Building supportive outdoor community
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Alicia Mau is a native Washingtonian, ICU nurse, and loving foster-dog parent who has always enjoyed making the most out of all the Pacific Northwest has to offer. After being introduced to mountain biking, Alicia fell in love with the sport as a way to alleviate stress and experience the beautiful outdoors on two wheels.
Lacking a community of women at her local mountain, Alicia and her friend Ashley created the Stevens Pass Shred-it Sisters as a way to connect, learn, and grow alongside fellow women on snow and dirt. The Shred-It Sisters community now has over 500 members and offers skills sessions, maintenance clinics, and a supportive community to Washington women in adventure sports.
My start as a mountain biker
I have always loved getting outdoors and participating in adventure sports as much as possible. When some of my friends got into mountain biking, they kept telling me I’d love it and should give it a try... They were (thankfully) relentless so eventually, I gave it a shot and the rest is history! There were, however, a couple of things that made me hesitant initially that I think others can relate to...
First of all, mountain biking is an expensive sport to get into!
I was lucky enough to have a friend let me borrow her hardtail for a season while she was injured. This helped immensely because it allowed me to make sure this was a sport I was going to love before I poured a bunch of money into it. Once I knew it was something I wanted to continue doing, and as I began to outgrow the hardtail, I did a fair amount of research trying to find an affordable full-suspension bike. I decided to purchase my first bike from a reputable rental company with records of how many times it had been ridden and all maintenance that had been done to it. This gave me some peace of mind buying used and, honestly, I’m still in love with my bike almost three years later!
My second hesitation, would I really enjoy the type-two fun of mountain biking uphill?
By borrowing (or renting) a bike for a few rides you can quickly decide if it’s something for you. The main thing that helped me with this was a change in mentality. Originally I didn’t understand why someone would do all that work for so little reward. But what I came to realize was mountain biking is a killer workout (a positive in and of itself) in the beautiful outdoors that has the bonus of a fun downhill adventure. The climb for mountain biking kicks my ass in a way almost no other workout does, so I always feel a big sense of accomplishment after the end of a ride. I just had to learn to be patient with my body as it learned to push itself to the limit.
Lastly, there weren’t many womxn in my circle of mountain biking friends.
I started heading out with friends, mostly men, who had been biking for a while and offered their tips while I pushed to try to keep up with them. It was great for getting outside my comfort zone and progressing quickly to more difficult terrain, but what I began to realize is by only going with much more experienced riders I was always in “survival mode” while mountain biking with them. I was trying so hard not to hold up the group that I was blasting through some difficult terrain with messy moves and sacrificing opportunities to learn proper technique. I have heard from other womxn that this is a common feeling for us. That’s not to say the guys I ride with are anything but absolutely patient and willing to wait for me, it was rather a pressure I was putting on myself because of my own insecurity being slower or less experienced.
To negotiate this sensation I started looking for people who were at similar levels and interested in skills sessions and dialed back rides focusing on technique. Most of my guy friends were more inclined to go for the big objectives or were in the “go fast” mentality, but I found there were many other womxn riders interested in the environment I was looking for too.
Creating a community of Shred-it Sisters
A couple of years ago my friend Ashley Barnett got back into skiing and was talking about wanting to find a Facebook group to meet other womxn who frequent our home mountain. She wasn’t able to find what she was looking for so she reached out to me about starting our own group for Stevens womxn, both skiers and snowboarders, to connect on and off the mountain. I was immediately excited about this idea because I didn’t know many people who skied Stevens and was always looking for more womxn to shred with. Our group started off as a place where you could post for carpools or find people to shred with on a day you were heading up but we quickly decided we wanted to do even more to encourage the community aspect. We started planning group meet-ups once a month both on and off the mountain and started to get to know our community. Through these meetups I started seeing similarities in the vibe I felt snowboarding with this community to the ones I wanted to feel while mountain biking.
As our first ski season came to an end, we decided to keep the stoke and made the transition to mountain biking for the summer! We started with small group rides based on rider skill levels and found through those rides that other womxn had been craving the same skills days and maintenance classes we were! We felt a communal desire to progress in our riding as well as take some ownership and independence with gear maintenance.
We organized skills days where we specifically worked on jumps, drops, and cornering, and held a handful of womxn’s only bike maintenance classes. Some were just us womxn sharing our knowledge with one another and others were more formal classes for more advanced skills like maintenance classes taught by a professional local mechanic (Shannon from Radiant Wrench!). Something I find really important for outdoor recreators, especially for the womxn getting after it, is to take control of your own safety. If you can learn it, then do it so you don’t need to depend on someone else to get you out of a sticky situation. Proper maintenance, pre-ride safety checks, and in-the-field fixes for bikes are some of those invaluable things to have in your toolbelt (Literally? Haha!). We hope to cover more of these skills this upcoming MTB season!
Through these kinds of events, I’ve been lucky enough to experience the many benefits of womxn focused outdoor groups. These groups provide womxn with a comfortable place to learn a new sport or expand their current outdoor groups. I am honored to have met so many badass ladies to recreate with! We’ve also found that having womxn's focused shred sessions nurtures safe spaces to ask womxn’s specific questions, or speak up when wanting to learn a certain way. I’ve only ever been met with patience and understanding any time I’ve spoken up or asked what felt like a dumb question in these environments. And I’ve found an added level of bonding with fellow womxn adventurers that I don’t always find with general events or classes. It’s truly been a rewarding experience being involved in the womxn’s outdoor community, and I hope that any womxn who want to be a part of something like this is able to get involved as well!
For anyone thinking about getting into mountain biking, here are tips I would give my newbie self:
Take a chance and give it a shot! Whether that’s borrowing a friend’s bike or renting for the day, get out there and see if it’s for you because you won’t know until you try! The uphill might feel hard at first, but you’ll improve every time!
Find (or create!) community. Check out your local womxn’s MTB communities because it’s a great way to get out and have fun while meeting new, supportive womxn. For Washington State there are groups like the Shred-it Sisters, Shejumps, Evergreen Crank Sisters, Sisters in Action Sports, and Girls with Grit - I’ve had great experiences with all of them!
Hardtails are great to learn on! Don’t be afraid of starting out on a hardtail! Yes, you will feel more of the terrain you are biking over versus a smoother full-suspension ride but that also means you will learn to ride with more precision early on because the more dialed you are, the smoother your ride will become.
Take a course early on to learn proper riding techniques. The earlier you do it, the less likely it is you will form bad habits that you then have to break later on. There are some great women-focused opportunities such as Sweetlines' Sugar Showdown, the Sturdy DIrty Enduro, or Crank Sisters' Get the Girls Out mountain bike events that can really help you progress your skills.
Finally, learn the basics of maintaining your bike! It will save you so many headaches and a lot of money if you service your bike regularly! Happy bike, no need to hike!
Seeing the stoke within the Shred-It Sisters has given me a lot of hope for the direction of a historically male-dominated sport. The demand from womxn to progress in mountain biking is there, and the opportunities are starting to show up as well!
You can follow Alicia @amblingadventurer.