Devin Dwyer’s path to women’s advocacy started with a tough day in the snow. In 2011 she showed up to a level II avalanche class in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains as the lone woman in a room of men. On the first day of ski touring, her guide and group left her behind. After that Dwyer called the Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) to explain why she thought a women’s-only course could promote inclusivity.
The UAC was receptive and asked Dwyer to organize and promote a women’s-only class that spring. Dwyer didn’t balk at the opportunity. The course quickly filled up with a waitlist and was an unabashed success. Following her pioneering course in 2012, Dwyer spent the next five years as the UAC education and event coordinator, and the UAC has offered women’s-only courses ever since. Her proudest achievement was starting the women’s avalanche program, and as mountain biking became a bigger part of Dwyer’s life, she wanted to help bolster a community for women who shred on bikes, too.
The 31-year-old has been riding mountain bikes for 10 years, the past four of which have been spent on the trails of her adopted home in Driggs, Idaho. Dwyer carries an upbeat, frank energy that’s equal parts pragmatism and optimism. An unlikely but inspirational advocate for women in outdoor sports, Dwyer isn’t a professional athlete or industry insider, but a self-described “regular person” who juggles gigs as a Pilates instructor and concierge in Driggs while pursuing a nursing degree.
The latest entry on Dwyer’s CV is festival manager at the Wydaho Rendezvous, the annual mountain bike festival that takes over Grand Targhee each summer. This year’s edition is over Labor Day Weekend from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. The Wydaho Rendezvous is a fixture in the Teton riding scene, and in her first year as festival manager, Dwyer is bringing a distinct women’s focus to the event, with women’s-only group rides and clinics led by local pro riders. Around 30 percent of attendees—more than 240 people—at last year’s Rendezvous were women, a number Dwyer aims to push over 40 percent.
I picked Dwyer’s brain to garner some insight into how to navigate a male-dominated cycling industry.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: We like to think of the mountain bike community as open-armed, but that isn’t always the case. What challenges do women face, especially when getting started in the sport?
DD: Ideally, community allows riders to have fun, grow and push their abilities without fear of failure. Exactly what that looks like is different for everyone, but it’s particularly challenging for women to feel included. A lot of women get introduced to mountain biking by riding with their boyfriends who already ride or another group of more experienced riders. That can lead to challenging dynamics when you’re starting out, especially in a place like the Tetons where so many people are talented, committed athletes. People who are higher caliber riders often have a hard time articulating their advice and appropriately judging newer riders’ comfort levels. Doing isn’t the same as teaching, and tips like “just commit” or “go faster” aren’t particularly helpful. It’s easy [for women] to feel intimidated and underestimate their own abilities if they don’t have the right support. When that happens early on, it’s difficult to stay committed to the sport.
Q: Where do women mountain bikers go to seek out and foster a more welcoming community?
DD: I participate in weekly Sisters of Dirt group rides organized by Ride the Tetons where our only goal is to get girls out on the trails. Even with varying abilities nobody ever gets dropped, and we just worry about having a good time. I know that no matter what else is going on in my life I’m going to get out with a rad group of women every Tuesday night.
It starts with finding the right group of people, and that has more to do with attitude than ability or anything else. The right riding group does so much to build confidence and consistency. You can have a light-bulb moment at different events or clinics, but you need to sustain that energy to have a real community.
Q: The Wydaho Rendezvous isn’t just for women, but what have you done as festival director to bring a women’s focus to the event?
DD: Sometimes women’s-only events can feel just as intimidating as co-ed events. And we all know showing up to an event with all men when you’re the only woman is terrifying! We’re providing a ton of women’s-focused opportunities like clinics led by local pro rider Amanda Carey, which she’s taught at The Rendezvous for the past four years, and free ladies group rides throughout the event while removing some of the barriers associated with a women’s-only festival.
Women are just one of the underrepresented groups in mountain biking. The Rendezvous is about inclusion for people of all backgrounds and abilities. We’re a family-friendly festival and we partner with the Joe Stone Foundation to bring an amazing adaptive cycling component. Being inclusive involves not only catering to different demographics, but also bringing them together within larger community of cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts in general. Women, men, families, adaptive athletes, we’re all doing the same sport. Breaking barriers means riding more together instead of in isolated groups.
What advice do you have for women who want to get involved in the industry?
DD: The No. 1 thing would be to participate in a weekly women’s group ride. If there’s not one in your area, go to the local bike shop and encourage them to help you coordinate one. You don’t have to commit all your time to women’s advocacy to make a difference. Maintain balance in your life so you can find the time to go riding and help build the culture you’re looking for. Take one night a week to share your passion for mountain biking with others on a lady shred and see where it ends up taking you.
Heading to the Rendezvous?
Ready to organize your own women’s ride?
Take the helm and help organize a weekly women’s ride in your area. Check out the IMBA’s tips on organizing women’s group rides, and be sure to participate in next year’s Women’s Mountain Bike Day and IMBA Women’s Summit.