“Snowmobiling: you'll either love it or hate it, and most girls I know hate it.”
That was the warning Chantelle Bourgeau’s boyfriend gave her when she first sat on a sled five years ago. Fortunately for Bourgeau (and her boyfriend), she found herself in the former category of female snowmobilers.
“I had never been on a sled in my life, but I love sports of any kind—and any kind of motorsport—so I jumped on his 2014 Ski-Doo 800,” said Bourgeau. “I made it about 50 feet from the parking lot and thought, ‘damn, I shouldn't have done this,’ because I was hooked.
“Snowmobiling is like nothing I've ever experienced. No one could have explained to me the feeling of accomplishment after pulling a wild line through the trees, the freedom of looking out over an untouched mountain range from a conquered summit, or the camaraderie that comes with long, exhausting, exhilarating days in the deep snow with friends. I've met some of the best people I know because of this sport.”
Bourgeau’s instant love of snowmobiling combined with an ever-growing group of riding buddies prompted her to start up She-Riderz, a sled feature page for female riders.
“I repost cool pics of female riders, feature women making moves in the sport, and showcase events for female riders,” Bourgeau said. “I started it because I was—and still mostly am—the only female rider amongst the boys. Though I love my group, I thought it would be cool to find other women with the same passion and help them find each other, too, to make it easier for women to break into backcountry snowmobiling. The page grew into a community across several platforms of about 5,500 supporters. Before I knew it, I was launching a line of merch, taking on ambassadors, and organizing She-Riderz ladies rides.”
She-Riderz is all about promoting female riders to inspire more ladies to get into the sport, hyping up the ones already in it, and providing a fun atmosphere for riders to interact with one another, wherever they are in the world.
“Last year we expanded and began featuring summer motorists too,” Bourgeau said. “We took on some summer ambassadors and hosted a summer ladies ride. So now, we're a community of all kinds of women in motorsports hyping each other up year round!”
With winter in the rearview, Bourgeau is focused on the behind-the-scenes activities of She-Riderz, such as creating a stronger support network for ambassadors, planning future events, and launching a summer merch line.
“Motorsports bring out the wild in everyone, the brotherhood or sisterhood in us all,” said Bourgeau. “We are all unified with the same passion, and it's a true, all-consuming, life-altering passion that we live and die for.
“During my first ride ever, the group of guys I was going with—who became my main riding group—said jokingly to me, ‘you'll either learn quickly or die,’ and then took me up a pretty challenging trail, even for me now. But I'm still alive, so I guess I learned quickly!”
Bourgeau’s ability to rapidly adapt to terrain constraints and traumatic situations has served her well in her time as a Rad Rider. She once broke her arm while attempting to climb an icy, steep, long face on her sled, and then had to ride 50 kilometres to get back to the parking lot.
“That was when I knew I was a true sledder, when I had no other choice but to tough it out and get myself out of the backcountry despite being just a little bit broken,” she said. “All of the coolest things I have done were when I was in survival mode, digging deep for bravery and using all my remaining energy to pull that crazy line out of a creek draw, or to make it out of a particularly challenging area, or avoiding running over friends that pop up out of nowhere in your path, ha ha!”
One of Bourgeau’s favourite snowmobiling memories was during her second season when she was apprehensive about ascending an intimidating slope.
“My boyfriend was trying so hard to hype me up to pull the biggest climb of my life and I was terrified—too terrified to do it,” said Bourgeau. “Finally he said, ‘I'll wait for you at the top,’ and took off. I had no other choice but to pull myself together and just do it. I remember popping over the top of that thing and seeing a huge, untouched alpine bowl with my riding buddies and boyfriend at the top. They’d waited for me, and known I’d do it eventually. From then on I’ve known I had it in me.”