Back to Basics: An Interview with Pro DH Racer Emily Oppliger

Emily Oppliger grew up in a world of adventure tucked away at the very top of Michigan – the Keweenaw Peninsula. Her parents, both incredible athletes, introduced her to many adventure sports, including cycling. She started working at the local bike and ski shop, Down Wind Sports, and credits the shop for growing her passion and success in the cycling industry.

Today, Emily is a professional downhill racer and coach.

Kira: When did you start riding bikes?

Emily: I started riding cross-country mountain bikes when I was 8 or 9. While I did not like cross-country mountain biking right away, my favorite memories from the early days are riding with my dad, and racing with him in high school.

KM: When did you fall in love with bikes?

EO: I started working in a bike shop when I was 16. That’s when I started riding with the “bike shop bros”, transitioned to longer travel bikes and started riding more gravity trails. That’s when I truly started to love riding mountain bikes. I felt I had more freedom and was able to have more fun when I started riding more .

KM: Did you always think you would work in the bike industry?

EO: Not sure. I definitely wanted to when I was racing, but never thought it would actually happen based on my degree, since it is not directly related to the bike industry. I just started applying and found out that people were actually interested in hiring me anyway. If you want to make it happen, you just have to go for it. If you don’t apply, you’ll never get the chance.

Emily Trans BC

Emily fully immersed herself in the downhill scene when she got to college. She raced professional downhill and enduro all over North America, where she gained incredible experience and built quite the network in the outdoor industry.

If you want to make it happen, you just have to go for it.

KM: What got you into racing?

EO: My dad got me into cross-country mountain biking in high school, but I feel like I started actually racing when I started with downhill. I got into racing the same way most other fast females get into racing – I wanted to keep up with the shop guys. When I started riding shuttles with them, I realized I only liked going downhill.

KM: Tough one…narrow it down the best you can. What is your favorite race?

EO: I can narrow it down to two: Port Angeles Pro GRT and Showshoe DH.

My favorite part about the Port Angeles race is the community. This is the first race of the Pro GRT circuit, and everyone goes. It’s like a big downhill reunion with great energy. The track is fun too – classic, raw downhill with steep technical sections. There are not many man-made features or jumps on this one. You shuttle up in rented U-Hauls. There are about 30 people and bikes crammed into the back with no lights. The U-Haul takes everyone up a super sketchy dirt road, and everyone does their best to hold onto bikes in the dark without falling over.

My favorite part about the Snowshoe downhill race is the track. This race is a good mix of tech and man-made obstacles. Overall, the course is technical and rocky with some big drops and jumps mixed in.

KM: What was your most epic day on the bike to date?

EO: Honestly, any of the days in the Trans BC race could be considered the most epic, but of all the days, stage 3 at Panorama Mountain Resort was the most difficult. We climbed 4800 feet, descended 11,000 feet, and covered 20 miles total that day. One particularly hard transfer included a 3-hour hike-a-bike up a very exposed cliff. This was one of six total stages for the day.

KM: Yikes. Would you do this race again?

EO: I am very glad to have finished this race, but I will never do that again. This race was six days long with six stages each day. The stages were hard on their own, and made more difficult since we were racing blind, and had to complete some very physical transfers to even get to the top of each stage. There was very minimal lift help throughout the week. We only got to ride chairs twice the whole week, and the lift basically just got us to the start of the up trail.

Emily Coaching

Emily always thought her passion was in racing, but things changed when she started working with Lindsay Richter. She started coaching for Liv Ladies All Ride, and her passion shifted.

KM: How did you get into coaching, and why do you keep doing it?

EO: Lindsay Richter of Ladies All Ride came up to Houghton, MI to do a clinic. She needed some locals to help out, and she contacted me through the shop I was working at.

I didn’t really know how to come at it at first. Previously, I had only ridden with guys, and had a bigger ego than I should have had. I thought I was above coaching beginner skills clinics until I realized what I didn’t know. This experience really showed me that there is correct technique, and I had a lot to learn. I realized that there were a lot of people that did not know these basics, especially fast women. So many women start riding by chasing the guys or their significant others around and skip the fundamentals. They just try to keep up. I wanted to open people’s eyes the same way this experience opened mine.

I continue coaching now because it is so fulfilling to see people light up when they tackle and ultimately conquer features they never thought they could. I love giving people the tools to confidently ride the types of trails they want to ride.

I realized that there were a lot of people that did not know these basics, especially fast women.

KM: What is your favorite setting to coach in?

EO: I really like smaller skills parks, especially ones with pump tracks. The smaller skills parks are nice because you can keep an eye on everyone, and it’s easier to always be working on something. These clinics can get kind of boring if there is too much standing around, so it is nice to have a place where everyone can be working on different skills at the same time. Inevitably, there is going to be a wide range of skills in these clinics, so it is nice to have varying levels of features in close proximity.

KM: How have bikes influenced your life?

EO: Bikes, bikes…they’ve brought me to a lot of places and connected me with a lot of rad people. I’ve seen so many places by bike. I’ve met so many people all over the world that I almost always have someone to ride with when I go back to visit my favorite places.

Bikes also gave me something positive and healthy to focus on. I am a competitive person who likes to progress, and I found myself getting bored with the XC skiing and running that I grew up racing. With biking, I can always progress, the progression never ends. As most high schoolers do, I did not always make the best choices or hang out with the best people, but cycling drove me towards a more motivated, positive crowd. Cyclists are weird, so we only truly fit in with each other, ya know?

With biking, I can always progress, the progression never ends.

KM: Do you have any advice for girls who want to start racing?

EO: You have to get rid of your ego. You can separate being competitive with having an ego. When you have the extra ego, it can cause blockages, and at the end of the day, we all need to support each other. There are so few female mountain bike racers, and even fewer female gravity racers. While you do want to beat your competitors and are capable of doing so, it doesn’t mean there has to be an ego attached to it.

Another important piece of advice is to set smaller goals along the way. Your ultimate goal may be to race and do the best you can, your goal can be to win every race, but be sure to set smaller goals so you’re not always setting yourself up for failure. You can’t let losing get your mood down. You can stay positive by achieving smaller goals, even if you might not have reached your ultimate goal.

Emily Eagle Mountain

Check out more on Emily Oppliger at www.emilyoppliger.com

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kira maicke author

Kira Maicke has been an avid cyclist since 2010. She started racing road bikes in college for the University of Georgia and switched over to mountain biking after graduating and moving out west. When she’s not on one of her bikes, she’s out playing in the mountains with her husky, Semenuk.  

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