sport. 

More women are being helped into the sport by the growth in female-only events such as The Red Bull Fox Hunt, The FNY Hunt, Sisters of Send Festival and the Gowaan Girls Festival. These events have allowed relationships to be formed that, in turn, have created more riding groups and communities. The provision and availability of better women-specific kits and bikes, and simply seeing more women portrayed in the mountain bike media and on social media, has helped newcomers to the sport feel that the mountain bike world is one where everyone is welcome, regardless of gender. 

woman in the MTB guiding industry

Younger women and girls getting into the sport now have a whole load of awesome female racers, adventurers and riders to inspire them and act as role models. This can only be a good thing as we work towards achieving an equal split in participation in terms of gender. 

Within the industry, there is still an uneven representation of women amongst men, although this is also beginning to change. I became a mountain bike guide in 2012, and there weren’t many other female leaders at the time. Back then, this wasn’t something I thought much about. I wanted to do it, so I trained up and qualified, never for once thinking that there was a reason I couldn’t or that it was quite an unusual choice as a woman. I look back now and appreciate that I was lucky always to have been surrounded by men and women who instilled in me a confidence that I could do anything I wanted and that gender wasn’t a barrier to taking on something where I would be in the minority. 

Even after starting to work as a guide in the Alps and frequently experiencing the shock and disappointment on groups of male guests’ faces when they saw they had a female guide for the week, I secretly enjoyed the challenge of changing their preconceived opinions and showing them that I was more than capable of doing the job I was employed for, and ensuring they experienced a fantastic week of riding trails in the mountains. 

woman in the MTB guiding industry

Many of those same guests have returned year after year to be guided by me on trips to the mountains. It makes me proud to know I have been part of challenging society’s view on gender-stereotyped roles and opening the eyes of those guests who questioned the capability of a woman to do a job they automatically assumed would be done by a man. 

Encounters and experiences like this certainly opened my eyes. They enabled me to understand more about the systemic barriers that exist within society and how for many women, this has meant they haven’t felt able to pursue what are traditionally male roles. 

I hope being out there and visible as a female mountain bike guide over the last 11 years has motivated other women to see that it is possible to do the same. 

Fast forward to now, and thankfully things are changing. More and more women are training and qualifying to lead groups and inspire others at every level. From coaches working with young kids in schools and clubs to community ride leaders and leaders working on women’s group events like Sisters in the Wild, Hope Women ride-outs, the FNY collective, and so many others right up to elite levels of the sport. It’s an exciting time, and this increase in female leaders will hopefully inspire even more to follow this path.

julia on mountain bike

What I would love to see happening next is more women-led businesses in the bike industry.

After working as a freelance guide all over the UK and Europe for 5 years, in 2017, I took the first steps in setting up my own company, Endless Trails MTB. Despite a few set-backs on the way (thanks to Covid-19), I’m proud of how the business has grown to where it is now, and as well as still being the lead guide, I am now also the director of a guiding company running multi-day mountain bike holidays in the UK and Europe. 

I never imagined I would call myself a business person, and that side of things is not something that comes naturally to me. Still, I’ve learnt lots along the way from others and my mistakes, and I love the challenges it provides as the company continues to grow and develop each year. I don’t believe there’s any relevance to whether you are a man or a woman running a company, but I’m aware I’m one of very few women doing so in the biking world.

It’s difficult to know whether this is something I’ve experienced because I’m a woman running a business or just the nature of my industry, but people frequently ask, “So what do you do when you aren’t guiding?!”. There’s a perception that all you do is spend sunny days riding your bike and guiding people on trails, but anyone who runs a business knows how much work it involves behind the scenes. 

julia on gravel bike

Trips don’t arrange themselves, and the end product of week-long package holidays with everything included requires a lot of work. Behind every small limited company is someone who has to be an expert at communication with guests as well as suppliers, at advertising and social media promotion, website building, arranging legal obligations such as insurance, risk assessments and health and safety procedures, at invoicing, accounting and financial management, at route and logistics planning, at problem-solving and decision making, and of course at sales. All of this means it’s a year-round, busy full-time job. Believe me when I tell you that guiding guests on the trails is the easy bit and the reward for all the rest of it! 

But I wouldn’t change what I do. I love the reward of sharing incredible adventures which I have planned with guests from all over the World. Knowing they have created memories that will last a lifetime and seeing the joy on people’s faces at the end of an awesome week is deeply satisfying and makes it all worthwhile. I feel proud to have carved out a career from something I love!

As a female business owner and MTB guide, I need to use my skills, knowledge and influence to empower other women riders and leaders and be visible as a role model so that others know they can do this too.

I’ve run women’s only bikepacking courses, guided rides, maintenance classes and skills courses through Endless Trails MTB since 2017, as well as helping brands, such as Juliana and Hope, on demos and ride-outs. We frequently welcome trainee guides who shadow trips to gain experience pre-assessment, as well as being contacted for advice by those who are considering doing the qualifications.

julia on mountain bike

Most of our customers are returning guests or have heard about the company through word of mouth, which is fantastic, but despite being a woman-led company, only 15% of guests each year are women. As more and more women are riding, and to a high level, the goal is to keep tipping this balance and encourage more women to join our trips. 

As more women develop their biking and leadership skills, hopefully, more will look at setting up and running their own business in the bike industry, further balancing the industry and moving towards true gender equality within the sport. 

For any women looking to get into guiding or running a business in the Mountain bike industry, I’m always keen to chat, pass on advice if I can, and learn from each other, so please get in touch!

You can find out more about all our trips at Endless Trails MTB

As well as following what we get up to on those trips on Instagram: @endlesstrailsmtb

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