Retallack: One Gal’s Journey to Enlightenment

…through Mountain Biking

Retallack is a cat-skiing resort located in the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia. It is voted “The Best Heli or Catskiing Operation in the World” by Freeskier Magazine and dubbed as one of the out of the way places you will never forget. In the summer months Retallack opens up for mountain bike tours with many a pro rider visiting to complete some video and photography sessions. In 2011 Galena Pal of Cat-sass teamed up with pro rider Lorraine Blancher to create the first ever… and most bad-ass women’s mountain biking weekend to have ever gone down in all of history. Ok, maybe not, but its close in the running.

I had heard about Retallack and how amazing it is but honestly thought that there was no way in hell I would ever have the good fortune of riding there myself.  So when I read about the women’s weekend happening again for 2012 I immediately went on a mission to get myself a spot. With some luck, and a non-maxed out credit card I was on my way to Retallack!

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 Day One

The weather was gorgeous as I left the Vancouver area and headed East for Revelstoke – my first stop to gather new friend and riding buddy Sarah – and head south to Retallack after a much needed wine stop. During our journey to the lodge our conversation gravitates to relationship chats as they do with us ladies, ha. No talk of riding now but a weekend of mountain biking awaited us, and we were stoked!

We arrive to a packed parking lot and… lots of boys. What? I thought this was a women’s weekend. It turns out the fables are true, Retallack is a pro hos dream. I kid, I kid. But it is full of professional riders, their entourage of photo/videographers and assorted crew almost all summer long. On this occasion the Coastal Crew were just finishing up and heading out.

The lodge itself is a big beautiful wooden building. It has everything including a twenty-foot double sided fireplace, pool tables, hot tub, and sauna, two outside decks, bar, restaurant (which double as a yoga room), entertainment room and super squishy beds covered in duvets. This is mountain biking luxury baby. The feeling of biking over-indulgence is amped up knowing that only five female mountain bikers will be coached and guided by 2 of the sports best and most enthusiastic female riders, Lorraine Blancher and Lindsey Voreis. Talk about getting some two-wheeler special treatment.

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Our first dinner at the lodge is a five star gourmet salmon feast complete with wine and chocolate cake. First rule of a women’s weekend has been successfully fulfilled. After dinner, we met in Retallack’ s living room-type space adorned with fifty-foot ceiling and windows that are almost as large. We are welcomed by coaches Lorraine and Lindsey and asked to introduce ourselves; where we live, why we are here, the familiar get-to- know-you deal when the power in the lodge suddenly goes out. This is an eco-resort folks, the first cat or heli skiing operation to be awarded a prestigious Four Green Key Eco-rating to be exact, and occurrences like this are not unusual. So to use this time wisely we hit the hot-tub via candlelight to enjoy the rest of the evening. Note: since occurrences like this aren’t uncommon they are fixed in super lightning fast speed.

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 Day Two

Our morning started with a 7am smoothie made with fresh BC fruit and Vega Greens  call and then yoga. Following a sourdough French toast breakfast, everyone changed into riding clothes in preparation for the day ahead. The first order of business is two-hours of basic skills training.

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All of the women here can already shred in their own rights and have been for a number of years but we all still benefited from this basic training. The coaches are there to tweak great riders into phenomenal mountain bikers. I have been through many coaching sessions that span all ability levels. The Retallack session is not just a great refresher; it is an amazing eye-opener. It details how the old body position lesson should be modified to be optimally consistent with the new technology in bikes. This modification will translate into improved cornering, momentum, traction, control, and comfort level while on the bike. The goal is to stay balanced and centered and in the bikes suspension regardless of the terrain or pitch. The extra grip from shiny new rubber from Specialized Canada didn’t hurt the traction session lessons on the Retallack loam either!

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Next on the agenda is shuttle time. Yes! Our guide and shuttle-extraordinaire is Johnny Smoke from Bush Pilot Biking. We load up his van and head up to ride the Retallack Lodge trail. The gravel road up is steep in places, loose, and challenges Smoke’s van loaded with 10 teetering bikes and 10 giddy women. No one really knows what to expect from the trail; we are all virgins on this mountain. But we figure we are in safe hands. In any case, with our new skills, we are ready to get rad on some two wheelers.

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Bikes are unloaded, gear is put on, and radios are working, its time to go! At first we are all treading a little lightly but by the first stop, everyone is wide eyed and grinning like a kid in a candy store. The dirt is hero and the flow is ever lasting. So much pleasure in one trail must be illegal or, at least, given the kudos it deserves.

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We occasionally stop, look, or have impromptu sessions on special topics. Mostly, however, the biking is non-stop with coaches transitioning through the group giving personal pointers or doing demonstrations. And then, all too soon, this amazing trail ends at the front freakin’ door of the lodge. Unbelievable. We immediately start loading bikes for a second round. Everyone is excited to shred this trail again. Once is not enough. Yes, it’s that much fun.

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The second ride down the mountain is actually more challenging for me. I am now more focused on breaking old riding habits.  I have to fight the temptation to let it all hang out because the trail is so good. It is almost impossible to simultaneously let loose and modify old habits. I have to dial it back and really concentrate on being a stronger rider.  Interestingly, there are feelings of being unstable and out of control whenever I slip back into my old habits. During such moments, however, I would whisper to myself “Lady, pull it together and get your ass off your back tire”. I could feel the front tire gaining traction as I shift my weight toward my arms and properly position my hips over the bottom bracket. I feel like a solid, strong rider again; confident I could handle any obstacle the trail throws at me. Lindsey’s mantra runs through my head; I am making the trail flat.

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We ride so much this first day that by the time we make it back to the lodge we have only ten minutes to change clothes before our first date with the nutritionist.  Yes, this weekend is complete with a nutritionist! These ladies take their nutrition seriously and are not shy about sharing their stuff with us. Every aspect of the trip is giving me skills and knowledge to live a happier and healthier life. How rad is that?

Digesting these life lessons begins over another fab dinner by Tyler; the lodge’s chef. I am blown away by the quality of the food at Retallack. The homemade croissant bread pudding is to die for. We all retire after a few shared photos and stories. Tomorrow there is a 630am smoothies call and 7am yoga. Given the physically demanding day, right now I’m not sure that I can get out of bed that early. But, I’m excited as I fall asleep because tomorrow is “heli” day.

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Day Three

It’s heli day! We are up and out of bed early, drink our smoothies and lay out our mats by 7am, stoked to get the day moving forward. Yoga, check. Coffee, check. Bacon and eggs, check. Now, we are ready to load up and hit the road to Nelson to catch the heli!

At the hanger, we strap up our bikes and then ourselves in preparation for the lift to the top. Some are veterans but a few have never been in a helicopter; let alone with bikes. It takes four loads to get everyone and their bikes to the drop location. At first, we flew over kilometers of trees, lakes, and more trees. And then, we crossed a ridge and the view of mountain peaks as far as you can see comes into focus and… it was amazing. But mindful of the horror stories of the previous night, our thoughts are focused on exiting the heli without any decapitations. Crawling around an operating helicopter turns out to be the scariest part of the trip.

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The drop location is beautiful. But, we have to go even higher still. So up, up and away we hike. To the top of the world; or so it felt.  We convene at the top of a trail called Powerslave; what an ominous name.

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We don our gear then start the first decent. Powerslave is exposed, loose, and really scenic initially. The scenery makes it tough to concentrate on the trail but it soon ducks into the trees for some pumpy flow.

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We encounter uphill sections of the trail that requires some hike a bike. After about an hour into the trail, we reach a summit which is almost as high as where we started. It seems like a perfect place for lunch. Especially since from this point, the trail is almost all downhill.

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We encounter diverse terrain; everything from loose steeps with blind corners, to rock gardens to pumpy loam flow.  Powerslave is a seriously long trail and is not for the unfit.

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Powerslave leads down to the lower trails in Nelson which become more technical. Skier’s Right – the very last trail we took to the parking area – was amazing. All rock. Huge rock. I don’t think my tires hit dirt the entire trail. My favorite!

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Throughout the day, many of us conquered demons. A couple gals who had ridden this trail before mastered sections they walked last year. No injuries and no mechanicals made for a stress-free and rad estrogen-dominated trail ride.

Dinner is late at 10pm but full of excited chatter even though we were all worked. Later, hot tub to creek laps added to the stoke of the day.  The traverse down to the creek, barefoot and in the pitch black, was almost as exciting as the days heli drop itself.  Surprisingly only one gal took a header into the water.

Day Four

We are granted a short sleep-in before another smoothie call, yoga sesh, and more coaching radness. Today’s goal is learning to corner, which helps with the progression of many other skills. “Look through the turn” is the mantra of the day taking the old “look ahead” lesson even further.

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For hours, we are coached on cornering, wheel lifts, and bunny hops. I’ve been coached on these skills many times. But this coaching session is different. It is fresh. I walk away with an understanding that I apply to every ride since that incredible weekend.

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At the end of the coaching session, we head to the awesome Retallack skills park to try out jumps and drops. All of the ladies are killing it. We try bigger and more badass stunts.  We are all catching the stoke. It is infectious. We head to the newly built Retallack jump trail. It is soft and not fully completed. The sections that are completed, however, are soo, soo good.

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To end the weekend, a few of us shuttle up again to Retallack’s signature trail for one final lap. We proudly showcase our newly acquired skills in a pinner lap lead by coach Lorraine. And what a pinner lap it was! A super fast, super flowy, super awesome way to end the weekend of a lifetime at Retallack – one of the out of the way places you will never forget.  Thank you ladies for continuing to make rad things happen!

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To sign up for the 2013 version of this weekend check out Lorraine’s website.

All photo are taken by Johnny Smoke, Bush Pilot Biking & Kevin Hagell, Kaizen Visuals

The Muddbunnies encourage and welcome female riders of all experience and skill levels to join them in getting down and dirty. Come on, ride like a girl!


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