EWS Travel have launched their first trip taking in the sights and trails of the now infamous Portuguese island of Madeira.
Pete had a chat with Euan Wilson, co-founder of H+I Adventures, to see how this collaborative effort came to be.
How did EWS Travel come about?
Strangely it goes back almost ten years, before the Enduro World Series existed. Chris Ball and I were deep in the middle of an expedition in the north of Scotland, bikes packed on top of an open canoe, wind gusting at 20 mph, boat taking on water and our outlook not great! We dug deep, shouting instructions over the noise of the wind and the sounds of waves crashing against the boat, and when we finally reached dry land, we bear hugged and breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Fast forward nearly seven years, the EWS is going from strength-to-strength, H+I Adventures is delivering adventures in 12 countries around the globe, and I walk into a bar in Colorado during the Snowmass EWS race, to be greeted by Chris telling his table of mountain bikers “last time a saw this guy we nearly died in a canoe!” Quite an introduction!
Over a few beers we started chatting and throwing around ideas, scribbling away on beer mats (clichéd, but true), and discovered that we’d been mulling over the same idea independently. It did take a further two years to get the formula correct and to start crafting EWS Travel adventures – the first of which was launched recently.
How many people make up EWS Travel and what do they do?
The full H+I and EWS office teams are behind EWS Travel, not to mention the on-the-ground guiding teams, logistics teams, operations, etc. A huge number of people behind the scenes make these and all of our adventures what they are.
Have you ever tried to arrange a few days away, mountain biking with your mates? It is not easy to please everyone, but thankfully with this super strong team, we’ve got it covered!
What made Madeira the first choice to launch this?
EWS Travel is, first and foremost, about building a legacy for the local communities involved in the race series. The success of each round is largely down to the commitment and investment of the local communities in each destination and the passion of dedicated local mountain bikers. EWS Travel offers the chance for these communities to see return on their investment in the longer term, beyond the race itself.
One such destination is Madeira, an island paradise in the heart of the Atlantic. Small, but jam-packed with some of the best trails in Europe. Most of these exist thanks to the active trail building team on the island, led by FreeRide Madeira who put 20% of income back into trail building each year.
It was this ethos, trail network and quality, and operational standards that brought the EWS to Madeira in the first place, and made for an easy decision to take EWS Travel there too.
How much is this a collaboration between yourselves, Enduro World Series and Freeride Madeira?
Enduro World Series and H+I Adventures – both Scottish companies – have partnered in an innovative way to combine expertise in our respective fields and craft these unique experiences. EWS has pulled together some of the world’s most exotic race destinations, delivering at the highest level of professionalism, which aligns perfectly with our ethos of setting the standard in international mountain bike travel.
But neither EWS nor H+I Adventures would be able to operate without the expertise of locals on the ground. So, with FreeRide Madeira already building the trails in Madeira and organising the EWS round, it was a no-brainer that we had to have John as our lead guide. He is the mastermind behind the trail network and the only guy to deliver our ethos for us on the ground in Madeira.
How did you go about choosing the trails to run on this trip? and how do you manage rider expectations on an Enduro World Series trip with trails that work logistically? How will you go about making sure what EWS Travel offers live up to the H+I standard?
We approached this adventure much the same as we do all of our tours; we go out for a prolonged period, ride three times the number of trails we need, sample countless restaurants and lunch locations, stay in a number of accommodations and ride with multiple guides. We then understand the culture, what’s unique about a location and start to craft a tour that couldn’t be recreated without our expertise, knowledge and unique tour ethos.
To add to this, we spent time at the EWS round in Madeira, went on press days and on the course recce with the whole EWS crew. This gave us a flavour of how they operate and ensured that our values aligned perfectly to create these unique mountain bike adventures.
It’s not all about the race trails, though. Yes, EWS fans get to follow the tracks of their race heroes (without the pressure of the clock!), but EWS Travel tours are more about getting off-the-beaten track to explore other hidden gems in each destination and, importantly, to be immersed in local culture, both on and off the bike. That’s where our partnership comes into its own.
Is there plans to expand this beyond Madeira and how have you made sure that doesn’t already
affect what H+I Adventures offer?
Yes there are plans, but these things take time. We take 18 months to two years to craft a new tour. We are already down the road with some new destinations, so no need to wait a further 2 years until the next destination is released. With regard to potential effect on our existing H+I Adventures, we have no concerns about that.
EWS Travel is a unique offering built around the EWS ethos and they way the race travels around the world, and designed for fans of the race series who want to experience these outstanding destinations for themselves and give something back to the local mountain biking communities.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
Mostly time with my wife and business partner Catherine. I spend around four months a year travelling and experiencing wonderful trails and local cultures, that I want to share with my wife, but you are always juggling business with family agendas. This is also true for husband-and-wife team Chris and Kate Ball on the EWS side. Chris spends a huge amount of time travelling, sometimes with Kate, many times not, so family time has definitely taken a back-seat for us all.
Thankfully, after 10 years Cat and I are making up for it by travelling a lot more and ticking off all corners of the globe together, mostly by bike, but sometimes relaxing and taking time out too. We now have such a strong team back at HQ, that whenever we are not around, there’s still someone steering the ship in the right direction.
Where next for you?
It’s an exciting year this year at H+I Adventures, with EWS Travel launched (with more destinations coming soon), we are getting ready to put a shovel in the ground on a bespoke HQ building up here in the Highlands of Scotland, enabling us to have as innovative and inspiring work space for our staff, and hub for our customers to visit on their tours here in Scotland. We also have a top secret project that has consumed a lot of our time over the past year or so, watch this space at the end of 2019, interesting times coming up…