At home with our local guides: Jono Baldwin, Cairngorms
Ross meets up with Jono Baldwin for a morning biking and an afternoon of split boarding at home in the Cairngorms, Scotland
Ross joins Jono in the Cairngorms to ride trail and snow
The gentle throb of the bustling A9 filters its way through the satisfyingly spaced and orderly pine rows. We briefly force tire tracks into the crisp coating of snow in an attempt to find terra firma before the canopy cover becomes dense and allows us to escape winter’s seasoning. We are in Carrbridge on the fringes of the Cairngorm National Park visiting our guide Jono Baldwin who we’ve managed to drag off the white blanketed mountains, albeit for a morning!
After a long stint in the Armed Forces Jono is now leading a very different life in the north of Scotland guiding and instructing on bikes and boards. Adventuring needn’t be resigned to one season, summer is bike time whilst winter calls for the splitboard to be dug out. A few easy pedal strokes from Jono’s front door we are playing on some rabbit-track width singletrack, ducking and dodging between trees with bars shaving the bark from trees… Or at least that’s how it felt! Bogs have temporarily been paved with frost, grip levels and rolling speeds more akin to the middle of Summer rather than the first few weeks of January. Passing underneath an old deer stalker’s treetop hide we enter a flat out straight which punts us back onto the road, although not until we’ve teetered across a few metres of mirror-like ice.
A morning in the forest was complimented with an afternoon on the slopes, although via Jono’s house for a shot of caffeine and to down bikes in place for his splitboard. A short blast in the van to Cairngorm mountain and Jono is sidestepping around the lifts and striding his way into the white, I watch for a little while before retreating to the warmth of the cafe…
“I joined the army when I was 16 years old and ended up doing 24 years service. With my last job I was working in Edinburgh and living in Blairgowrie, Perthshire – I loved Scotland so it was only natural for me to move further up. When I left the army after working in Afghanistan for 2 years I did my mountain bike qualifications and eventually moved up here, working summer and winter. Summer as a mountain bike guide eventually getting a job with H+I, and winter working as a ski and snowboard instructor. Can’t get any better than that really!”
“I love the taking people around and showing them the different trails we have and my back garden really. You’ve got the loamy stuff through trees but if you want to get up higher you’ve got the rocks and steep stuff. It’s not as severe as you would say out on the West Coast but there is some pokey stuff. It’s more aimed at your intermediate rider, an advanced rider might not find it technically demanding enough. We do have some super technical stuff here, if I have a group that is up for it I can take them there. But generally it’s an intermediate area, long beautiful adventures, great scenery, loads of wild animals – that’s what it’s all about!”
“I think my appetite for adventure doesn’t stop when it comes to mountain biking. I love riding bikes because it’s an adventure, so that’s why I took up ski touring… I wasn’t particularly good at ski touring so I bought a splitboard and started doing a lot of it, and it’s the same thing as touring on a mountain bike, you’re out in the backcountry and having fun.
“I finish a season of guiding and as much as I love riding bikes it’s nice for the snow to come and get out on the splitboard. On the flipside of that, when it comes to springtime and being back on a bike I’m refreshed and it feels like my life is starting again! This area and Cairngorms are out of this world, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else to be honest.”