This article first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
We all see them in town. Driving the big trucks with sled decks, hauling trailers, and fueling up at our local Big Eddy Station. Early morning lineups of neon one-piece snowsuits in the cafes. The pinks, greens, purples and blues — all with extra ponytails and lip chip in the pockets. This is just a glimpse, and all of what one may see of our local female sledders in Revelstoke. If you are someone new to town or have not experienced the sport of sledding for yourself, one cannot help but wonder. Where did she find the courage to load that 850 onto the back of that F-350 pickup truck? Where are they going to ride, with who, and how do they make it look so effortless?”
There is no denying that this rugged logging town is surround by some of the most advanced mountain terrain for sledding, and is well known for it! Revelstoke, a snowmobile mecca, calls on riders from all regions to see, experience and take on these amazing mountain ranges for themselves. Those who live in the community, however, all come from a similar mindset. That is in sharing the same love for a lifestyle outdoors, in one way or another.
The thriving female sled culture in Revelstoke stands out for the strength they carry in numbers, as well as their experiences on the mountain. These experiences they use to learn from and to share with one another. All to help overcome the challenges they have faced in the past while learning and progressing in this incredible sport for snowmobiling. From the loading and unloading of a sled, to exploring a new and more advanced zone to ride. The energy is empowering and truly inspirational when witnessed first hand. These are the local girls in our community, and this is an authentic look at this sport from behind the lashes in Revelstoke.
Chelsea Alford — “By just seeing the women around town there is no knowledge of how much support they have for each other in the sport. Women are able to go out and cheer each other on no matter what the outcome of an attempt is when punching further. You would be surprised how strong women are when working to get someone unstuck!”
Nadine Overwater — “I think a big piece of what people who don’t sled don’t necessarily see is the empowerment of women riding together with other women really gives.”
Getting started: the who, what, where, and how
Starting anything for the first time can be daunting. In this case pairing that with all of the start-up costs, avalanche knowledge, and terrain awareness can make sledding a commitment before day one. This is a must before even stepping foot on the mountain. Anyone who sleds knows even that is just the tip of the iceberg. The community of Revelstoke has many leaders and mentors that offer a great service geared to help the ladies progress from any skill level, whether they’re just starting out, or looking to sharpen up their style on the skis between the trees.
Local female rider and pioneer in the female sled industry, Nadine Overwater, offers her very women’s-specific sled camps and jump clinics. Her La Nina name has become well known not only across the province, but also across the country, and has even made its way down to the northern States.
Nadine Overwater — “In the past it has been a very male-dominated sport and really daunting to start getting out there with just a group of girls. Luckily in this town we are surrounded by strong and smart women who are capable of handling a machine in the backcountry and managing the avalanche risks and machine limitations. They can be confident going out and exploring, or just enjoying a day in the snow with likeminded girls. Seeing other capable women is a really great motivator.”
The sport can take those starting out by accident on a day trip to a cabin, or backcountry access by surprise, and leaves them hooked. Soon they are heading back for more throttle therapy, or in other cases to work because they now also need a sled of their own! Balancing the good days with the learning days, knowing that those around you are there to support you and releasing the worry of holding the group up can be a key in the beginner stages. Rewards come in the time together, and taking in some of the greatest and most stunning views.
Mods for the rider
Like any good sports bra, go-to plaid, or Friday night heel, it has to fit to feel good, be manageable, and work with you while you work to play. The same goes for sledding, and your own sled specifically. The ladies in town know this, and make the modifications to make the pow turns sharp and hill climbs clean.
Anyone can jump onto a stock sled, take it out for a day or season, learning bits here and there, and somewhat make it work. The truth is though, that if you really want to progress and make things easier you will need to make the changes to make it happen. Some of our ladies standing 5 feet tall, 110 pounds with smaller frames do all they can to their 500-pound snow machine so they can continue the progression and keep developing their skills properly.
Lowering risers to hip height or slightly higher helps to bring power back to the centre of your body, allowing you to use your whole body while riding, rather than just using your shoulders and arms. Also this makes it easier to transfer weight from side to side when shifting and dipping your hips. Sway bars can be handy with pulling your sled one way or another, but can limit you if you do not have the room to move with arms slightly, or a lot shorter in length.
Popular modifications include shaving down a seat or getting an after-market seat. With this feature swapped, turning through Revelstoke’s waves of pow can feel like a dance from one riser to the next. A smaller seat again allows more space, and makes shifting your legs from one side to the other feel much more effortless and much quicker. Shorter brake levers and finger throttles also help smaller hands get a better grip on the bars.
The physical demand of sledding can render a rider lost for words when trying to describe the amount of energy that is needed for a full day on the mountain. How do they stay fueled when burning so many calories?
“As a female, being prepared comes naturally and there is never a lack of snacks out there!” says Nadine Overwater. “That being said, I train my body to use less fuel and rely on water more — try and eat high protein and carb foods. My reasoning is more geared towards survival and if you have to spend the night — if your body is always hungry it makes it really difficult.”
When loading and unloading, gearing up and bossing around a 500-pound machine in ponytail deep snow, all while wearing an avalanche pack and suited head to toe, a girl can burn some serious energy seriously fast. Keeping your energy levels up is not just important for the physical energy required, but also for mental energy and focus to keep alert while moving through potential avalanche terrain.
Keep breakfast king if you want to be queen of the mountain. A big breakfast high in protein and healthy fats helps to keep blood sugar levels remain stable. This is important to prevent crashes later. Having a bigger meal at the start of the day also will carry you through to the end of the day. Eating too much at one time while out in the backcountry can leave you feeling heavy and make for slower reaction times. Lighter snacks like homemade protein bars, apples and peanut butter and of course pipe cooked sandwiches are a go to for the girls!
Hot tea and honey! Warmth with a bit of quick and easy to digest sugar keeps the body feeling light, energized and the chills at bay. Local lady, Kelly Tedesco shares this tip and swears by it. If you are one who has seen her on the mountain you would then also have to believe it. She always has her travel Thermos packed, and energy for the biggest mountain days.
Our girls from every angle contribute all they can to support each other while progressing. From ski pulling, technique sharing, and recipe swapping, they have it covered. Jaana Rutledge has provided great advice for the girls. Being a motivated fitness and health specialist based out of her family owned and operated gym here in Revelstoke, Trans-Canada Fitness. Jaana is a great example of the strong females in the community. She supports and shares her knowledge on the topic of how to maintain a strong body throughout the winter season, and of course also how to properly recover and repair after such big days.
Sam Stutke — “Health and fitness is important to me. Believe it or not, but sledding is a crazy workout. A typical day for me would be a nice stretch when waking up, an omelette for breakfast along with some fruit or a smoothie. I like to pack with me snacks like trail mix, apples and peanut butter, protein bars. This is all to maintain energy throughout the day. Then of course a nice dinner to recover, along with some hot tub time and again a good stretch to be ready for day two! I eat a lot of veggies and protein, and drink a lot of water, but really you have to find what works best for your own body.”
It it pretty clear that maintenance and recovery for yourself is just as important as it is for your sled. This you can see in the girls while they flex their muscles, and put the faces behind the term, “mountain strong.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures, some say. Others may say it’s not uncommon or it is standard procedure to pee in a snow hole kicked out beside your sled while your onesie snowsuit is wrapped up in your arms from behind you. Paired with helmet hair don’t care, slightly smudged mascara, and a grin from ear to ear. The ladies are not shy and are no strangers to doing whatever it takes to be comfortable in the backcountry. It’s moments like this that remind us of why we are out there in the first place, and to have a good time, and another day on the mountain. This being with the people you hold close to your heart, and the ones you trust your life with.
The girls have done it, live it and share it. All of the triumphs and hard lessons learned. Ski pull after ski pull after ski pull. Breaking trail and coming home in the dark, or early because they have done a good job of letting go on some much needed throttle therapy. The cheers are loud for each other as they break through each learning curve together, or successfully get all the ice off of ones lashes without the outcome of raccoon eyes.
For Revelstoke this strong female mentality may be the norm, but this standard is a high bar that continues to rise as the women’s sled culture continues to thrive from one season to the next. Here’s to another season on the sleds, and to the girls who keep up the stoke up as they keep pushing further. — Cheers ladies!