Candace Shadley, founder of the Trek Dirt Series, is not your average mountain bike coach. She’s also a frequent world traveller, expert kite surfer, and amazing skier. I met her during the photoshoot for an outdoor sport company, she was one of the models for mountain bike clothing. What made her stood out from the crowd was her friendliness and support during the photo shoot. I remember we went for dinner together after the shoot and talked about life in general and sports. Shortly after that, I got an invitation to her Dirt Series Camp. It was the best thing that could happen to me when it comes to biking. I can’t believe how much I learned in one weekend and how much confidence I gained.

A few months later, we end up going out to do a bike shoot and while we waited for the perfect light, she taught me how to get over obstacles and suggests that she’ll introduce me to her sponsors for possible photo sales. That’s Candace, I know. Ready to help and help you to succeed. That’s why I think she is the best mountain bike coach out there. She simply doesn’t give up on you, she encourages you the whole time. Even when we go for a few laps in the bike park to catch up, I get a free lesson with it. After our girly chat, she would ask me what I am working on and how my biking is progressing. We would then go to a feature that I am working on and she would not leave until I get it done.

What is your background?

I’ve been teaching sports — primarily skiing, windsurfing, and mountain biking — for the past 20 years. In that time I’ve also completed a degree in International Relations, worked for several different outdoor sports manufacturers, spent six years in provincial level sports administration, and developed the Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camps. We’ve now run 200 camps, taught 11,000 participants, and are entering our fifteenth year of operations. But it’s so fun it almost feels new to me every day.

How did you first start mountain biking?

I got started like most girls: I had a boyfriend who loved to mountain bike. But a racing focused guy who is trying his best to be patient isn’t much fun to chase down the trail. I’d feel bad that I was so much slower or that I found so many sections so scary. That was in high school, now that boyfriend is an ex, but we’re still really great friends, and we rip around together in the Whistler Bike Park whenever we can. A few years ago we finished a set of consecutive jumps, he turned around, smirked and said, “you’ve come a long way since crying on the trail”.

My start was in high school, but I really got into it after university, when I was living and working in the Dominican Republic and got invited along on an island mountain bike tour. The riding was scenic and technically mild, the guides were super encouraging, and there was another girl along who was at a similar skill level to me. Sometimes you just need to be in the right situation. Boyfriends are amazing for so many things. But sometimes it’s nice to be plucked from that situation and learn in a different environment.

How long have you been coaching?

My first proper job ever was teaching skiing for Whistler Mountain, so I’ve been instructing and coaching sports in general since I was 16. It’s been over 15 years that I’ve been doing this in mountain biking though.

What’s a typical camp like?

A typical camp is two days long and includes skill sessions, instructional rides, maintenance clinics, gear introductions, bike set up opportunities and social time. Camps are limited on average to 45 participants, to give every participant the chance to interact with every coach. We have incredible coaches and assistants and always maintain a staff to participant ratio of at least 1:6. Participants are divided into groups according to experience, interest, and ability, so that everyone really gets to work at the level they’d like.

Given the wide range of riders who come to camps, a correspondingly wide range of skills is offered. We cover beginner through advanced cross-country and downhill skills, from the basics of rider positioning, braking and steering all the wait to jumps and drops.

What types/skill levels of riders usually come out?

The women who come out to these camps range from novice mountain bikers urged along by their dedicated cycling friends to full on enthusiasts wanting to master the bigger air, cleaner drop, or smoother ride over any obstacle in their path.

We’re also get a fair number of XC, endurance and adventure racers, those who have heaps of strength and overall fitness but want to shed time in the technical sections.
If I had to put percentages to it, I’d say that about 25% have spent fewer than five days riding off-road, about 20% could be classified as having advanced skills, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

How would you encourage women who-for one reason or another-have not tried mountain biking yet?

Mountain biking is such an amazing sport as it combines and offers so much — the opportunity to improve cardio, strength, technical skill and mental tenacity, all while enjoying the outdoors and spending time with friends. With the right introduction, which could be as simple as signing up for lessons or going with patient riders willing to ride trails suited to your level, it can also be immediately safe, fun, and empowering.

What do most women take away from the weekend?

New found confidence with their riding and all that spills over from that into everyday life – the knowledge that you can learn something new, the sureness that you can conquer your fears, and the excitement at having done something that you didn’t think you would have been able to beforehand.

And, of course, improved technical mountain bike skills. There was a girl at one of our North Vancouver camps whose first day on a mountain bike was the first day of the clinic. By the end she could ride along a 6” wide plank, go down 1 1/2’ drop, clean a loose climb, ride a right switchback and do tons of other things. Some of these people just pick up so much. I wish I could learn things that quickly.

Name your favourite teaching tool or technique.

I think it’s really important to develop skills step-by-step, with assessment and encouragement along the way. I really love teaching with the variety of stunts we set up at Trek Dirt Series camps, as they help us create so many of the scenarios we need for each participant’s personal development. And, being that it’s my home, I love teaching on the trails in the Whistler valley and in the Whistler Bike Park too.

Which technical skills are most important for women to learn?

There are so many great technical skills to learn, as each one makes riding that much more amazing, but if I had to pick one I would go to the most basic of all and that’s looking ahead. At all levels this takes a rider’s eyes off her front tire and out on the trail so that she’s better able to anticipate what’s coming up and have more flow and control overall.

This applies whether we’re going over our first log (and needing to look past it once we’ve initiated our front wheel lift), riding along a skinny log ride (and needing to focus on where we want to go, rather than where we don’t), or airing off a drop (and looking ahead to where we’re going to end up once we’ve landed successfully). It’s something that comes naturally sometimes and something that we need to remind ourselves of other times. And it’s key.

Why women’s-only clinics?

Women’s clinics offer a different environment than co-ed camps. The instruction is super supportive and step-by-step, there’s lots of positive feedback at every progression, and essentially everyone is encouraged to give her best and push her limits in a responsible way.

The support between participants at these women’s specific camps is also more incredible than anything you’d ever imagine, and there are great role models no matter what your riding level. There’s something about seeing another girl get over an obstacle, clean a climb, or manual off a drop that is easy to identify with and fully motivating.
That said, we also offer co-ed camps within the Trek Dirt Series program. Those are wonderful in their own right as well.

Your teaching philosophy?

I think that learning new skills is one of the most amazing feelings ever and that, in turn, teaching is one of the most rewarding things to do. It’s important to me that a rider clears a log or masters a drop, or checks whatever challenge it might be off their list, but less for the simple fact of accomplishing the task than for the excitement and confidence that comes with that accomplishment. Plus, I think those feelings spill over into everyday life, so in a sense this is my small way of making people’s lives more fun and inspiring and better all around.

As for specifics on teaching, I believe in a step-by-step approach, with personal and constructive feedback along the way. I think that we learn best when we tackle a challenge just beyond, rather than far beyond, something we can already do, and when we get positive reinforcement through the process. I also enjoy working with groups of like-minded riders, as I find that they identify with, support, and motivate one another. People say that I’m a super patient and enthusiastic teacher. It comes easy to me because I love it so much.

Do you or did you ever run into challenges based on fact that you are woman?

I think that we all run into challenges for a variety of reasons, but overall I think I’m really fortunate to be a woman in this industry. I feel like bike companies are increasingly interested in our part of the market, dedicated to developing and refining products to meet our needs, and open to ideas as to what we think might work best. I also feel like women want to see more women in the sport, and men want to see more women in the sport, and well, how great is that.

You are very successful woman in male dominated industry. What is the key to your success?

I think that I love what I do and I work really hard at it. I enjoy the outside part, especially when it comes to beautiful singletrack and improving skills, and I also enjoy the inside part, using my brain and working on whatever response or report is needed that day. Of course the balance isn’t always ideal, and everything isn’t perfect every day, but I am super grateful for the position I’m in, and dedicated to doing the best with it that I possibly can.

Anything new planned for 2015?

In 2015 we’ll run our largest number of camps and travel the furthest we’ve ever been. We’ve got 22 individual camps throughout Western North America on our regular schedule, and then we’ve added in a special corporate camp for our title sponsor, Trek, out at their headquarters in Waterloo, WI.

This year I’m also working closely on all the programming with two amazing women – Sylvi Fae and Emily Neuman – so I feel really lucky there. I also love all the coaches we have involved, and the fantastic sponsors that support all of us, too. So essentially, there’s lots to look forward to in 2015 and, as is so often the case, I bet it’ll be our best yet.

Author Bio

Justa Jeskova was born and raised in Slovakia. She moved to BC, Canada because of hockey. She ended up discovering mountain biking after making the move to Whistler when she photographed her first Crankworx. She no longer chases hockey players and still can’t change a bike tire but what she lacks in mechanic skills is made up by her passion behind the lens. Today she loves to photograph the real life, life in motion. Her mountain bike pictures and stories from her adventures can be often seen in well known bike magazines around the world. Find out more at justajeskova.com, her Facebook page or Instagram.