Building a Women's Biking Community
Story & Photos by Gabrielle Gasser
Big Sky Resort offers second annual Women’s Bike Skills Series
It’s a gorgeous day in Big Sky, and 30 women gather at the base of Big Sky Resort to ride bikes and build new skills. The sold-out clinic is just for women, offering local ladies the chance to go downhill mountain biking together in a relaxed and supportive setting.
For a second year, the resort is hosting its Women’s Bike Skills Series, four sessions of women’s-specific mountain biking clinics throughout July and August. Last year, bike coach Lexie Hendricks and Vanessa Tracey, the resort’s bike program manager, started the series to create a space for all women-identifying and non-binary riders, of various skill levels, to train and learn together.
Tracey said she initially learned how to downhill mountain bike ten years ago in a similar program at Northstar California Resort near Lake Tahoe. She emphasized the importance of learning in a space with like-minded individuals in a progressive environment.
“That's the big thing is [to] have fun and to get more women on bikes,” Tracey said. “Downhilling can be really intimidating, especially since it's so male- dominated. Having such an inclusive culture, and inviting folks who've never done it before, to come out and try it, that's what we're going for.”
The clinics are taught by female coaches and are organized by skill level. Big Sky Resort offers beginner, intermediate and expert terrain ensuring that there is something for riders of all levels.
Friday’s gathering included six female coaches, and riders with all different skill levels from women who had never tried mountain biking before to women who were excited to rip some expert trails and try out the new jump line. Before breaking away into smaller groups, some of the women gathered to share their goals for the day.
Cornering, gaining confidence and overcoming fears were just a few of the goals shared by participants. One woman, Margaret Cowdrey, a Montana native shared that she is looking to build her confidence after a bad wreck last September.
“Riding with women, it’s really empowering,” Cowdrey said. “Men don’t cheerlead. We're cheerleading each other the whole way the whole time we are whooping and hollering down the hill.”
One of the big goals of the series, according to Tracey, is inclusivity. She said she wants to create a welcoming environment that will eventually help to grow the sport of downhill mountain biking as well as a tight-knit local community.
Many of the women who participated in the 2022 series have become friends, started carpooling and have even combined their resources for group babysitting, according to Tracey.
“We want to deliver a great product and a really nice intimate setting where we can…have a little bit more connection,” she said.
The women’s specific clinic is not only important for creating connection and community, but, according to Tracey, it addresses a very real physical difference in the way women ride.
“Women ride bikes a lot differently than men,” Tracey said. “Our center of gravity is different, just like skiing. We're just a little different and having our female coaches that are all certified out there, really teaching us how to use our bodies differently when we're riding is really helpful.”
Two of the women present at Friday’s clinic, Dana Pepper and Alison Berry, were returners from last summer. Berry said she only caught the last session last summer and is excited to attend more clinics this summer to improve throughout the season.
Pepper added that she likes the Big Sky Resort clinics because of the lift access which helps her to improve and work on skills without getting too tired riding uphill.
“We learned so much last year,” she said. “It felt so much more comfortable.”
Each clinic will be slightly different based on the participants and their skills and goals. Tracey said coaches will always go over bike safety and then tailor their lessons to more specific skills as participants progress to the intermediate and advanced levels. Some of the skills covered can include braking, body positioning, speed, jumps, and drops among many others.
In the future, Tracey said she is hoping to expand the offerings including more coaching opportunities and potentially weekend events for folks who work during the week.
“At the end of the day, we just want to have fun, we want to be safe, and we want to have a really fun culture up here,” Tracey said. “That's something that's been missing since COVID is that sense of community.”
There will be three more Women’s Bike Skills Series clinics on August 11, 18, and 25 from 2 – 4:30 p.m. Registration is $10, and all participants qualify for discounted $25 bike haul tickets and $45 bike rentals.
Gabrielle Gasser is a writer and photographer who grew up in Big Sky, Montana and is currently based out of Bozeman. In the winter you'll find her ski instructing out on the slopes at Big Sky Resort or curled up with a good book.