Goals. Big or small, they are what drive us forward.
In rising to the challenges we set for ourselves, we can say we have changed, grown, improved. In the case of mountain biking, we can say we shredded, ripped, conquered.
The best way to achieve our riding goals is to challenge ourselves with new terrain and/or tap into the knowledge of more skilled riders.
That’s what the Silver Star Ladies’ Weekend in August offered, and with less than a month of lead-time, 54 riders ascended to the quaint mountain top village. They came from LA, Calgary, the Sea to Sky Corridor, Vancouver, the Kootenays, the Okanagan, and Vancouver Island.
We went for the camaraderie of other women and the excitement of a new riding destination, but primarily we went for the chance to improve as riders.
We all had goals.
I was dreaming of big air. I felt like my downhill skills had stagnated over the past three years. I hadn’t pushed myself to go bigger on drops and jumps since I’d become a parent. But I knew it was time to see if I could refine my skills a little and muster the courage to go off bigger drops and fly higher over bigger jumps.
On the morning of the clinic, chatter and laughter filled the air as everyone gathered on the lawn in Silver Star’s village of brightly coloured false front buildings. There is nothing quite like the energy of a group of women mountain bikers at a skills camp. Even small local club clinics feature hooting and hollering, words of encouragement, and bucket loads of stoke. It’s the sound of women stretching themselves and growing their confidence while doing something they love and it’s marvellous.
Maybe that’s why Jaclyn Delacroix, owner of Ozmosis Training, says the clinics are often as much fun for the coaches as they are for the participants.
“You’ve got this group of coaches who just want to empower women who are up and coming, who want to improve themselves and be better at what they do,” she says.
Given that Delacroix had just six weeks to pull the event together after being approached with the idea by Silver Star Mountain Resort and the Muddbunnies riding club, she managed to attract some stellar talent.
In the Facebook page created for the event, nearly every coach had a testimonial of their awesomeness from a past participant looking forward to the weekend.
Among the nine coaches was Penny Deck, who has 15 years of Trek Dirt Series coaching experience behind her. Jaime Hill not only coaches but has also raced the World Cup downhill circuit for the past five years. Carolyn Kavanagh has been kicking ass in Whistler for the past 12 years and competing in slope style events since 2008. The list goes on.
In spite of the experience and skill of our coaches, the weekend was surprisingly cheap, which made it easy to sign up.
Trying to keep the clinic as affordable as possible, Delacroix charged just $115 for the weekend. That fee included a day of skills coaching with lunch and dinner provided, plus a mechanic at our disposal (courtesy of Vancouver’s Different Bikes). With our two-day lift pass, we got a second day of DH ripping with a new set of riding buddies and Liv was there with a fleet of demos for our exclusive use for the whole weekend. Plus, there was a tonne of swag.
The deals don’t get much sweeter.
“Everybody went deep into their pockets for us to get this off the ground,” said Delacroix, who tapped into her industry connections to bring everything together.
After the coaches introduced themselves, we broke into groups according to skill level and learning interest. I aligned myself with the women who wanted to work on jumping – getting bigger air and more hang time. Our coach was Lynne Armstrong, a Scot who now makes her home in Pemberton, B.C.
I had secretly hoped she would be my coach when her bio showed up on the event’s Facebook page. The attached picture was of her doing a backflip, which told me she kinda knows a thing or two about getting big air. She also founded Air Maiden, the UK’s only female free ride event. This woman loves to jump and she’s damn good at it. Who better to learn from?
After a warm-up run, we headed for the jump park, where we found four dirt jump lines to practice on. But before we started launching ourselves into the stratosphere, Armstrong took us back to basics and had us practicing J-hops on the flat. Making that arc with your bike in the air is key to getting height and hitting the transition properly, she said. It was a great warm up and gave us all a solid foundation to work from.
When we graduated to the line of small tabletops, she encouraged us to approach each jump slowly and practice our take off without getting too much air. Most of us managed to contain our excitement for a couple runs before she told us to let loose and see if we could hit the transitions. Armstrong watched as we each did our thing and on our way back up the hill, she offered constructive feedback. As each of us found our groove, she told us to take the next line and then the next.
“I’m gonna whoop louder the higher you go. I’m the whoop-o-metre!” Armstrong yelled as we all queued up for the third line.
She even suggested we try doing something with all that time we were spending in the air. So we did. We started doing little bar turns, tried to kick our back ends out to the side a bit. They weren’t the most exciting manoeuvres to watch, but it sure was fun to do. I had never considered the possibility that I would have the presence of mind to execute anything in the air and still land both tires on the dirt, so I was ecstatic with this kind of progress.
The smiles got bigger and bigger as the morning went on. By the time we left the dirt jumps, everyone seemed ready to rock out every jump on the mountain.
A few of us had already been to Silver Star and had some demons to slay. Armstrong was happy to walk us through our fears. Features that had scared the pants off us for years suddenly became vanquished foes.
“It’s awesome!” Armstrong said at the bottom of one sizeable drop we sessioned. “You guys are facing all your demons.”
When everyone returned to the village at the end of the day, it was clear from the sea of smiles that goals had been met. It’s unlikely that every woman met all of her goals, but talking with the other riders, it seemed we had all improved in some way.
One of the women, Sandra Gerrard, had signed up for the clinic in spite of her trepidation about downhilling.
“I was scared like I never rode a bike before! My stomach was in a little bit of a knot because I didn’t know what to expect as I’ve never DH’d before,” she said. “When I see DH’ers dressed in all their body armour, it makes me think that this is a dangerous sport,” she said. “It put me off for years to try and attempt it.”
A Vancouverite who spends a lot of her time riding cross country trails in Squamish, Gerrard says she didn’t realize that downhill skills could benefit her cross country riding, but what she learned about body position and cornering will make a big difference on her home turf.
“I DEFINITELY achieved my goals and my coach Jaclyn Delacroix was super amazing at explaining and demonstrating how it should be done,” she said. “In my opinion, the coach is key to learning new skill. If the coach doesn’t know how to explain it in detail step-by-step or demonstrate it, it can be challenging to learn.”
Ivy Luis, a 20 year veteran of the sport who enjoys all aspects of mountain biking, wasn’t quite as glowing about her day, but said she was happy about her progress.
“My jumping is getting closer. The training was awesome!”
She still has a bit of fear over “stomping at steeper lips,” she said, but they became a little less scary by the end of the day.
Luis spends most of her time on cross country trails because that’s what’s most accessible at home in San Carlos, California, but her fever for big air was clear throughout the day of coaching as she eyed up every stunt and pedalled hard to get the speed she needed to clear them.
As the clinic was a precursor to a holiday in Whistler, Luis was using Silver Star as a warm up with hopes of improving her jumping technique before hitting the likes of A Line.
Everyone seemed excited about their progress and when I caught up with Delacroix after dinner, she said the feedback she’d gotten so far had been very positive. As an organizer and coach, she’d met her goals too.
“I wanted everyone to have a good time and I wanted everyone to learn something and think about what they want to do next year,” she said.
When asked if there would be a second annual event, she offered a resounding “Hell yes! Considering the number of women that have already been asking me, ‘Is this going to happen next year?’, I’m going to go with yes.”
Carmel Ecker is a writer, graphic designer and avid mountain biker who is grateful for the year-round riding provided by southern B.C.’s temperate climate. She hopes to encourage more women to join the sport by sharing her adventures with others.