Photos by Ryan Creary
Her riding style is playful and natural, and her smile is so bright it seems impossible that Lorraine Blancher ever has a bad day on the bike. Watch her in action or talk to her just a little bit, and it's safe to say she rarely if ever does. She's been riding mountain bikes for more than half her life, but with the wide-eyed exuberance usually reserved for someone new to the sport, the 38-year-old proclaims, "I'm still getting better!"
Lorraine Blancher, however, is no beginner.
She'd been mountain biking already, using the bike primarily as a tool for exploring the world around her, and to replicate a bit of the feeling that snowboarding provided in the wintertime. But in 1994, she packed just a backpack--no racks or panniers, so that she could ditch the luggage and properly ride singletrack--and headed off on a 10-day mountain bike camping trip that ended up at the Hornby Island Mountain Bike Festival, on Hornby Island, B.C. There, Lorraine entered her very first dual slalom and downhill events, placed on the podium and walked away with a little cash for the effort.
Two weeks later, she made the dual slalom final at the World Cup event at Silver Star. And though Blancher was was edged out by three-time World Cup winner, Elke Brutsaert, the mountain-bike world took notice, and sponsors came calling.
But for the young Canadian who'd spent her early childhood seeking all-day adventure with her brother and sister, and who'd spent her high-school years hitchhiking to chase winter storms and great snowboarding, life in mountain-bike racing was simply another avenue to adventure.
Equipped with her natural talent for riding and some help from sponsors, Blancher got to see a fair amount of the world--and that was the most important thing. More than results or a bulging bank account, she wanted to travel and experience new places and things alongside similarly minded mountain bikers. Which isn't to say she didn't collect a few wins for the résumé along the way; Lorraine is a former Canadian National Downhill Champion and Masters World Champ.
It's "that desire to get further, farther...explore," though, which has likely been the secret to the longevity of her career, and the fact that she really is continually getting better. Wanderlust, her experience racing at the sport's elite level and a strong willingness to share her love of mountain biking provided the perfect segue toward life as a guide and instructor.
Her stoke for the feelings one gets while riding was obvious when I first met Lorraine a few years ago. As she broke down each maneuver for a group of women at the Dirt Series, a genuine enthusiasm for getting more people comfortable on their bikes and excited about mountain biking was clearly evident--contagious even. Though I've yet to seriously even consider becoming a certified instructor myself, I've happily volunteered at other camps, if for no other reason than to watch the interaction between rider and coach--and to hopefully see the student's eyes light up when the finally "get" some new skill.
I caught up with Lorraine the morning before she took off for the co-ed Kamloops Ranch Camp that she'd organized and promoted. Via telephone from her home in Revelstoke she walked me through a bit of her history. But our conversation quickly turned toward modern mountain biking, trail building and the seemingly limitless possibilities our sport has to offer now, 20-some years after she made that trip to Hornby Island. I'm sure our collective zeal was fueled in no small part by the coffee consumed during our lengthy conversation, but it was pretty much a two-person, Baptist revival meeting celebrating the gospel of mountain biking by the time we said our goodbyes.
I signed off confident that the folks who were signed up for her Kamloops Ranch Camp were going to head home better and more confident mountain bikers. Most importantly, though, they were going to be stoked. And secretly, I'm hoping to make my way to Whistler Bike Park early this summer for a bit of private instruction (yes, she does that) on one of the park's big jump-lines. If Lorraine can keep getting better, the rest of us should try to as well.