A Little About Dirt Series
Have you attended the Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camps? Are you curious what the camp is all about? After hearing great things about the Dirt Series, we sent Aimee Dodge and Nikki Stewart-St.Arnault to the two-day camp in Bragg Creek, Alberta on June 26th & 27th to get the dirt (pun intended).
The Trek Dirt Series was founded in Whistler, B.C. in 2001 and has grown over the past 20 years to an organization that operates with military precision to offer 28 one and two-day camps in 20 locations across western North America. Aimee and Nikki have added several of the camps to their bucket lists – the top of the list being Tucson, AZ..Word is they have their fingers crossed for October!
While the Trek Dirt Series has grown in size and geographical presence over the years it’s stayed true to its roots. Candace Shadley, the founder, was inspired to create the camp by combining the things she loves: learning, teaching, sports, outdoors, and community. This inclusive and encouraging environment continues under the leadership of the new owner, Meagen Dennis, and her coaches and staff. Fun fact, Meagan actually learned how to ride at Dirt Series. Now as the current owner, she is working hard to grow the program even further across North America.
So, let’s get down to it – Nikki and Aimee will take you through the camp from their perspective – the highlights, what to expect, and why you should add the Trek Dirt Series to your summer to-do list.
First Day of Camp
Aimee and I were thrilled when Ski and Bike Magazine asked us to write an article about The Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camps. Aimee and I had both attended the camp in the past, so we jumped at the chance to participate.
As June 26th approached, I was feeling a bit nervous about attending the camp, even though I had a fantastic experience when I attended The Trek Dirt Series in Edmonton in 2015.
I am definitely a beginner rider and haven’t spent as much time on my mountain bike as I would like since then. I’m fairly fit (and also pretty stubborn) so I manage to ride (walk) trails beyond my actual skill level when I’m riding with friends. I haven’t ridden as much as I’d like since 2015, so for me working on the basics and learning proper form were key.
This was the second time I attended Dirt Series – the first was in 2017 for a one-day camp. Like Nikki, I was a little nervous. This was the first time on my mountain bike in all of 2021 and my fitness was not at its peak. Let’s just say I didn’t come out of lockdown making any QoMs on Strava.
Nikki and I got to the staging area early Saturday morning. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I instantly relaxed. We were among the first wave of riders to arrive, we got in right away and went over to check out the Dirt Series swag. Nikki and I both settled on a wicked Dakine jersey which (thank God) is light and breathable given the scorching hot June weather that weekend.
We met Meagen and our coaches, then grabbed some coffee – one of the best damn cold brew coffees I’ve ever had. If anyone can source me some Rise coffee, I owe you big time.
Skills and Drills
I haven’t been mountain biking in quite some time but I am athletic and I enjoy flowy blue trails when I do get out there. I’d like to advance my riding so I can get on more technical trails with my friends. This camp was all about getting my basics down pat.
I loved how wide the range of riders was in my group. Claire, the youngest in the camp at 16, was there riding with her mom, Shannon. Caitlin had just moved to Bragg Creek and wanted to fully immerse herself in the culture, and keep up with the other moms who ride to blow off steam. Everyone in the group wanted to come away with more confidence – and I can tell you that by the ride up Pneuma on day 2 our little band of beginners did pretty well (even if we just made it as far as Sulphur Springs).
I was really excited to go through the drills where we could practice the basics. The first day I focused on getting over obstacles (riding in Bragg, there are always roots!), braking, and high-speed turns. On day 2 each rider was able to pick the skills they wanted to work on. I picked more high-speed turns (I’m scared of berms!) and intro to drops (ummm, definitely my favourite skill of the weekend! So fun!) It was at least 30C each day, so I was pretty happy to avoid climbing! Well, until the afternoon rides anyway…
And while we might have picked specific skills to work on, all of the coaches were continually giving great tips on form. Getting proper form reminders all weekend really helped break some of my bad habits (hello two-finger breaking). Try to do a proper high-speed turn while squeezing the bar with your knees – you can’t!
Nikki and I were in different groups for the skills session each day. I consider myself a new intermediate rider-I have been riding for a few years and have some of the basics down but I’m lacking confidence on descents.
The riders in my group were pretty similar in terms of skill level but all were from different walks of life. It was really fun getting to know each other and watching each other progress throughout the day. I liked how all the coaches put their own spin on teaching techniques, I found that some methods really resonated with me, like pretending you have a laser shining from your belly button. It really added to the overall experience at Dirt Series.
All of the drills we went through are universally applicable. For someone like me (a little rusty and gun-shy), this was a great refresher. There are so many tips on form and technique that I had forgotten about since the last time I attended the Dirt Series. As you progress as a rider, those same tips still apply, now just on more difficult terrain.
Hitting the Trail
The rides took place in the scorching hot afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday – Alberta was under a heat dome and setting records. But the Dirt Series takes such good care of its participants. Coaches and staff were more than accommodating and made sure to schedule our rides in the shade as much as possible, making sure we had lots of water and Nuun electrolyte tablets on hand and gave us ample breaks.
Our rides were more like mini sessions out on the trail. We would reach a specific feature, or in our cases – an obstacle, and take turns attempting to ‘clean it’. This was a lot of fun, and seeing the coaches struggle to clean some of the features on Ridgeback 1 made us realize that mountain biking is one of those sports where you can ride with people way more skilled than you and everyone can still have fun working on a challenge.
It was way more fun than grinding up the hill and getting frustrated by not being able to clean a feature. Our coaches were there giving us instant feedback and cheering us on. Everyone we talked to, ourselves included, really enjoyed this format.
Sessioning features was a key takeaway for both of us, and a lot of the other participants we talked to.. Instead of trying an obstacle or feature once, then walking through in order to keep the pace of the ride, we took our time and repeated the obstacle. . It’s really satisfying to overcome an obstacle on the 3rd (or 6th) try…Even if you say…fall off the bridge on attempt one, like Nikki did on Pnemua. Sessioning is not something you normally get the opportunity to do, you usually go on a ride to complete an objective.
Even in the blazing heat, we enjoyed climbing out on the trail. Normally, we dread the climbs but suffer through it for the fun of the descent. Even though none of the drills we did in the morning specifically focused on climbing, the coaches’ help with form and immediate feedback drastically improved our climbing skills. We were able to get over obstacles on climbs that would have been too difficult in the past. The coaches and volunteers were also great at helping us with our gear and gave us great tips on how to set up our bikes.
It wouldn’t be fair to write an article about The Trek Dirt Series without talking about the high level of professionalism and organization that the camp offers right from the time you complete registration. Emily sends out an extensive questionnaire to determine your skill level, comfort level on different types of features and trails, and your goals for the camp. They even include pictures to go along with the questions for beginners who might not know what the features are without a visual. This helps them organize groups so that every rider can get the most out of the camp – you don’t end up working on skills you’ve already mastered or end up skipping important basics. Same with the rides – they are challenging but in a fun way instead of a scary one.
Another huge benefit of attending the Trek Dirt Series is access to the large variety of demo equipment available for camp participants. This makes the camp very accessible for people just getting into the sport. The Trek Dirt Series has been able to partner with great sponsors to provide shoes, armor, bikes, pedals, and helmets. This year Aimee demo’d some 510 Freerider Pro flats. In 2015, Nikki demo’d a Trek Remedy and purchased the same bike the following year.
The coaches range in background and experience level, some coaches have been there since the beginning and some are brand new. They are all incredibly friendly, outgoing, and they are stoked when their riders progress.
We already mentioned how good the Rise coffee was, but all but all the snacks and food were fantastic. Especially the Saturday post rides bevvies provided by Dirt Series long-time sponsor, Tool Shed Brewing (proudly based in Calgary) and bike friendly Cono Sur Wines. Participants are responsible for providing their own lunches, the snacks and beverages that Dirt Series supplements offered a great selection and extremely generous to be considered just a “supplement”. There were also some amazing prize giveaways and lots of fun goodies.
Our Overall Experience
We had an absolute blast at Dirt Series. If you’re new to mountain biking, this is a must-do program. We would also recommend this program if you’re new to an area where the camp is being hosted. Local coaches are full of knowledge and are happy to get you out on the trails. You’ll build confidence, learn some amazing skills, and most definitely make some friends. You’ll be frustrated with yourself at some points along the way but hey, that’s mountain biking! Get after it!
#moreskillsmorefun #trekdirtseris #skiandbikemag #ladiesofleisure
All photos taken by Aimee Dodge and Nikki Stewart-St.Arnault at Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camp, Bragg Creek, AB June 26th & 27th, 2021