I traveled for 7 to 8 hours by car, plane and bus from Belgium to Mieming, in Tirol, Austria where the headquarter of Edelweiss Bike Travel is located. There, as a newly hired tour guide, I was invited to join their annual tour guide training.
The scenery was just breathtaking there; I hadn’t been in the alps for over 3 years, and the past half year in Australia was mostly some very different (but equally interesting) scenery, so this was a big change to say the least.
The first three days were meant for new tour guides only, and we were faced with a torrent of information, it really was quite overwhelming. Talking to the new tour guides from last year, they assured me time and time again that it will all make sense after a few tours.
Every day really was super-packed, there was barely a free moment as even the dinners in the evening were all planned out; the organization really was top-notch. They’ve kept a blog themselves about the whole week too, I appear on a few photos here and there.
It wasn’t just theory, we had a whole bunch of activities and exercises planned. For example, I had to prepare a 10 minute presentation about a riding route in one evening. Completely in German, about roads I’d maybe been on once, over 3 years ago.
We also all had a go at loading motorcycles in a van, with one of the most difficult cases, loading a 240kg BMW R1200GS with only one ramp, not an easy task, although there are tricks to it. I managed with stalling the bike on the ramp only a few times. The only thing more difficult is loading a 400kg Harley-Davidson apparently!
The vans and trailers are used to transport bikes for tours all over Europe. I had to obtain a new license (heavy trailer) to be allowed to drive this combination, which falls under truck regulations in Europe (but doesn’t require a “real” truck license). The driving school vehicle and trailer were a bit smaller to say the least, but then again, I’ve driven bigger things before!
Another challenge we got, was to prepare a picnick for the entire company, as a competition between two teams of new tourguides, guided by one tourguide who joined last year. Tom, Pierre, Bjorn, Lukas and me had to work within the theme of “Portugal”, our rivals drew “France” as their culinary theme. Then we got time and budget constraints on top as well, almost like when you would prepare a picnick on tour.
While our team didn’t win (it’s hard to pull a convincing “Portugal” theme with products from a small Tirolean local supermarket), I do think we had the best presentation and decoration, as my fruit salad display seemed like the most photographed one (or at least I like to think so).
Some people described the picnick as very stressful, and while I agree it was not a breeze, I kind of liked doing it. I prepared lunches for multiple people before, with even less ingredients and had fun doing that.
At times I felt quite overwhelmed; we were obviously informed about a lot of situations where things can go wrong, and I sometimes wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Not in the least because things were done in German 95% of the time (with about 10% very-hard-to-understand Tirolean accented German). While I understood mostly everything, it was often difficult to participate in a conversation with the fluency I wanted.
I might have a light case of “Impostor Syndrome” (where one feels a lot more trust is placed in him then deserved), but talking to others made me realize more and more that there was no reason to worry so much. The training really was top-notch, I absolutely believe it’s the best tourguide training there is in the world, I just have to put it in practice now. And my German has probably improved a lot already in these last 5 days!
Most of the day is spent in and around the garage, and seeing how the company operates and works was very interesting. Edelweiss’ slogan is “Best Ride There Is!” and I really do believe it after seeing it all: the latest motorcycles, smart approaches, thought-through planning, great marketing, excellent training, etc.
On one of the last evenings it kind of hit me all of a sudden. We were standing around, looking at some bikes, talking, when David, one of the tour guides who’s a great Enduro rider, suggested jumping Albert’s KTM 450 off the steps by the front entrance, under much cheering. It was then I realized I’ve actually got a job that involves motorcycles and people that like them at least as much as I do.
Werner Wachter, the company’s founder put it really nicely in his speech at the end of the week: “When you’re out there, riding a motorcycle across the Stelvio pass, you might start to wonder, is this actuallywork?”