Tabletops Aren't Just for Kitchens

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Crash courses such as the Trek Dirt Series can unite a couple's sporting interests for the good of their relationship

Photography courtesy of Trek Dirt Series


Trek Dirt Series program coordinator Jo Fergie and her fiance Rob Clemson love to spend time together riding.

When two active individuals unite, there is an inevitable fight to see which activities from their former lives will survive into the new relationship. If she runs and he rides, what are the new rules of engagement? If running, to him, is like pulling teeth, does she take the leap into the adrenaline-filled world of full-suspension bikes, full-faced helmets, big drops and table tops?


Learning a new sport from scratch as an adult can be a daunting task. The dynamics of a relationship can make it even more challenging, especially if you are trying to learn it from your partner. To minimize the trauma to both you and your man, try a camp that specializes in the activity of choice.

Enter the Trek Dirt Series (formerly the Rocky Mountain Dirt Series). Owner Candace Shadley started the camps in 2000 in an effort to bring more women riders into the sports of downhill and cross-country mountain biking. The camps began as a provincial development initiative in British Columbia and, over the nine-year history of the camp, it expanded from British Columbia into Alberta, Oregon, California, Idaho and Utah. The camp has branched out from the original women-only approach and now hosts a number of co-ed camps.

"We were prompted to add co-ed camps into our schedule by those who participated in the women-only camps," Shadley says. "(Participants) went home at the end of the weekend, showed their guys what they'd learned, and then got bombarded with questions like, ‘How do you do that?', ‘How did you learn to do that so quickly?' and ‘When can I go?' So, a couple of years of requests later, we added co-ed camps into our schedule. And here we are."

Last year, the Dirt Series held five co-ed camps, one in Laguna Hills, Calif., Calgary, Alta., Fernie, B.C., and two camps in Whistler, B.C. The Whistler camps are the biggest and the best of the co-ed camps,
with the finale camp in 2009 hosting a record number of female and male participants. The majority of the co-ed camps that the Dirt Series hosts are run in a two-day weekend format. This year, they will host two co-ed camps, both in Whistler.

jess1_web"Whistler is the best mountain bike venue in the world," says Caralyn Bennett, a participant at last year's Whistler camp. "(There is no) better place to work on your skills. For downhill riding, specifically, I'm talking over 1,500 metres of vertical with miles and miles of lift (accessible) trails. There is literally something for everyone on the mountain - beginner to expert - whether you are interested in fast cruiser trails with berms and jumps, single-track, ultra-gnarly technical or stunted trails. There is exceptional variety with lots of opportunities for progression."

Bennett and her husband are specifically interested in working on improving their downhill riding and dirt jumping skills.

"The Dirt Series offers some of the best instructors available - many are Canadian or provincial downhill champions, and they are all certified through a combination of NCCP, CMIC, Endless Biking or Zep Techniques programs," Bennett says.

You may find male coach Wade Simmons, Canadian freeride pioneer and Red Bull Rampage winner, or Andreas Hestler, 1996 Olympian and Canadian cross-country national champion, at a camp. Participants may meet Lorraine Blancher, 2008 WomensWorx Gala champion and 2006 master world downhill champion, Jill Kinter, three-time four-cross World Champion and BMX Olympic bronze medallist, or Casey Brown, 2008 B.C. junior downhill champion and 2008 WomensWorx Gala bronze medallist. Commenting on her experience, Whistler 2009 camper Cyndie Gillingham felt "the coaching was great for me and my skill set. Every coach I worked with helped further my abilities in one way or another. They were very helpful, informative, passionate and caring."

The camp asks registrants to honestly answer an online questionnaire to place them in appropriate technical and riding sessions. Camp participants range from individuals who have no experience on a bike to riders with loads of experience looking to refine their technical riding. Riders can choose to work on their
downhill, freeride or cross-country biking skills. For the novice rider, or a rider who has never been to Whistler, selecting your own skills is almost impossible so it is best to let the camp director sort for you. For an intermediate to experienced rider, it is worth taking the extra five minutes to design your weekend.

"(My partner) and I love riding together and mostly ride cross-country in Canmore, but we took the camp because we wanted to expand our riding skills and take the bikes to the hills so that we can mix up our riding experiences," says Jackie Simpson about why they attended a camp last summer
in Whistler.

jess2_webThe mornings at camp are devoted to technical skills sessions and the afternoons are dedicated to open-riding sessions. The riding groups are small, with a 6:1 camper-to-coach ratio, which means lots of individual attention. Group placement is an important part of the camp and can make or break a rider's experience, so be an advocate for your skills if you are misplaced.

"The groups were rearranged, and I (appreciated) that they accommodated those who needed to make changes. Switching groups was fairly easy - they recognized that I was in a group that was below my level and moved me right away," Gillingham says.

After a morning of learning the basics, riders are anxious to transition from practice to practical. The afternoon ride sessions are arguably the most enjoyable hours of the camp. Riders feed off of each other's successes with enthusiasm and support. Gillingham enjoyed learning in a group format. "It was good to ride with a variety of skilled riders. The (riders) who were better than me made me push myself and the less experienced riders helped me slow down and do it right."

The camp offers some cool social time during the evenings. At the end of a long day on the hill, groups are ready to celebrate their triumphs, and maybe a few failures and falls. The evening features some hops and barley, fantastic local food and additional instruction. At the same time, coaches run bike maintenance clinics, bike fits and participants of the camp have time for a little shopping (at a discount) in the host bike shop. Lucky campers may also walk away with some swag from Trek, Sugoi, Fox Racing, Dakine, Luna, Bell, Race Face, Yakima, Kicking Horse Coffee, Crank Brothers, Maxxis and a few others.

"One of the great things about the co-ed camps is that a couple can come to camp together, each do the skill sessions and rides suited to their particular ability and interests, and then hang out and talk about their experiences together," owner Candace Shadley says. "(Couples) do a riding trip


together, without always being together. They share the feelings that come from riding, learning and accomplishing new (skills), but they don't each depend on each other or compromise (their riding) in
the process."

The progress made during a camp appears to make a big difference for couples who want to share this sport.

"I took this camp with my fiancée, and I was blown away by her progress in two days. I am now confident in her skill set, which means we can have more fun ripping trails together because I am not worried about her," says Nathan Bodewitz, when asked whether the camp last summer has affected riding with his partner. "It also means that we can ride gnarlier terrain together, which helps develop both our skill sets at the
same time."

Bennett sees benefits. "As a result of the camp, (my husband and I) have more fun on trails together," she says.

Simpson likes the boost to skills and confidence that the camp gave both her and her partner.

"Neither one of us has done very much downhill riding, so the weekend camp at Whistler definitely gave us a few more skills," Simpson says.

20090703-56-2_web"We are both excited about the season starting so that we can work on improving our riding together."

Camps such as the Trek Dirt Series are a fantastic opportunity for and your man (or you and your girl) to develop new skills, refine your existing ones, celebrate success and failures, and ultimately walk away from the weekend having more in common than when you started.

Mountain Bike Camps and Adventures

Trek Dirt Series
The Trek Dirt Series is hosting two co-ed camps this year in Whistler, from July 17-18 and September 11-12.

Sacred Rides Mountain Bike Adventures
Sacred Rides Mountain Bike Adventures hosts a co-ed skills camp in Fernie, B.C.; women-only, week-long cross-country or downhill camps in Fernie; and Mountain Bike University in Ontario.

Western Spirit Cycling Adventures
Western Spirit hosts a variety of biking tours in every style of biking. In addition to running tours, it also hosts skills camps in Moab, Utah.

Alison Dunlap Cycling Camps
After teaching skills camps for a number of seasons, the Alison Dunlap Cycling Camp is introducing a new beginner/intermediate, five-day Moab Skills Camp and intermediate/advanced Ride Camp for returning campers. Campers are treated to amazing rides, gourmet food, luxurious condos, relaxing massages, educational seminars and coaching.

About the Author:

Kelsey Andries, B.Kin. (Hons), CSCS, Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching Paractioner, is a personal strength and conditioning coach and owner of Stenia Health and High Performance, a private training centre in Calgary.

"Tabletops Aren't Just for Kitchens" first appeared in the 2010 July-August Summer Sports Issue of IMPACT Magazine.