Give Me Air – Rocking the Whistler Mountain Bike Park with the TREK Dirt Series

Last week, I took my brake-clenching, rear-wheel-skidding ways to the TREK Dirt Series’ Whistler Camp to see if I could benefit from a little mountain bike tuition.

It fit with my summer resolution, to ride, as much as I write about riding. And having worked on projects for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and Crankworx, I’ve been writing a lot about mountain biking.

The TREK Dirt Series is 12 years old, and runs mostly women’s only clinics, with a couple of co-ed courses thrown in for variety.

I taught women’s only ski clinics for a few winters, so I’m a big proponent of the all-girls’ environment for developing technical skills and confidence in gnarly terrain. Science researchers have updated the “flight or fight” theory to take the absence of testosterone into account. When women are confronted with stress, instead of experiencing a hormonal cascade that would trigger fight or flight, as a man would, the sudden release of oxytocin is more likely to inspire a “tend and befriend” reaction.

In challenging situations women will seek out social contact, especially with other women, and will urge each other on – a revelation that validated a lot of what I saw on the ground at women’s only ski clinics.

So, that was the theory.

Two days in armour and full-face helmets, taking theory into the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and the Air-Dome, it proved out.

The best learning comes from doing, so the best way for you to really get what TREK Dirt Series has to offer, is to sign up for one yourself. They cover the entire gamut of ability levels – the 75 women last weekend included rank beginners and advanced riders.

But here are 3 of my big take-aways from the weekend (in addition to the myriad of tips that have changed the way I ride.)

1. Your best marketing tool is always people.

When you show up to any program and the room is full of event sponsors, fans and believers, as well as the participants, it’s hard to not be impressed. Their presence is a basic testament to the quality of the camp.

In addition to 13 coaches, last weekend’s clinic was staffed by a support crew of volunteer “sweeps” made up of past participants, boyfriends of coaches or past participants, friends of the camp, and sponsors, who had volunteered to ride tail-gun and help pick up the pieces.

When the hanger of my derailleur snapped off during an Airdome session, one of these champions ferried me and the bike down to Whistler Blackcomb’s G1 Rentals to swap the bike out, and had me back before I’d missed more than one turn at the foam pit. And when I spent one frustrated hour as the rest of my gang moved up to the big leagues, trying to get my timing right at the Bike Park’s little drops training zone, our sweep Steve stuck with me, offering non-stop encouragement until I managed to put it all (come in fast, stay neutral, pre-load and explode) together. The high-five he gave me after he chased me down Crank it Up, airing over the little jumps and cranking around the berms, showed that he was as stoked as I was to have finally got it together.

2. Look where you want to go.

Looking where you want to go means staying committed at speed, all the way through a turn, to where you’re going. Keeping focussed with your eyes means your scapulae and hips and bike will follow, and you’ll maintain traction all the way through a corner. Looking where you want to go also means not looking at what you’d rather avoid – obstacles, people, or the big tree that is coming up super fast on your right.

Sarah Leishman keeps her eye on the prize. Photographer: Jinya Nishiwaki.

3. Put your love and hate into it.

After Sarah Leishman bullied and berated us into never making any sudden speed adjustments (“imagine riding chainless, two pedalstrokes only, now go”), Revelstoke’s Casey Brown, current Canadian DH champ, taught us how to keep our stuff together in the air.

Casey Brown tweakin’ the tail whip.

She had all kinds of awesome tactical advice, but the thing that stuck with me, after I attempted my first fifty drops with no real desire to actually get air between my tire and the ground, was something her dad tells her:

“Put all of your love and hate into it.”

The tally of carnage for our gang of 5 riders, Mackenzie, Sarah, Caitlin, and Kim, included 3 endos, one grazed shoulder, one broken hanger, one cut-up calf, and one bruised snatch (see #2: look where you want to go, and never at the big tree that is coming up super fast on your right.) Shit-eating grins? 5 for 5.

Thanks to our coaches, Sarah Leishman, Casey Brown, and Penny Deck, and to our sweeps and supporters, Ayden, Fiona and Steve. Thanks also to the TREK Dirt Series for hosting, and Whistler Blackcomb for the chance to try a Giant Glory just like the big boys ride.


So I had fun. But to the question that really counts: did it work? Did I actually get any better?, I leave to my regular riding partner to judge.

On Monday, we hit our usual trail for an evening ride.

“Wow. You are riding so much faster,” he said.

“You’re just saying that.”

“I think I’d know. I’m the one usually getting eaten by mosquitoes waiting for you.”

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