Ladies get tech on the trails

Overcoming the rocks and roots of the Revelstoke ride

Boulder Mountain downhill. Photo: Robyn Goldsmith

By Cassidy Randall

I’ve been mountain biking in western Montana for ten years. I’m no slouch of a rider, let’s be clear. But when I relocated to Revelstoke, these technical trails turned me into Bambi on wheels. And in a town where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a professional athlete; I was suddenly the slowest and clumsiest biker in a 50-kilometre radius. I hated that.

Full disclosure: I have this ego problem with not being immediately good at a sport. It originates from my days as a chubby, uncoordinated kid that was picked last for literally every team sport in school. Every time I feel less than capable at a physical endeavor, that little girl and all of her insecurities comes bubbling back to the surface — along with this persistent belief that if I’m not good enough at something, no one will want to play with me.

I like recreating with both men and women, and mostly don’t even consider the gender factor in outdoor adventures. But there’s something about this deep-rooted insecurity that drew me to the supportive environment that learning from and with other women offers. And with a unique critical mass of women-focused riding opportunities, Revelstoke is a mecca for women like me looking to up their skills.

I started with a ladies’ technical skills clinic hosted by Wandering Wheels, a household name on the Revelstoke biking scene offering clinics, camps, guided tours and some drool-worthy tenure for backcountry mountain biking adventures. They teamed up with Pemberton-based Sweet Skills to lead a series of women-focused jumps and skills clinics, and I was lucky enough to snag a spot on one — especially given the long list of credentials held by Sweet Skills founder Sylvie Allen.

Allen welcomed me and 15 other women in the Nordic Lodge parking lot on a rainy Saturday morning. Small, strong, and sassy, she has that magic combination of patience and a deep breadth of skill that makes for effective mentors.

Allen learned to mountain bike from chasing the guys, and was crowned Canada’s National Downhill Champion in 2002. From her viewpoint as champion, she observed a lack of women and girls in the sport, and set out to change those unimpressive stats.

Now, she’s a go-to instructor for women all over Canada, and she’s growing the ranks of female riders by the hundreds. Along with partners, she runs clinics and personal coaching through Sweet Skills, as well as North America’s only coached and guided women’s backcountry mountain bike camps out of the Chilcotins.

And, I learned that day, she was launching the inaugural Sol Mountain Women’s Backcountry Retreat right here in the Monashees this August. I was determined to improve my technical riding skills enough to attend that retreat and make the most of some stunning alpine biking.

I’d never been to a women-only clinic. Those girls were pushing and supporting each other simultaneously, with screams of “You got this!” and “Go, go, go!” punctuated by jokes and bursts of laughter. Combined with hilariously female-focused tips like “boobs to bar on the climb” and “think nips and knees on the corners,” the vibe of the day tamped down my uncoordinated little girl vulnerability and I actually allowed myself to learn.

That said, I was still too insecure to appear at a Thursday Pedal & Pint. I hate being the one that people have to wait for, for reasons we’ve already covered, and I know many of the bikers who frequent Pedal & Pint ride at another level — both men and women. So I ditched my Tuesday slow pitch game to try out a Bikes, Babes and Beers women-only ride, hoping for a similar vibe to the clinic.

I loved it. I want to skip every slow pitch game for those Tuesday night rides (don’t tell my team). All 26 of the women there were rad, ranging from veterans to newbies, out to spend time in each other’s company as much as to bike, and to earn their beers at the end by riding hard through the golden hour.

The next morning, I signed up for the Sol Mountain Women’s Backcountry Retreat. I figured with another couple months of riding Revelstoke’s trails with some real technical skills under my belt and some women mentors to chase through the trees, those chubby little girl insecurities would have faded into memory by the time the retreat rolled around at the end of August.

And in the meantime, maybe I’ll even be confident enough to try a Thursday Pedal & Pint. Because I’ve realized that now that we’ve grown up, no one really cares how good you are, as long as you’re willing to try. We’re all just in it to have fun.

And maybe for the beers at the end.

This article first appeared in the July issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.