Words by Angela Sucich, Photos by Paris Gore.
“If she can do it, I can do it.” Those inspiring words pretty much sum up the spirit of the Sweetlines Sugar Showdown, a women-only freeride clinic and competition held last weekend at Duthie Hill Park in Issaquah, Washington.
Someone said these words when SuperCo rider Gale Dahlager pulled out her bag of tricks and won the pro comp, and also when little 12-year-old Katie Hensien showed all the adults what it takes to win first place in the amateur division. “If she can do it, I can do it” became a mantra of sorts at the two-day event, which was about so much more than just competition.
Hosted by Kat Sweet of Sweetlines mountain bike coaching, the two-day training and freeride competition was the first of its kind in the northwestern United States. Eight pro coaches from across North America - DH champions, slopestyle superstars, IMBI certified instructors - led different levels and multiple generations of women riders through basic skills before progressing to jumps, drops, wall rides and berms. The following day, 45 pro and amateur riders from across two countries threw down their best tricks on Duthie Hill’s Semper Dirticus and Voodoo Child lines.The Clinic
Pat Clark, a XC rider from the Okanagan, understands the “if she can do it, I can do it” sentiment to her core. During Saturday’s coaching clinic, the 55-year-old followed her daughter, Keara, off a 5-foot drop for the very first time. (That earned mom the NC-17 title, “mother hucker,” for the rest of the weekend.) By the end of the clinic, the mother-daughter team had synchronized their drops in what will probably make a picture-perfect family photo for next year’s holiday card.
Sugar Showdown coaches Kat Sweet and Lorraine Blancher with their group of students. Other Sugar Showdown coaches included Tammy Donahugh, Gale Dahlager, Angi Weston, Cortney Knudson, Chelsey Henry and Stephanie Nychka.
Jill Kintner watches Jen Everhard take a beginner drop.
|It always puts things into perspective when you see someone hit a jump for the first time or learn how to pump or really get that moment where they're taking what you say and putting it to use. - Jill Kintner|
A surprise spectator at the event - Seattle native Jill Kintner - was impressed with the mother and daughter duo. The World Cup DH racer was just three days out of surgery for a broken arm after a fast run and bad crash at the World Cup in Windham, New York, last weekend, but she decided to come out to the Sugar Showdown to lend the ladies support and some instruction. Though she might not have sent the Clarks down that drop, “they did it perfectly,” said Kintner. “Seeing that kind of thing really makes the world seem a little smaller. That people are doing amazing things every day."
Muddbunnies Keara Clark, 30, and mom, Pat Clark, 55, synchronize their drops. Keara registered her mom for the Sugar Showdown as a birthday present. Next year, Pat is planning to bring Keara’s younger sister out to join them at the event.
The event’s inclusive rather than strictly competitive atmosphere may have helped bring out the best in the riders. The two-day format allowed participants to build up camaraderie during the skills class before competing with each other the following day. That seemed to settle nerves.
How it all begins: Coaches Cortney Knudson, Chelsey Henry and Angi Weston teach bike/body positioning and other basic skills to riders new to freeride. Henry: “It makes me more stoked to be on my bike when I see how much fun these girls are having, and how much they want to go out and rip the trails just as well as anybody else.”
One young rider who is really progressing in the sport is Katie Hensien. Decked out with the GoPro she got for her birthday, the 12-year-old inspired her elders at the clinic with her fearless and controlled flow over jumps and drops. The Sweetlines-sponsored rider was the first one among the advanced students to hit the 5-foot drop, only to seek out a much bigger one on the pro line. But young Hensien is all humility; she led out several riders to help them through drops and other challenging features, only to turn around in excitement and say to them, “Wasn’t that fun?”
Twelve-year-old Katie Hensien drops into the bowl at the start of one of her amateur comp-winning runs. “I was trying to find my speed and clear the jumps because sometimes I’d case them. So I really tried to push myself and really conquer that.”
But probably the biggest thrill at the Sugar Showdown was the level of participation and support for women’s freeride that these coaches have been waiting years to see.
Just three days back from surgery from injuries sustained at the Windham World Cup, Jill Kintner explains to the class how to pump through the rollers using "split-leg squat" technique. Bryn Atkinson showed up as well to help demonstrate.
Riders take a breather and hang out in the sun between sessions.
Riders break for lunch. According to Kat Sweet, the only thing she would do differently for next year’s event is “bring more food.” Apparently, mountain biker girls eat a lot of food. “We’re not afraid to eat.”
“We all have fear, and we need to find ways to replace fear with the task at hand,” said Sweet. “That’s what we’re teaching people. We’re giving them things to think about—biomechanically and mentally—so they’re replacing fear with skill. Not only are we helping women progress in our sport, we’re doing it in a safe way, and a really supportive way.”
Race you to the next trail: riders speed off into the thick woods of Duthie Hill Park.The Competition
On Sunday, the ladies of freeride stepped up their game to compete for cash and prizes as a panel of judges evaluated their performance, tricks and style on multiple features. Former DH and US National team pro Dahlager was the big winner in the pro comp, while Katie Hensien took first among the amateurs. But all the riders were clearly feeling the good vibes at the event. The photos tell the real story, so read on.
The girls started out Sunday with an early morning yoga session led out by Stephanie Brown.
You can’t get any higher than this: Lorraine Blancher gets max elevation on the Semper D wall ride. Lorraine charged just as hard all the way down the course, from start gap to rhythm double finish: “I worked hard to smoothly tweak, whip and transfer my big bike off every feature, and I was stoked--I found my big bike flow!”
Wearing her heart on her helmet, Christina Chapetta from Breckenridge, Colorado, mentally prepares for her run on the pro course.
“Godmother” of women’s slopestyle, Stephanie Nychka shows perfect form on her one-hander off the Rooster Booster. Nychka tells students that “once you get certain things under your belt, you’re going to hit bigger and bigger jumps, so the next time you come out, you don’t even look at the small ones anymore.”
US freeride/slopestyle pro Tammy Donahugh shows everyone how to x-it-up on the Semper D step-down. As a coach, Donahugh concentrates on finding the right amount and right type of information to reach her students: “You can explain the same thing five different ways, and it’s not going click the same way for everyone.”
It’s always way more fun to compete as a pirate. Each unique racer plate was designed and decorated by Sugar Showdown pro coaches.
Trish Bromley (Tuf Racks Racing), making it look easy on the Semper D step down. On the way back up from her run, judge Billy Lewis overheard amateur riders tell her how smooth she was: "She turned around, thanked them and said, 'It feels really good out there' and then immediately says, 'I can't wait to watch your run.’ I don’t think that kind of camaraderie happens all the time in dudes' dirt jump events.”
Sweetlines rider Allie Evans goes high on the berm before the roller section on Voodoo Child. Evans showed off bar turns and jammin’ salmon tricks during her first run, then unfortunately had a hard crash on her second. After being checked out and cleared by doctors, she returned to the venue to collect her fourth-place prize.
At the end of the day, one usually finds tearoffs in the dirt. This weekend at Duthie, it was hair ties on the course.
"I felt like the turnout for the event was pretty ridiculous compared to the [smaller] jump jams we have at Duthie on Friday nights, where you might have 20 dudes,” said Diamondback's shredder Billy Lewis who was one of the judges for the pro women. “There were over 40 amateur riders and 20 pro women competing--you can't beat that.”
Judges Chelsey Henry and Angi Westion tally up the amateur scores.
Huddle before the big game: Sugar Showdown host Kat Sweet showing some spirit with her coaches and students.
Winner of the inaugural Sugar Showdown pro freeride comp, SuperCo rider Gale Dahlager had gone out looking for fun but got caught up in the moment: “You’re so pumped, you can’t help it. You’re like, ‘I’m going to do this—no, I’m going to do that…What trick are you doing? Yeah, I want to do that trick, too.”
Dahlager’s money shot: The pros shared a cash purse while the amateurs won cool schwag from generous sponsors that included MuddBunnies, Deity, SuperCo, Gregg’s Cycles, Diamondback Bikes, Platypus, Trek, Lumberyard, DaKine and Keen.
And that's a wrap here at Sugar Showdown 2012. These girls know how to finish off a contest just right. Full ResultsPro/Open Comp
1st Gale Dahlager - Superco
2nd Lorraine Blancher - Race Face
3rd Stephanie Nychka - Kali
4th (tie) Tammy Donahugh – Superco, Native Eyewear, Deity
4th (tie) Trish Bromley – Tuf Rack Racing
6th Lisa Mason – Women’s Freeride Movement
7th Carolyn Kavanagh
8th Kat Sweet – Sweetlines, Team Dirt Corps, Deity, Gregg’s Cycles, Nutcase
9th Isabelle Deguise - MuddBunnies
10th Chelsey Henry – The Bike Hub Racing
11th Erica Lawson
12th Angi Weston - Kona
13th Christina Chapetta
14th Diana Brucculieri – Tuf Rack Racing
15th Cortney KnudsonAmateur Comp
1st Katie Hensien - Sweetlines
2nd Caryn Cantu - Sweetlines
3rd Ashley Kalk – Hoots Inc.
4th Allie Evans - Sweetlines
5th Rosie Bernhard
6th Adrian Hopkins
7th Mariam Appel
8th Keara Clark – MuddBunnies
9th Hailey Starr – Backdrop Sports
10th Ady Bee Lane – Sturdy Bitch Racing11 and Under Category
1st Kaytln Melvin
“We’re making history,” said Sweet. “I’ve had so much support—an ‘army of rad’ helping me with this event. My coaches and volunteers have been amazing.” And it’s not over yet--keep an eye out for filmmaker Mark Brent’s upcoming film that will feature Sugar Showdown riders pushing their boundaries.