Match Made in Heaven: Badass Women and B.C.’s Best Alpine Mountain Biking

Sylvie Allen coaches drops on the trails.
Sylvie Allen coaches drops on the trails. Photo by Lisa Ankeny

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, British Columbia, the technical trails there 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-kilometer 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 come bubbling back to the surface—along with this persistent belief that if I’m not good enough at a sport, no one will want to play with me.

How Do You Get Better? Learn from the Legends

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. So when I heard about a ladies’ technical skills clinic in Revelstoke hosted by Pemberton-based Sweet Skills, I jumped at the opportunity to snag a spot on one.

Instructors Sylvie Allen and Emily Slaco welcomed me and 15 other women at one of the mountain bike trailheads on a rainy Saturday morning in June. Right off the bat, I knew we’d scored with these two.

Sylvie Allen coaches drops on the trails. Photo by Lisa Ankeny
Sylvie Allen coaches drops on the trails. Photo by Lisa Ankeny

Allen is something of a legend on the Canadian mountain biking scene, competing all through her twenties and ultimately crowned Canada’s National Downhill Champion in 2002. She eventually turned to coaching, co-creating the immensely popular Trek Dirt Series and building her own coaching business in Sweet Skills.

Slaco is an experienced guide with Tyax Adventures, which runs float plane-accessed backcountry mountain travel in the South Chilcotin range, a hallowed zone in the annals of B.C. mountain biking. She consistently watched groups of women falling behind on guided rides, and she thought, All these girls can do this—they just need the right environment. Her concept for the first-ever women’s wilderness hut-to-hut riding adventure was born, and she teamed up with Allen to launch North America’s only coached and guided women’s backcountry mountain bike camps out of those legendary Chilcotin Mountains.

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

What the Ladies-Only Hype is All About

I’d never been to a women-only clinic. Those girls were pushing and supporting each other at the same time, 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 kid vulnerability and I actually allowed myself to learn.

The next morning, I signed up for the Sol Mountain Retreat. I hoped that with two more months to practice my technical biking, those chubby little girl insecurities would have faded away entirely by the time the retreat rolled around.

Getting better at riding slabs. Photo by Lisa Ankeny
Getting better at riding slabs. Photo by Lisa Ankeny

Summer flew by in a haze of bliss that only people who live in ski towns can appreciate, and the end of August appeared in what felt like a matter of days. A caravan of trucks with bikes securely strapped to racks revved up the notoriously burly Sol Mountain Road, and the women attending this heralded backcountry adventure finally convened inside the Sol Mountain Lodge to meet for the first time.

Moment of Truth

I was the only one from Revelstoke. The rest of the women hailed from Whistler, Squamish, and Pemberton. While the trails in my neck of the woods are known for being technical, but they’re a cruise compared to the biking in these places—and riders from those towns are known for being as badass as the trails.

I immediately thought, “I won’t be able to keep up.” Even with all my practice over the last few months, I couldn’t compare with these women who’d been riding the Whistler bike park and sending Squamish’s crazy downhill descents for years.

I shouldn’t have worried. Every one of those women, regardless of where they fell on the spectrum of technical skill, were there to learn from Slaco, Allen, and the other guides Tera Meade and Deb Mackillop—all of whom were some of the most impressive riders gracing the trails of Western Canada. They expertly melded doling out tips and training with getting after it in the backcountry, so that rather than feeling like a skills clinic, each day felt like an alpine ride adventure with the extra bonus of absorbing wisdom from better riders.

Classic views of the Monashees from the Caribou Pass trail. Photo by Lisa Ankeny
Classic views of the Monashees from the Caribou Pass trail. Photo by Lisa Ankeny

But what I ultimately realized was this: no one cared whether I was the best rider or crashing on every switchback. They weren’t out there to be the fastest or most fearless (frankly, all of those women seemed confident enough in their inherent badassery from cutting their teeth on some of the burliest trails in B.C.). It was another tick in the column for why I enjoyed riding with an all-female group: competition and grandstanding is often replaced with camaraderie and support. At the end of the day, all of those women were out there to have fun, push themselves, meet cool new riders – and shred Sol Mountain and its new Caribou Pass trail.

Riding Sol Mountain

Alpine trails in British Columbia have reached a mythical status in the mountain biking world, and Sol Mountain is a prime example of why. It’s tucked deep in the Monashees, with views of glaciated peaks in every direction. Sometimes it’s even hard to stay focused on the trail with all those drool-worthy scenes (and yes, I may have crashed once or twice). Caribou Pass ends in a breathtaking vista like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and the trail itself is a solid rolling mix of ascent and descent with enough technical sections to keep your attention (well, mine anyway, given that technical biking still requires laser focus in order not to kill myself).

A dive into the cold waters of Sol Lake is mandatory after a long day riding trail. Photo by Lisa Ankeny
A dive into the cold waters of Sol Lake is mandatory after a long day riding trail. Photo by Lisa Ankeny
Even relaxing at Sol Lodge is pretty epic. Photo by Lisa Ankeny
Even relaxing at Sol Lodge is pretty epic. Photo by Lisa Ankeny

At the end of the retreat, closing out a stunning day of alpine biking with a dip in Sol Lake, I realized that chubby girl and her insecurities hadn’t made a single appearance all weekend. I decided to celebrate with one of the cold beers that the Sol Mountain Lodge staff leaves chilling in the lake for thirsty riders, and as I cracked it, Allen and Slaco announced their plans for a backcountry riding camp in the Yukon next summer.

Badass women riding the high of a long beautiful day in the mountains capped off by sunset yoga. Photo by Lisa Ankeny
Badass women riding the high of a long beautiful day in the mountains capped off by sunset yoga. Photo by Lisa Ankeny

Check out Sweet Skills’ Backcountry Camps to register for your next adventure.

2018 can’t come fast enough.

 

 

 

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