“We’re doing things we never thought were possible.”
Once generally considered outliers in the sport, in recent years the women of Highland have set the stage for an explosion of female ridership and progression. In this month’s episode of Highland Is Home we talk to Chelsea, Brooke, Dawn, and Tania about the importance of community and what they’re excited to see from women on bikes next.
Compared to many of the riders we’ve highlighted in this series Chelsea Read is relatively new to downhill mountain biking, but she’s certainly no stranger to being on two wheels: she’s been riding moto for most of her life. Chelsea had already checked off a handful of significant Highland features coming into this season, but she’s always ready for more. She’s notorious for her ability to push past fear, seeming to learn from setbacks almost immediately. “Riding with the other women has been extremely inspirational,” she says. “Seeing how far they can push it makes me push it that much further.” Chelsea’s own attitude, it’s clear, provides that same kind of inspiration to everyone she rides with.
Brooke Trine found her way to Highland thanks to a well-timed social media post from coach/trail builder/fellow shredder Whitney Poulin. Though she was already a talented BMX rider, Brooke had actually never been on a full-suspension—or, as she calls them, “squish”—bike before. After hearing about Highland’s Women’s Gravity Weekend from Whitney, Brooke decided to take a chance and travel from Ohio to New Hampshire to try something new. It only took one weekend of riding for her to be completely hooked. (The timing worked out well. Not long after her first visit to Highland, Brooke was invited to compete in the Speed & Style event at Crankworx Whistler.)
This summer, Brooke was ready to take on another new challenge: the Slopestyle course. She once again reached out to a Highland local over Instagram: this time Tania Lillak. Suddenly the women found themselves at the top of the Slopestyle course (along with Chelsea and Riley Miller) where they decided to work their way down, sessioning one feature after another until they could all be checked off the list. Brooke plans to make the Crankworx rounds again next year and continue to pursue slopestyle. She’ll definitely be returning to Highland in the meantime: “The friends that I’ve met here, they feel like family, and I just love being here,” she says. “I think this is the greatest progression playground that I’ve been to.”
Folks who tend to look to social media to keep up with the Highland locals may not immediately recognize Dawn Bourque. She manages to fly under the radar online, but she’s actually something of a Highland legend. She’s fast, and she excels on tech trails, picking out lines that many of us would never even consider and zipping effortlessly through the gnarliest terrain Highland has to offer. To be fair, she’s known these trails in their every iteration since the very beginning: Dawn was one of the only thirty or so riders at the mountain on opening day in 2006.
“The first run down Eastern Hemlock was really fun,” she tells us. “Then we went over to Maiden Voyage and it was a whole different story for me. I’d raced for ten years, but I never saw that stuff.” Back then, Maiden Voyage was peppered with large wooden features, jumps, and drops. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Dawn immediately committed to conquering it. While her friends took a lunch break at the car to get out of the rain for a while, she hopped back on the lift. In just a few more runs, she’d managed to master it.
Dawn has been riding since 1989, started racing mountain bikes in 1994, and has quite a few titles to her name, including more than one Triple Crown. Over her fifteen years riding at Highland, Dawn has watched the sport expand to welcome more and more talented female riders across an ever-widening array of disciplines. “I’m really excited about the group that’s out here now,” she told us, referring to Chelsea, Brooke, Tania, and so many others. “They’re doing such big things on the slopestyle—and I’m hoping some of them will take me down and teach me how to do it.” (We have no doubt that she’d make short work of it.)
The inspiration behind a popular phrase around the mountain—ˮBrody’s mom can do it”—Tania Lillak has long been a driving force for encouraging everyone’s progression. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Tania now lives in Massachusetts and can be found at Highland nearly every weekend. She’s a familiar face among the locals, well-known for her bright personality, welcoming attitude, and incredible enthusiasm for riding: you’d be hard-pressed to find a photo of Tania on her bike where she’s not smiling from ear to ear.
Tania has been riding for twenty-five years, but only recently has been able to lean on the growing community of female riders. “I think it’s really important for women to see other women riding at Highland,” she says. This summer, Tania really committed to taking her riding to the next level, tackling slopestyle for the first time and working tirelessly on new tricks. It’s fair to say that Tania has been instrumental in building up the dedicated and enthusiastic crew we’re now seeing at the mountain almost every day. “The thing I’m most excited about for women on bikes, because now I know it can happen, is competitive slopestyle,” Tania says. “Women are definitely ready for slope.”
One thing all of these women have in common? They want to show what they can do. And it’s time we all start watching.