The Clown Shoes drop is not for newbies. If you crawl off it you can probably have your rear wheel hit the ground about 10 vertical feet lower than where it started from but any speed can easily make it 15. The sort of skill required to nail something like that is becoming more common all the time but there is still no denying the commitment required.
Now imagine your mom hucking it. It’s something 15 year-old James McSkimming, son of Whistler Bike Park boss Rob, has had to get used to. His mother Marilyn hasn’t forsaken XC but she’s added freeriding to her daily list of chores and it turns out she’s a phenom. Here’s what she thinks about gardening, A-Line, and being the MotherHucker.
How long have you been riding?
Oh man… eight years. I have been riding for eight years.
Tell us about yourself please.
I moved to Whistler in 1980 with Rob. I taught skiing for three years then I got a job at the Whistler weather station (Environment Canada – nothing to do with Whistler/Blackcomb) where I’ve been ever since. We have a 15 year old son, James, and a cat of indeterminate age. I think everything else is covered in the following questions.
When did you start freeriding.?
I tried my first freeride bike in the park in 2001.
Travelling by bike through Switzerland
What got you into it?
James, indirectly. He’s been ‘one with his bike’ since he was four years old. Rob used to take him out riding but we only had an old bike we got in 1986 – a rigid, first generation mt.bike with Bio Pace rings! By the time James was seven he was riding fairly challenging single track, so I decided Rob needed a better bike to accompany him. For Christmas that year I bought him a real machine! A $700 Norco Sasquatch. Imagine $700 for a bike! (I just paid more than that for new forks for my XC bike. My perspective has changed a bit).
Every day Rob would come home from riding with Jamie and tell me how much fun it was and how I have to try this, ’cause I’d love it’. I finally did try it and that was the beginning of the end of everything else I used to do. I no longer golf, run, hike, garden (my garden is all perennials now – low maintenance). Cooking has become an inconvenient necessity. I’ve had a drastic wardrobe alteration too. I used to have so many cuts and bruises I couldn’t wear a skirt or shorts. There are a few people who must have thought I was being physically abused. Even though I’m no longer such a hazard to myself I’ve not bothered updating my wardrobe from those days. I pretty much live in cargo pants and bike shorts. Poor Rob, I don’t know how he puts up with me.
What other sports do you enjoy?
Skiing and snowboarding
How did the name ‘Motherhucker’ come about?
I’m not really sure. I think it was a funny but seldom used nickname because I’m a mom and I can huck . After I’d completed a race I was interviewed by a reporter from our local paper – a friend told him about that name and it got printed.
Do you do all kinds of riding or are you primarily a freerider?
Primarily I ride XC but I’ve done a couple of downhill races and what we do in the bike park is freeride, right? So I guess I do everything.
What kind of racing have you done?
I’ve done lots of cross country races, but not for a while. The last XC race it did was the Test of Metal in 2001. I did the Air Downhill on A-Line last year. Last May I took James to the Bear Mt. Downhill and competed in it as well. That was my (and his) first real downhill race. I also did the downhill in the National’s last summer because they were here in Whistler. I guess if James decides to do more downhill racing then I will too. If I have to get him to the venues to do his race I will compete too.
Are people surprised by what you do on a bike?
Sometimes. Occasionally, because I’m female, but mostly it’s just when they realize how old I am. Shhh. (Sob, sniff)
Are there any other women with teenaged kids who can keep up to you and huck the big stuff like you do?
If there are would they call me?! I ride the park with one woman who has an 11 year old daughter but most of my park friends are young and not even thinking of kids at this point in their lives. I have some elderly (har) XC buddies who are good riders and I’m trying to convert them.
What are your favourite trails – both in the bike park and elsewhere?
A-line for sure. I probably do the loop from my house to Kill Me thrill Me and North Secret most often but I ride a lot in Squamish and Pemberton too, so it’s hard to pick a favourite.
Are you as crazy on snow as you are on your bike?
Absolutely not. I’m an old lady on the snow
Do you see yourself continuing to improve and go bigger this season?
I see myself improving – you can’t help but improve if you’re riding, right? Go bigger? No. I’ve only done the Clown Shoes drop once and that was scary. Even just getting to the drop is scary! I’m pretty weak on logs and planky things.
Are there any moves or trails that you haven’t conquered yet that you hope to beat into submission?
Well, Clown Shoes, I guess (gulp). I’ve been up and off the big green box a few times but I’m sketchy. I’d like to do that with more confidence so I guess that will be a goal for the summer.
You are an inspiration to us all. Do you have any words of advice to riders who think they aren’t cut out for freeriding?
I’m a cross-country girl. I never would have thought I’d become such a Park addict. But, once you get one of those big freeride bikes under your butt, there’s just no stopping. Those bikes are so easy to ride you can’t help but have fun. They are very forgiving of rider incompetence. Having said that, however, I think if you’re reading this interview then you’re probably used to riding in BC and are, therefore, more skilled then the majority of the biking population. The transition from what we routinely ride and consider ‘cross country’ isn’t all that big a leap to freeriding. (Unintentional pun!) The whole Park thing is way more exercise then you’d think, too. I’m often as tired after a day in there as I would be after a 3-4 hour XC ride. My advice? Try it, you’ll love it.
What sort of comments have you heard from people who are surprised by the way you ride?
Sometimes I hear “hey that’s a girl!” There are a couple of guys who’ve recognize me a few times in the bike park line and called “Hey there’s the Clown Shoes lady”. They were behind me when I was scoping out the drop. I did it and they didn’t so I guess they’re forever impressed. Once when I was negotiating a fairly technical section there were a couple of young guys off to the side watching me. I overheard one say “Oh, I can do that!” As I rode past I said “Yeah, but I bet your mom can’t.” That retort was inspired by James who taunts his friends with remarks like: “Oh, man, you’re kidding, you’re not gonna ride that?! My MOM rides that!”
You must humble a lot of sensitive male egos with your skills – you go grrl!
I don’t think so. All the guys who notice are happily impressed. I don’t think any are threatened. I’m not THAT good.
Do you ride with your son James often?
Not as often as I’d like! Having said that I realize he’s come on three XC rides with me in the past two weeks. Whenever we are both in the park we always hook up for a couple runs. It makes me laugh trying to keep up with him and he’s always trying to make me do baaaad things. Pure adrenalin.
How does he feel about that?
He thinks it’s cool that I ride in the park. He’s proud of me but he’s only 15 so he isn’t old enough to realize that he should really cut me more slack when I’m afraid to do some of the stuff he wants me to do. I often as not end up trying whatever it might be he’s putting me up to – like the Clown Shoes drop. That’s probably why I’ve progressed as far as I have. We all need a 15 year old to bully us over the edge.
What kind of bike do you ride?
In the park I use a Stinky Primo. For XC I have a Dawg Primo. I also have a very light weight hard tail for XC racing if I ever get back to that.
James & Marilyn in Whistler
Any parting thoughts?
I can’t think of much else. I guess you could say that all three of us are pretty much obsessed with mt.biking. We don’t go on any holidays where we can’t incorporate riding into the plan. We usually go to Moab in May. We’ve been to the Red Bull event for the past two years in a row now and stayed on to ride in Arizona/Utah. Last May we went to Italy and rode for two weeks. We actually managed to stop riding long enough to walk around and see Venice, Florence, and Pisa!
I would like to see more families get into biking. I think the sport has kept the three of us really close. It’s something we can all do together especially in the park where matching skill and fitness level isn’t important. You can all ride the lift together, each go on the same trail or a different trail if necessary and then just meet at the bottom for another lift.
It’s unfortunate that getting into the sport is as expensive as it is. Especially the freeride end of it but the way I look at it is this: You can pay for it now and have tons of fun together and keep your kid/s connected to you or you can pay about the same amount of money for a lawyer and psychologist some time later. (Kidding…sort of)