My goal for women in snowmobiling is to get more ladies in love with the sport and to create a greater awareness for backcountry safety.
Julie-Ann Chapman is a female professional snowmobiler originally from Montreal in Quebec, Canada but now spends her time in Pemberton, British Columbia, just north of Whistler. Pemberton is pretty much the home of the greatest outdoor adventures you can ask for. In winter it boasts some of the best backcountry terrain in the world and in summer you’ve got mountain biking, horse back riding, hiking, yoga and other amazing activities (surfing is not too far either!). Julie-Ann’s passion for sledding and women in the sport is evident as soon as you meet her. She wants more girls to try and progress in the sport and has dedicated much of her life to this cause with her female clinics, She Shreds Mountain Adventures. I’m very lucky to call her my friend and am constantly inspired by the energy, time and passion that she puts into progressing women in snowmobiling.
I still get butterflies in my tummy with excitement every time I wake up knowing I’m going sledding!
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I heard you were a snowboarder before a snowmobiler. Why the transition?
Yep, I snowboarded a bunch before I snowmobiled. I started when I was about 15 years old. A man named Mitch owned a snowboard school (Snowhawks) in Ontario and I would take the bus up to the “hills” every weekend. I was competing in amateur competitions and doing pretty good in the final results. I then decided to follow my dream to move to Whistler BC and become a professional snowboarder. To be able to be a professional snowboarder on the west coast, you had to be able to get into the backcountry to film your snowboard parts in movies. That was a whole new learning curve for me. I decided to leave the snowboard at home until I got the hang of riding sleds in the mountains. Before I knew it I had developed a whole new passion – sledding in the mountains! I called all my sponsors and told them that I wouldn’t be snowboarding anymore. Since then, I have loved my decision of following a new passion! I still get butterflies in my tummy with excitement every time I wake up knowing I’m going sledding!
You started She Shreds 5 years ago, what made you want to run women’s snowmobiling clinics?
I wanted to take my passion one step further; I wanted others to experience my passion and hopefully trigger the love for the sport in other women. It’s an intimidating sport that not many women can “just pick up”, but if introduced properly and taught properly, it can be easily achieved. There were women’s clinics for snowboarding, mountain biking, skiing, mountaineering…but no clinics for sledding! So, I decided to start the world’s first women’s snowmobile clinics. It has been a huge success and I’m loving every minute that I’m out there shredding with the girls!
So what do the girls learn on the She Shreds snowmobile clinics?
It all depends on what point the rider is at with their progression in snowmobiling. The ultimate goal is safety in the mountains. If she is a beginner then the first step is to introduce the machine to her: let her feel safe on the machine and get her comfortable with the throttle going up the groomed road. The next step involves identifying possible avalanche risks, how to “read” the snow and terrain, how to travel safely in the backcountry, how to search for a buried person, what to bring with you in the mountains, etc. There are many things to be prepared for out there! The following goal is to actually ride the snowmobile off the groomed road.
For more intermediate and advanced riders I always make sure first thing in the morning that we are on the same page as far as avalanche rescue goes, then the fun starts. I make sure I get a feel for where the rider is at then push them to their own next level. So let’s say the rider is having troubles side hilling (when the snowmobile travels across a hill perpendicular to the fall line of the mountain, with one ski not touching the ground). I will suggest tips that make the manoeuvre easier, show them visually then get them to try it out! I assess what they are doing and suggest anything that could help them fix their “problem and technique”. Once they get the hang of it, I then start throwing in challenges around, obstacles like trees and what not! Always a good time!
More and more women are getting into snowmobiling, how quickly have women progressed in the sport?
It’s so rad to watch girls progress in the sport. For sure over the past 5-10 years, way more women are getting into snowmobiling. I used to look around in the parking lot in the mornings and only spot 2-3 girls going up sledding. Now there are like 10-15 girls in the parking lot. So awesome!
What gives women an advantage in sledding and what gives us a disadvantage?
Advantages for women snowmobiling:
- We are lighter and more nimble, allowing us to manoeuvre easier in pow with smaller tracks!
- We have a bit more patience than most men when it comes to learning something new.
- It’s not a “competition” when girls ride together!
- The food selection in the backcountry is always tastier and healthier when a woman whips out the goodies for lunch time!
Disadvantage for women snowmobiling:
- We are not as strong as men so it may take us way longer to get unstuck.
- We may run out of energy a little faster than men, seeing as men are stronger.
- It may take us 10 times longer to accomplish a new manoeuvre on the machine, but hell, we are way more proud when we do it!
What are your personal goals in snowmobiling and what are your aspirations for women in snowmobiling in general?
My personal goal for the past couple of years is to throw down a stylish whip in both directions…and actually land it! And to go bigger in general as far as cliff dropping and jumping goes. But the most important is to have a soulful riding style. I want my passion to shine when I’m riding!
My goal for women in snowmobiling is to get more ladies in love with the sport and to create greater awareness for backcountry safety. I love it when a gal discovers a new passion and can actually progress in the sport.
What advice would you give to any girl thinking about starting snowmobiling and buying a sled:
What should they look for in their first sled?
Don’t buy the cheapest sled. This is a common thing a lot of people do; they think it’s ok to buy the cheaper older sled seeing they are just getting into the sport, when in fact the cheaper older sleds are usually the ones that are harder to ride. A machine that is harder to ride makes it harder to love the sport. If you get a newer machine that is well maintained, one it will be a lot easier to ride with their new designs and two it wont keep breaking down on you!
What should they expect when they start out?
Expect to get stuck A LOT. And expect for it to be one of the hardest sports you have ever attempted in your life (other than surfing!). Expect to be very sore at the end of the day. Just be patient. Learn to love the hard obstacle it is to learn. Be determined. It is one of the most gratifying sports to learn because of the places it brings you and things it teaches you, like patience and determination.
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What do you wish you knew when you first started snowmobiling that you know now?
That buying a 2002 summit suitcase as my first snowmobile was the worst idea ever. I couldn’t even pow carve that thing! haha
What is the best advice that anyone has ever given you?
Do what you love to do. My parents told me this when I was young.
Why should girls sign up to your Shred Shreds courses and where can they get more information?
Because it will be one of the funnest experiences you will ever have on a sled! I will make sure you learn all the tricks of the trade in a fun and safe environment. I will get you pumped up and motivated to learn what you want to progress on with your sled. I will show you that yes, in fact, you can do it! All info on She Shreds Mountain Adventures can be found on the web site www.sheshreds.ca and daily updates and photos can be found on Facebook and Instagram.
For more info on learning to snowmobile or progress on one of Julie-Ann’s She Shreds clinics in Canada, check out www.sheshreds.ca
Thanks Julie Ann!
Header image of Julie Ann courtesy of Tim Grey at Big Lines.