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“It’s amazing what you can achieve if you’ve got the willpower”

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Carla Jaggi has made her dream a reality, and turned her passion into her profession. As a mountain guide, she spends her days exploring the Swiss Alps and discovering new terrain around the world. We interview the 27-year-old about her motivation and her belief in herself.

Carla, you were raised in the Saanen region. Does your love of the mountains stem from your childhood?

Absolutely! I took to skis at the age of three, and went on climbing trips with my parents. I wasn’t so fussed about hiking at first – it was something that came later; but when it did, it hit me big time (laughs).

When did you decide to train as a mountain guide? 

At the age of 15, I decided on a commercial apprenticeship in a notary’s office. But very soon I realized that an office job wouldn’t be right for me in the long run. After my training I did a lot of traveling in South America. When I’d had enough of traveling, I decided to become a mountain guide. I was 19 by that time, and began systematically preparing myself for this challenging training course – which I started aged 23. 

Was there a point during your training when you hit your limits – or even thought about giving up? 

Yes, totally. At one point I got ill during a module. I had a nasty stomach bug, and couldn’t eat for five days. This took its toll on my body; but thankfully my head took over, and I didn’t throw in the towel. I kept on telling myself: You can do it! It’s amazing what you can achieve if you’ve got the willpower. The sheer enjoyment of being in the mountains, as well the support from my fellow students and teacher, also gave me the motivation to carry on. 

You’re one of the few female mountain guides in Switzerland – a pioneer, in other words. How do people react to this? 

When I introduce myself to guests or new acquaintances as a “mountain guide”, most people are surprised – but in a positive way. I don’t blame them for being surprised: Most mountain guides are older than me and tend to sport a beard! (laughs). But because mountain guiding in Switzerland is a protected profession requiring federal certification, most people know I've done exactly the same training as my male colleagues.  

“In difficult moments, I take a deep breath and remember how far I’ve come; I think about everything I’ve learned – plus the fact that I did it all by myself. That gives me the confidence to believe in myself.”

Carla Jaggi, mountain guide

Why are there so few female mountain guides in Switzerland? Are things any different in other countries? 

No, not at all! In neighboring countries like Germany, France and Italy, things are pretty similar to Switzerland in terms of the number of women in my profession. I think it comes from the fact that it’s a physically challenging job; plus, it wasn’t until much later on that women started to become recognized as “mountaineers”. Indeed, women weren’t accepted as full members of the Swiss Alpine Club until 1980. Things were no different when it came to training as a mountain guide: the thinking was that only people in the military should train as mountain guides – which, of course, excluded women.

What needs to change in order for more women to take up the profession? 

I think the basis has been laid for more women to train as mountain guides. It’s a challenging job, and I don’t think it would be right for women to be given easier exam conditions than men. At the end of the day, women mountain guides have the same job to do as men. It's primarily a question of people accepting the fact that a woman can work as a mountain guide. 

Where do you get your motivation and passion for the job?

My passion for the profession stems mainly from my love of the mountains and of being among people. On my tours, the emphasis is more on the group experience rather than on the name of a particular peak or its difficulty level. I get a huge amount of pleasure out of seeing people explore their limits, overcoming challenges and having great conversations. At the end of a hard season, it’s an incredible feeling to be able to say that, yes, I did actually choose the right profession!

AXA’s new brand promise is “Know you can”: Believe in yourself, in other words. To what extent does this statement resonate with you and your career? 

Even I am sometimes overcome by doubts about whether I can meet a particular challenge. The fact is, I have to bear a lot of responsibility as far as my guests are concerned. In those moments, I take a deep breath and remember how far I’ve come; I think about everything I’ve learned – plus the fact that I did it all by myself. That gives me the confidence to believe in myself. It enables me to have a clear head when tackling a difficult task.

Learn more about Carla Jaggi from her Instagram profile and website.

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