Scottish Women's Downhill Development





Women finally free to ride - Report by Helen King

The one thing you usually notice about freeride parks is the lack of women; most of us are intimidated by resident gangs of young boys and don’t want to make a fool of ourselves in front of a crowd. So we tell ourselves that we enjoy riding the trails more. All that changed on October 4-5 when the 7Stanes Freeride Park at Glentress became an all-female zone for the inaugural Air Maiden skills weekend and comp.

I turned up on the Saturday morning feeling really apprehensive. I am fairly new to the sport and have only been introduced to properly built trails and parks over the past couple of months – I felt like I was about to crash and burn in a big way. But the beauty of this event was that organiser, Lynne Aitchison, was aiming to get more women just like me interested in testing their abilities and learning new skills. Despite the heavy rain all day on Saturday, there were smiles all round and not an ego in sight.

Where were the guys?

They were relegated to the cross country trails for the weekend. Some park regulars watched from the sidelines (grumpily, with arms crossed), but mostly they acted as support crew for the 50 or so women taking part and cheered on their partners, sisters and daughters.

First up for me was a ‘beginners jumps’ session with Emma Guy, where I learnt the basic skills of jumping over ...well anything... broken down into parts so they could be applied to any situation. Then we moved onto the drop offs, where I was able to roll off the smallest one – not an amazing feat, but a major achievement for someone with a fear of heights.  Now I feel like I am ready to go back to the park anytime and have a go no matter who is watching.

Someone whose riding skills did amaze over the weekend was Hannah Ferguson, who at 13 was not only the youngest rider there, but placed second in the competition. Hannah is a true local who lives at the bottom of Glentress and is supported by the Glentress Riders, the Kona Nissan Grass Roots Club as well as The Hub. She has been focused on her XC and cycle cross over the past year, but said the weekend was a great opportunity to learn how to jump properly, “not just with speed”.

“I enjoyed the competition more as it was great to be able to practice the skills learnt over the weekend and it felt good to achieve,” she said. The sight of the main gap jump being built at Buzzards Nest car park a few days before the competition was intimidating to even the more experienced riders, even for Hannah, but it didn’t take long for her and several others to master it.

 “When I told my friends that I was able to do it, they were gobsmacked!” she said. “My teacher was there taking pictures and now they are up around the school (Peebles High) too.”

She may have been one of the last to register this year, but next time she will be first to sign up.

“I would encourage women of all standards to have a go as you might not have a go at everything, but you will get better. It is a great chance to improve your skills without pressure from the boys!”

As for me, I came joint 33rd, which was fine by me, as I have plenty to work on before next year’s event comes around.

The top performer all weekend, however, was Polly Harrison, who wowed everyone with her smooth style of riding over the whole freeride park. She has been charging for the past 10 years and started out racing downhill in 2004. She did three rounds of the Scottish Downhill Association season, where she was first in two, and second overall in the Scottish championships. Despite her experience and expertise, however, Polly said she got a real kick from taking part in the weekend, as she realised that she has a lot to give back to other women in the sport. She said it was great to see Lynne and the other coaches not only giving encouragement and pointers to other riders, but encouraging more experienced riders to contribute too.

“During the clinics the stronger riders were encouraged to demonstrate and give their own pointers. It was a real buzz, as up until that point I didn’t think I could identify techniques to give to other people,” she said. “One girl even asked me to watch her ride some jumps and give her pointers, and through the competition I must have yelled encouragement 100 times!”

And how was it to spend a weekend riding with other women for once?
“I am competitive with both sexes, and though I know the guys will always have the edge, I find riding with other women really pushes me,” she confirmed.

With so many positive experiences coming from this weekend, everyone is talking about next – we can only hope Lynne has the energy to put together another event next year!

Helen King