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Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky / A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

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Events

Sep 25, 2019

A New Home for Mountain Biking in India

The first mountain biking competition in Ladakh is a symbol for the youth culture to ride big and dream bigger.

WRITTEN BY

Tenzin Jamphel

I have come a long way from wondering what a “dual suspension” bike is, to organizing the very first Mountain Bike festival in Leh, Ladakh, my home in the Himalaya. It has only been two and a half years since I first picked a Scott XC mountain bike based purely on the brand name and the appealing neon colour. My knowledge of that bike was limited to it being just an expensive cycle. Fast forward to the present situation, where I have been tucked up in my bed for weeks due to a jump gone wrong while riding a “dual suspension” bike. My passion for this growing sport has gotten the better of me, or so it would seem.

Vilayat Ali on the newly built Pump track in Leh, Ladakh.

The dream of the first mountain biking event in Ladakh was envisioned by many riders who had visited this mountainous region in Northern India in the past. Vinay Menon, India’s pioneering free-rider, who had made quite a few rounds to the Ladakh mountains in the past few years, was excited about the prospect of bringing the first-ever event to life and exposing an entirely new generation to a sport that he and I both love. Vinay honored us by getting his hands dirty to build the tracks for the competition.

Vinay Menon demonstrating a jump for the spectators.

Some might say the event location is on sacred ground. I purchased the land, which the locals refer to as “Disko Valley”, from a local monastery. Although at first glance the land appeared to be nothing more than a dump area filled with trash and shattered glass bottles, I could see past all of that to the true potential of the space. My company, which I co-founded with two of my friends, is an MTB-based travel company in Leh – hence the name Unexplored Ladakh. My colleagues and I held high hopes for the local riding culture and the sport to become something bigger. Our initiative started to gain attention when an MTB magazine from Malaysia showed interest in us and decided to support us in manifesting our vision. And to our luck, the local tourism department felt the same and decide to aid us in funding this event.

Rinku Thakur on a final Downhill race run.

The idea was to transform this barren land into a “skills” bike park that would essentially become a playground for the locals to come to get an understanding of the sport. By making this park inclusive to all ages and genders, who hoped to aid in developing a strong MTB culture in Ladakh.

A local girl rides the Pump course.

The very first mountain biking festival in Ladakh represents the changing times in Ladakh’s social structure. It is a physical representation of the changing mindset of the youth here and the possibilities of seeing a bigger picture rather than following the status quo. The main idea for this event flourished with the specific goal of encouraging the locals, especially the younger generation, to get involved in this sport and also to develop the region into a top mountain biking destination in the country.

Junior competitors racing on the Downhill track.

When I first dropped in on a full-speed ride down one of the newly built trails, I couldn’t help but wonder why we did not do this earlier. We have an abundant supply of landscape that you could say is perfectly designed for mountain biking and yet any seed of a riding culture has been repressed until now. Today, preparations for the festival are in full swing with Vinay’s helpful hands and knowledge guiding us along in building the Downhill track and also a Pump track. I would have never imagined this in Ladakh.

Winners of the Downhill race stand at the podium.

The festival is a two-day event consisting of multiple competitions and workshops. It stands as an introductory event leading up to other prominent events this season like the Suru Boulder Fest, Ladakh Marathon and The North Quest Challenge. Next to these more established events, I can’t help but feel a little intimidated, given the fact that we are the new players in the festival lineup and also of the nature of our sport within the hierarchy of sports in India.

The first day of the event is purely based as an introduction of the sport to the locals. We also teach MTB essentials like bike maintenance and basic repair knowledge. The second day is focused more on the competition side of things with a short-track Downhill competition open to both local and outside riders, and a Pump track challenge held as well.

A glow of excitement rushes through me as I write this, as I can still picture one particular young kid riding his bike with immense joy on one of our brand new Downhill course features. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tackling a giant, scary jump in a few years.

Urgyan Skaldan on a final Downhill race run.

I personally take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that I did not even know how to adjust my saddle post a few years back and now I am one of the first generation riders in Ladakh, which now has its very first MTB festival. This growing community of riders represents the possibility of a thriving culture in Ladakh in the coming years that I believe will take the Mountain Biking circuit in the country by storm in the next few years.

Learn more about Tenzin’s efforts to build a thriving MTB culture in Ladakh

Feature Image: Vinay Menon catches air on the Downhill race track

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Events

Aug 26, 2019

A Tipping Point for Freeride Mountain Biking

Freeride has remained conspicuously male-dominated. Now, a tenacious group of riders are part of a movement to change that, and they’re throwing down at some of mountain biking’s biggest events.

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WRITTEN BY

Alicia Leggett

This year we welcomed the inaugural Women’s Slopestyle Tour, which gave women opportunities to compete in dirt jump, freeride and slopestyle events throughout North America and allowed female riders to – for the first time – earn points in the Freeride Mountain Biking Association (FMBA) worldwide ranking system. As part of the tour, Crankworx Whistler, one of the most celebrated mountain biking festivals, included women’s categories in its ‘Speed and Style’ and ‘Best Trick’ competitions, which had previously been open to just men.

Why now? Lisa Mason, organizer of the Women’s Freeride Movement, which hosts riding clinics and competitions, said that women simply haven’t been ready for this level of competition until now. Mountain biking began as a male-dominated sport, which has kept many women from participating. Now, thanks to women’s riding clinics, group rides and competitions, the sport is becoming more inclusive.

“Every year there’s like a third more women out riding,” Mason said. “I think eventually we’ll get away from the ‘ladies only,’ and it’ll be an ‘everybody, let’s party’ kind of thing.”

I caught up with Mason at Crankworx, where she cheered for all the riders and took notes on their Speed and Style runs. The competition integrated elements from racing and slopestyle, with competitors riding a course of fast berms, rollers and two big trick jumps. They rode against the clock, but were also judged and given time deductions based on their tricks.

Chelsea Kimball throws a stylish one-footer over one of the Speed and Style trick jumps to claim 2nd place. Photo by Alicia Leggett

At events that have never before included women, competitors and event organizers alike face a learning curve. The Speed and Style jumps were so big that the women (and even some of the top men) struggled to clear them, making it next to impossible for them to show their best tricks.

Competitor Chelsea Kimball said she wishes the Speed and Style course design had been more realistic. Kimball can backflip her bike on the right jumps, but the difficult course meant that just making it down the hill smoothly became a priority.

“It was a bit harder than it looked,” Kimball said. “It was super fun, but you really had to rail the corners to make it what it should be.”

Kat Sweet, who runs the Sweetlines coaching organization and puts on one of the Women’s Slopestyle Tour events, echoed Kimball’s opinion of the course.

“Between the jumps being a little bit too gnarly and the headwind blowing on them, it didn’t showcase what they really can do,” Sweet said. “The sport has progressed so much, especially in jumping, and the women are really pushing. I would love to be able to showcase that better.”

Kat Sweet: Mountain biker, event organizer and mentor to the next generation of female riders. Photo by Alicia Leggett

Sweet acknowledges that women haven’t been involved in freeride for as long as men have, and can’t be expected to skip the development phase.

“Every year, things get a little bigger, and we haven’t quite caught up yet. If we built a course that would really show off what we’re doing, that would help us elevate both the kids and the ladies,” Sweet said. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”

But despite minor snags like the Crankworx course, 2019 can be considered a milestone year for female freeriders.

Women’s Slopestyle Tour competitors are universally enthusiastic about the increased opportunities for women to test themselves in competition.

“The slopestyle tour has been a blast,” said Kimball, who is ranked fifth in the FMBA rankings. “I never thought I’d be doing anything like this, but I’ve had a really good time with it meeting more women who are trying to do the same thing and just having a good time.”

Sweet’s organization, Sweetlines, ran the Sugar Showdown, which was the first event in the tour. The Sugar Showdown was first held in 2012, but its new partnership with the FMBA, the official international freeride governing body, allowed it to become something bigger than ever before.

“Having it be a FMBA bronze-level event really made people push a little bit harder, so it was really cool to be the first stop in that,” Sweet explained. “It was kind of an honor to be the first.”

As more women pursue freeride, the sport’s image is becoming more inclusive, making it accessible for even more women. And as perceptions of mountain biking shift, Mason, Sweet and Kimball agree that the bike industry needs to keep up with the evolution by investing in female riders.

Mason said that increased support from within the bike world would help grow the scene, which would change the sport’s image, which would involve more women, in turn attracting yet more support.

“It’s an upward spiral,” she said. “We need awareness. Awareness that women are doing these kinds of things and that it’s okay and easy, and not just a ‘guys only’ sport.”

Sweet said she’s excited to see what the next generation of female riders can accomplish. Recruiting and coaching young girls is an important part of what organizations like Sweetlines and the Women’s Freeride Movement do, in addition to giving them competition platforms, especially since women like Sweet and Mason can be the role models that many of us didn’t have when we were younger.

With all the enthusiasm for the Women’s Slopestyle Tour and its associated movement, it’s safe to say that the necessary changes are happening – maybe slowly, but inevitably. I, personally, hope for a future in which little girls receive the same encouragement to mountain bike as little boys do. That future seems to be coming, and it’s bright.

Cover photo: Casey Brown throws a stylish one-footer over one of the Speed and Style trick jumps to claim 2nd place. Photo by Cailin Carrier

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