British ski instructor, Rachel Kerr, has been tearing up the French slopes for the last fifteen years, teaching everyone from beginners to serious off-piste skiers, and even ski-touring the north face of Mont Blanc. Outside of work she indulges her love of mountain sports, competing in some of winter’s most renowned skimo races, including the legendary Patrouille des Glaciers.
Inspired to encourage more women to get together and hone their mountain skills in Chamonix, Rachel founded the Women’s Mountain Club three years ago, a group dedicated to developing women’s mountain confidence via skill workshops, mini adventures and fortnightly meet-ups, which she now runs with fellow British ski instructor Fay Mackman and creative head, Naoimh O Hagan. Here, in between teaching and training, Rachel gives us an insight into her life in Chamonix on and off the slopes.
LIFE IN THE FRENCH ALPS
For me, the Alps are a gateway to new adventures, opportunities, and goals to achieve. Living here allows me to indulge my love of sport through the many mountain endurance events on offer – from ultra-marathons and high altitude mountaineering to skimo races, triathlons and long distance road biking races.
I settled in Chamonix after spending my first 6 winters in Val D’Isere. After my Val stint I was looking to settle in the Alps and make a future out here. I spent my first summer in Chamonix and was instantly hooked! I liked Cham’s town feel where we lie on the border of Italy and Switzerland. Being only an hour from Geneva makes everything so accessible and the expansive ski areas and variety of mountain sports allow us to enjoy the mountains all year round.
Teaching skiing is a dream job and allows me to share my huge passion with others, whilst being in my ideal environment – the mountains. I’ve been doing this for eight years and the best part is watching a client’s progress and seeing the freedom and rewards that skiing brings them.
Come summer, I work in Montreux at an International school as Head of Mountain, running a programme of mountain sports for the kids. I also work as a road bike guide with another fellow Women’s Mountain Club ski instructor, Ali Gibb, in Morzine with 44southmorzine, guiding clients over the mountain cols.
WINTER MORNINGS IN CHAMONIX
My mornings can be pretty hectic/fun in the winter. I live in a tiny hamlet which sits on a 20% steep hill perched 2km above Servoz village, 15 minutes from Chamonix centre. So when it dumps with snow – which it did last winter a lot – getting to work can be an adventure. Last year, we spent numerous mornings skiing some of the best turns down our steep road and through the fields with a head torch to reach our car in the village. This then meant we had to ski-tour back to the house in the evening with the shopping in our rucksack!
Of course, we wouldn’t change any of this; we adore where we live but it definitely ensures you have to plan your days well throughout the winter. Though when you’re in front of the fire at night you’re definitely not going anywhere else!
Logistically, it can be a hassle for clients to get to the slopes in Chamonix because each resort is spread out, so as part of my teaching day I try to make it as easy as possible for them by collecting and dropping them back at their accommodation. Morning coffee with clients normally starts here.
PRIVATE SKI COURSES
When I set up as an Independent Instructor, I always wanted to ensure my work offered a good, diverse mix of skiing. Having spent nearly five years working to achieve the highest BASI [skiing] qualification with the French equivalence, I wanted more than just teaching beginners every day (which I do love too); I wanted to create weeks where I could really show the best of Chamonix. It’s known for its daunting terrain but there really is skiing for all levels here. Some people find it too spread out, but for me, there’s so much choice and I love to showcase that to my clients.
During winter my week is very varied and includes working with my private clients, many of whom return to Chamonix every year or have a chalet in the valley. I run Jagged Globe’s off-piste courses, leading weekend and week-long Intro/Improvers and Advanced/Freeride courses. I also run the Technical Development All Mountain courses for The Ski Club of GB.
As I’ve found ski touring and skimo grow in popularity, this year I’m teaming up with Run The Alps to work [as an instructor] alongside the legendary skimo athlete, Valentine Fabre, at the renowned skimo race, Pierra Menta.
WOMEN’S MOUNTAIN CLUB – RUN BY WOMEN FOR WOMEN
Skiing is an ever-growing sport where people increasingly want to push their boundaries, however they don’t always have the mileage/experience under their feet to do this. Chamonix seems to draw these ski enthusiasts which is motivating and why I love to run these sessions. We try to incorporate mountain education into our programme and we work alongside mountain guides which allows the development of many varied skills, whilst enjoy the different strands to skiing.
Professional female guides and instructors are limited in Chamonix and our motivation was to get all these badass pros together to educate and share passions in a group run by women for women.
This motivated me to start the Women’s Mountain Club three winters ago as I found there were a lot of women in Chamonix who were motivated to push their ski skills. Last winter, Fay Mackman (ski instructor) and Naoimh O Hagan (media creator) joined forces with me and what a great team we are! I couldn’t do it without them and makes it so fun sharing ideas and creating these sessions.
Throughout winter we run sessions every two weeks, and cover everything from ski skills to avalanche prevention and even how to get out of a glacier crevasse. Last season we finished with a two-day ski touring trip to Gressoney in Italy with 36 women, which was epic!
We want to give women the opportunity to thrive in the mountains and support the development of skills on and off-piste, so we’ve created a winter and summer programme which encourages the women’s community to get together, learn, explore and expand their new skills in the mountains all while making wonderful memories.
AFTER WORK: TRAINING AND RACING
I’m the kind of girl who absolutely loves sport – I really don’t know what I would do without it in my life. I grew up on a farm on Loch Lomond, Scotland with three brothers, in an outdoorsy family; my mum used to have to drag us inside every evening from our farm adventures.
Nothing much has changed! These days I love my ski touring, so any chance I have after my working day finishes, I try to get an evening skin session in with a head torch. Last winter, I raced the famous Patrouille des Glacier with an all-girls strong team. It meant that on top of a hectic winter work schedule, I was out training most evenings and training as a team. We completed the race in 14hrs and absolutely loved the challenge.
Right now, if I’m not teaching, instructing or ski touring, I’m training for my International Mountain Leader qualification, which will allow me to run and hike with clients in the mountains during the summer and add an exciting new chapter to my life in the mountains.
But in the meantime, if you’re heading to Chamonix this winter look us up, come and join us at the Women’s Mountain Club – we would love to ski with you!
You can find out more about Rachel’s Women’s Mountain Club group via the website, www.womensmountainclub.com or follow www.instagram.com/womensmountain. Follow Rachel’s adventures on snow via her social media: www.instagram.com/chamrach and website: www.rachelkerr.net.