Female-friendly VIDA MTB Series continues to grow and evolve in 3rd season | SummitDaily.com

Female-friendly VIDA MTB Series continues to grow and evolve in 3rd season

Interviewed by Phil Lindeman
plindeman@summitdaily.com

It's been a whirlwind first three years for VIDA MTB Series.

In that time, the women's-only series by Yeti Cycles and local pro Sarah Rawley has grown from a handful of clinics, workshops and races to a national force for biking know-how, with new events in Minneapolis, Park City, Snowmass and Stowe, Vermont.

And it all started as a low-key series on the downhill tracks at Keystone, a concept built and bred by Rawley to give ladies a welcome introduction to an intimidating sport. This weekend, the Beti Bike Bash in Castle Rock is expected to draw 400-plus female riders from across the country for guest speakers — think topics like nutrition and athletic inspiration from Tricia Downing, an athlete who is no paraplegic after a 2000 accident — skills clinics and, of course, one hell of a massive MTB race.

"I'll go out on a limb and say it's the biggest in the world," said Rawley, who recently took fifth for the women's pro division at the GoPro Mountain Games Enduro race in Eagle last weekend. "It's definitely the biggest in Colorado and the U.S."

Not only is the series growing and expanding — it's also changing venues. This summer marks the first time since 2013 that Keystone won't host a slew of VIDA clinics. Rawley now takes the series on the road to Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park, beginning with the first session on June 25-26. That doesn't mean the local ambassador program and group rides are gone forever — she still lives here in Summit — but locals will have to travel just a little but farther to work on MTB basics.

"I go into every summer thinking, How will I pull this off?'" Rawley said about the series' rapid growth. "But, I just have to trust it will. It's like mountain biking: You look at a feature and think of all the ways it can go wrong, but you can't think about that. You have to focus on what will go right."

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Before the party known as Beti Bike Bash, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Rawley to learn more about the always-evolving VIDA series and the always-important ambassador program, what she considers the lifeblood of the series.

Summit Daily News: The first big change for VIDA this season is a new venue — you're no longer at Keystone. What will Winter Park bring to the series?

Sarah Rawley: Winter Park is a mecca for learning. The Trestle Bike Park has more than 200 features and more than 40 miles of downhill terrain, which connects with another couple hundred miles of trail in the valley. There's just so much to work with. For ladies who want to play on singletrack, you get that. Others will want to focus on jumps and features, and others will want to focus on the terrain they'll face every day. That's a huge plus about being there: ladies have the option to play in the park or head outside the park.

SDN: Is it good for anyone to start right away as a well-rounded biker?

SR: Absolutely. Whether you're a brand-new rider or super advanced, we always stay with the same fundamental skills. That's where our clinics start, like the clinics we're doing at the Silverthorne rec center. Now, I don't think everyone wants to or has to ride the technical features you see in a bike park. Some people just want to handle the rock garden that trips them up on their hometown trail. The nice thing about a park is that it's a controlled environment — you can run the same thing over and over. This also takes the ride component out of it. People can train without being tired from riding six miles. This will give people the biggest bang for their buck when they're working on new skills.

SDN: Will there be any workshops or clinics locally this season, or are you just focused on growing across the country?

SR: We'll be spread across the country, but we also have an ambassador program, with 35 ladies across the country and a lot based here in Summit County. We call them the fabric of our network. These are women from all across the country, and we all love riding bikes, but it takes leaders in the community to bring people together. In our first few years of doing clinics we found that ladies wanted to be involved, wanted to bring this platform to their own communities. It's a way to be a leader, and it's also a way to connect the dots. If you look across the country, we're lucky (in Summit) that we're saturated with bike-minded people who love this sport. That's not always the case, so it's important to connect with the ladies who want to be leaders.

SDN: How can locals get involved as an ambassador?

SR: If they want to be involved they can contact our manager, Tricia, who keeps everyone informed and motivated and engaged. You can also head out to events other ambassadors are putting on. We have rides all over, like rides in Summit and rides on the Front Range. Our big events are awesome and bring us all together, but, in my experience after running this whole circus, the ambassadors are the real key to this. They're the ones on the trail every day, meeting other ladies, encouraging them to try a clinic — they're amazing. They continually wow me with their motivation to say, "Alright, we're going to do this as women."

SDN: What about the VIDA clinic coaches? Is there any crossover between them and the ambassadors?

SR: Some of our ambassadors have even progressed to be coaches, or they're now coaches-in-training. We've gone through IMBA's instructor certification program, and last year we had 14 women certified as Level 1 and a few more do Level 2. The more women who seek that education piece means we have more women who can pass it along to their friends (and) the entire community. I really feel like that program — having women who are curious about coaching and willing to invest in it — has made these women real leaders. We have several women who started with clinics our first season in 2013 and are now lead coaches, doing not only stuff with VIDA, but starting their own coaching businesses.

I want VIDA to always evolve. I don't want it to be in a box. If it does that, it won't stay interesting. I want this to grow and take on a life of it's own. My role in all this is to organize and manage in a way that helps it grow.

SDN: How have you personally grown through the clinics?

SR: Oh, man, I've grown a lot. It's put me out of my comfort zone. I've been in race promotion for a long time, but this is a whole different ball game. You're dealing with people on a different level. At a race, we give people a plate, tell them to be safe, and then count heads at the end. This is so much deeper: I get to know these ladies on an individual basis, learn their goals and fears and what they're excited about.

I met a lady at the Silverthorne clinic, and she was at a few of the Keystone clinics. She's in her 60s and so excited, so passionate to get something like a wheel lift. When I see that, it just gets me as excited.

For me, the organization side has also been a learning curve. I really have to be on point with communication through all these events. I've also leaned to get in front of a group of people and talk about something meaningful. It's a very dynamic — sometimes stressful — but very rewarding career. It's funny to call what I do a career. (Pause.) It's something I'm so passionate about that it's more what I do. I never think that I'd rather be doing something else.

SDN: How has all of this impacted your riding?

SR: I'm still a racer at heart. Believe it or not I still race professionally, so what I've done is set goals for other parts of the year, like traveling to New Zealand in February for a race. We're lucky in Colorado that we have a ton of race series. I was at the Eagle Outside Festival and I won there.

Come October, I'm going to Chile for skiing, and then I'll spend most of the month of November in Mexico. I won't be on the beach — there are a few enduro qualifiers happening at the same time. It's about balance. I go into every summer thinking, "How will I pull this off?" But, I just have to trust it will. It's like mountain biking: You look at a feature and think of all the ways it can go wrong, but you can't think about that. You have to focus on what will go right.