After a splendid summer of guiding, Trail Unknown left the shire and headed out to Bike Nomad in Slovenia for a 4 day assessment from the European Organisation of Mountain Bike Instructor-Guides (EOMTBing), a new governing body that coordinates a European standard across ten national mountain bike associations. Lots of people are interested in how this new qualification is running so we thought to share our experience.
If you're after a short answer, the bar is set very high as it should be for a top level qualification, so the 4 days were super full on but we learnt a lot, made great contacts and would definitely recommend it to any serious mountain bike instructor / guide who is looking to push themselves to a top level.
about The Qualification
Day 1 - Preparation Day
Day 1 was about learning the trails and finding out about your individual missions. In preparation for our guiding exam on Day 3, we were split into groups of two and given a 20km / 800m ascent / 3 hour GPX route, all on natural trails. We wouldn't know which half we would be guiding until the exam, meaning you had to learn it all. No maps were given. We also learnt the topic of our 30 minute skills instruction session for live clients for Day 4, mine was 'trail awareness', so you also had to be on the look out for a section of trail to teach on. I felt some early nerves pinging, I was asking myself existential questions like what even is trail awareness, or am I even trail aware!?
For my guiding route, I was teamed up with a local Slovenian shredder called Vid Persak, who was so unbelievably pinned that I was thoroughly humbled and again left questioning my abilities! Only over dinner that night did I realise he was an Orbea EWS team racer and had built most of these tracks, which totally made sense. The trails were sick but half my route was techy black descents used at the last EWS and I knew I would be pushing my comfort zones as a guide. We finished at the Bike Nomad chalet with a beer and all my stress soaked away into the view of the sunset over the mountains.
DAY 2 - Slow Speed, Navigation, Fast Speed
Unless your French, you will not be prepared for the slow speed exam! It was like a techy, uphill, trials course full of tight turns and awkward roots. The course is broken down into 10 x 3m stages and if you put a foot down more than 4 times then you fail. You get 10 minutes to look at and ride the course, no practice.
After the slow speed you're straight into your navigation exam, solo of course. The aim of the exam is to find 4 points marked on the map within the time limit set by an evaluator's time + 30%. Normally I'm very good with navigation having trained as a Mountain Leader also but this was tricky due to being given two maps: one with trails on it but no contour lines, and one with contour lines with no trails. Difficult one to prepare for really but my advice for future would be to sit down before you ride and really make sure you are confident where every marker is before you ride. Most people failed this exam as there was only one way you could link together the points in the time period given.
The high speed exam was good fun. It was basically a race with a time set by a French ex-downhill racer and you have to get within 30% of his time on a 2 minute track. Being English, we all embraced the challenge of hitting the Frenchie's time. Hugo equalled his time and I wasn't far off. For queen and country!
Day 3 - Guiding, trailside repair, emergency management
My morning started with going through a 30 minute emergency management exam, which you do solo and with two evaluators. You were given UTM coordinates and had to find the emergency location. My situation was hypothermia which was fine as I had dealt with that personally back in February this year when Hugo and I tried to cycle across Exmoor in a sleet storm. Hugo's situation was a heart attack. We then had to go through our leader kit and discuss what we would use in certain situations.
For the guiding exam, we'd named our route 'from heaven to hell' because the first half was full of flowy descents and the second was all gnarly black trail. We rolled the dice to see who would guide which half, and despite all my praying, Vin was to be the angel guide for heaven, and I knew I would have some difficulty in hell. You had to start with all the usual stuff: medical checks, bike checks, warm up games, route plans etc. and also expected to have thought through options and escape routes. We were a group of 9 in total including two evaluators and two riders who had joined acting as live clients, I made sure to ask them plenty about how much they rode before we dropped into the black trails. I stopped at three points down the black and asked the group to get off and discuss line choice and gave demonstrations and walk arounds. I'm always conscious about the flow of the ride but safety always comes first. The second half of my black was closed for forestry works so I took a different route down that I hadn't really analysed and failed the guiding exam for not blocking off a side option. Gutting because I would normally always do that. I should have ridden the track slower to give me time to think on the fly..
The trail side repair was to swap bikes with Vin and remove the rear mech and mech hanger from his Orbea. This was a tricky one as his mech hanger was internal to the frame and required a special key built into the frame to undo it. I completed the task but failed the exam due to my confusion over his special key!
Day 4 - Instruction Exam
I was up at first light looking for a place to run my skills session. It's difficult to know at what level to pitch the session as we were told it would be for intermediates but that's a pretty abstract term so you have to have options for progression and you have to find that in the trail too.
Trail Unknown's background has been more guiding than coaching but we have run beginner trips such as our yoga MTB retreats, SUP MTB weekends and our kids mountain bike club, but that's all been beginner stuff. I understood many of the examinors and candidates made their living from coaching so it is definitely an avenue we want to develop ourselves in, to help intermediate riders become advanced riders.
Hugo ran his session on slow speed riding, focusing on track stands and how you could apply these to the trail to allow you to look down a steep section of trail without having to get off your bike. For my trail awareness session, I focused on a short 30m section of track with lots of roots and multiple line choice. I tried to focus on the concepts of head up, unweighting over roots and braking between roots in order to keep your flow. I allowed the riders to session the section and then come in together to discuss what was working and what wasn't. If I did it again I would session just a 5m piece of track where everyone could watch each other and use more video analysis.
Results + FREE Riding WOo!
On the final day of the exam we had an uplift organised for all 25 of us by Anej at Bike Nomad and rode a huge 2km of natural downhill as a mega train of mountain bike leaders! The final results were that 44 of 61 exams had been passed between the candidates, but even one exam failed is an entire fail so the final result was that 1 person passed out of 9 and that was our local shredder Vin. We will definitely be on the exam next year to polish off our remaining modules.
Before heading home we had heard about a black diamond rated mountain bike trail that went through a 10km cave system called Into the Black. The experience was epic and we will write a whole story about it because it deserves it!
For any questions about the course/assessment, speak to Chip Rafferty on firstname.lastname@example.org
For questions about mountain bike experiences in the UK, email us on email@example.com !
Hugo and Tom are trail hunting fanatics, travelling around the UK to find the best and most beautiful wild riding locations for their mountain bikes. We write about our findings and provide professionally guided mountain bike trips to our favourite spots. We're also big believers in outdoor education for children.