Meet the People: Katja Rogelj, Outdoor Enthusiast, Tour Operator and Guide

By , 23 Apr 2018, 21:20 PM Meet the People
Meet the People: Katja Rogelj, Outdoor Enthusiast, Tour Operator and Guide All images by Katja Rogelj

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Katja Rogelj is a force of nature, with a ready smile and easy laugh. Wildly enthusiastic about her life and work in the beauty of Triglav National Park, and Soča Valley in particular, I met up with her just as the season was about to begin, and she was kind enough to answer some questions about how she got into the business, what services she offers, and whether it’s all as dangerous as it looks to these eyes. 

April 23, 2018

How did you get into this line of work?

Because I really wanted it, to be honest, since forever. I went to sports uni, and I met some friends there who got me into the direction that I wanted to go, which is mountains and guiding, then when I was in Bovec I met some people there, and they pretty much introduced me to the sports. So I got the licenses that you need to do this work, and then I just moved there. This is going to be my eighth year in Bovec.

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Do you lead all the trips?

The first year I was guiding most of the canyoning tours by myself, but now I have employees and I hire other professionals to lead. I expect in the next few years I’ll move into doing more of the office work, and less of the leading the trips.

When it comes to guiding I’m most excited about canyoning, because it’s just fun and beautiful, and there’s so many things you don’t get to see it unless you do it. I like the sense of adventure and exploring that goes with it, and it’s usually not too crowded in the canyons, although that’s changing now, around Bovec.

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Do you have anything new for this season?

Yes, we’ve got hiking holidays, and the summer canyoning camp. That’s one week, with an emphasis on canyoning, but other activities are involved, such as rafting, biking, and then in the evening there are some classes. That way people can learn how to be independent canyoneers on more advanced guided tours and multi-day tours, it’s the basic knowledge you need to start being an independent canyoneer.

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We’ll also be doing more family holidays, which is something we started last year, and those trips really exceeded my expectations. They were lovely, because the families seemed to really enjoy the package, and guiding them together is amazing. What I like the most is that they’re usually open to anything. They just ask how it is before we go, and then when they’re there they love it.

Do you lead those trips?

Yes, and especially the canyoning. I have a background as a PE teacher, which is important in a group dynamic like that, where the environment can be rather demanding. I have to take care of the safety, but also the fun. You can’t be too strict or controlling, people have to feel that they can do things on their own. I mean, there are rules, and it can be dangerous if they’re not respected, but I like to give instructions in a positive way – telling them what to do, but avoiding what not to do, because that just stresses people out. I learned that from guiding, and working with others, but also from reading books on communication, psychology, things like that.

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You do a trip to Triglav, have you been to the top like a true Slovene?

Oh yes, many times.

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And is that something most people can do?

For Triglav I check everyone. I ask some basic questions like how many hours a day can they walk without breaks. If they’ve been walking on a trail that’s just 50 cm wide, and if they’ve ever done climbing or via ferrata [climbing with the aid of a steel cable, as shown in the following video].

If people haven’t done these things then I’ll talk with them about what to expect, because usually the via ferrata, and standing on the summit with it going straight down on both sides, can feel very intimidating. Ideally someone climbing to the summit of Mt Triglav should be able to take care of their own safety, but if needed the guide will help you with a belay from the top.

The idea with all the adventures is to make them enjoyable. Yes, sometimes when you’re canyoning or on Triglav there’ll be some adrenalin, but if you plan the trip carefully with the aim of it being safe and pleasant, then it will be so.

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At around this point the interview goes slightly off the rails, as I tell my own story of a bad kayaking trip a few years before, and my general safety concerns with regard to fast moving water with rocks and branches, and to the idea of canyoning and jumping into pools.

If the guide is qualified and experienced, then you don’t need to worry.

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If you’re a guide, then before you start each season and after any severe rainfall you have to scout the canyons. In foreign countries must do’s are to read the guidebook, find out the weather forecasts and the actual conditions from locals, and then you actually go out in person. When you do that the first time you go with two guides per group, so one can go first and check everything, before guests descend the waterfall. Maybe a guidebook says there’s a slide but a guide must be sure. So the first time one guide will go down on a rope and check out the pool with goggles. There’s a lot of improvisation, but everything is tested before the guests go.

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How’s Bovec changing?

With regard to the line of services being offered, every year it’s getting richer and richer, with new adventures being added that are unique to the area, which is really good for the destination. I should say here that I’m really proud of the tourism industry in Slovenia, because it’s developing out the land. The Slovenian Tourist Board is really good in this way, and it’s amazing what they’ve done, and continue to do, at least from the view I have.

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What about the infrastructure there?

When it comes to accommodation in Bovec, it’s still mostly very small scale, but the level of service is improving. That said, my guests are looking for 4- and 5-star accommodation, and that’s difficult to get, especially in the high season. Holidays must be booked at least 3 months ahead, otherwise we don’t have much choice, if any.

So do many guests stay in Ljubljana?

Yes, and we organise transport there and back, and it’s very common just to come to Bovec for a day trip of rafting and canyoning. That’s why we start our trips at 10:00, so people can leave Ljubljana at 07:00.

It’s just over a two-hour drive, and we usually combine that with going over the Vršič Pass, which for most people is an exceptional Julian Alps experience, and they get to see a lot of Triglav National Park, which is obviously very scenic.

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How do you get most of your business?

I get guests from all over Europe, and a lot of them find me online, because I offer a complete service. I’m a tour operator, which means executing the tours, but also a travel agency, so sorting out the transport and accommodation, adventures and so on. I do both sides. It may sound like a lot of work, but I really like being able to do both things, to make up new trips, put them together in a package, and then take people out to enjoy them. I like exploring and finding new things. I’m the kind of person who wants to investigate. If I suspect there’s something interesting then I I always want to know what’s over there, and this is something that helps me to find new trips, and plan new adventures.

You can find out more about Katja’s work, see her photos, and perhaps book a trip, at KATA Adventures.

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