For most of this year, I’ve been trying to meet up with Casey Brown. As one of the top female downhill mountain bike racers in the world, she is one of Revelstoke’s top international sporting stars.
I would see her around Revelstoke – at one of the local downhill races (which she would win easily), or dancing up a storm at a Shred Kelly show at the Big Eddy Pub. She showed up at retro ski day at Revelstoke Mountain Resort in a pink one-piece and proceeded to launch a massive spread eagle – a product of her past days in freestyle skiing. However, her busy schedule as a World Cup downhill mountain bike racer keeps her busy, and out of Revelstoke for much of the year.
Last Saturday, I ran into her at the farmers market. She had a massive scar across her left shoulder, the result of a crash that resulted in a broken collarbone at the Canadian Downhill Championships in Panorama, B.C., the previous weekend.
We had talked about going biking together, but instead we met up over iced tea inside Sangha Bean, escaping the heat outside. She was back in Revelstoke, recuperating and working out with the goal of returning to competition at Whistler’s Crankworx festival in mid-August.
The past year has seen Brown rise up through the ranks of the downhill world, from the trails of Whistler to a World Cup podium in Norway last September.
Casey Brown was born in New Zealand, growing up on a 317-acre sheep farm in the highlands. “I was always living in secluded places when I was in New Zealand and didn’t do much biking,” she said. “I was more wrangling sheep and riding horses. Farm life.”
At 11, she moved to Revelstoke, where her father Lou and siblings Elinor, Jenn and Sam were. In an attempt to fit in, she dropped her New Zealand accent and started speaking Canadian. Moving her brought about big changes. “I moved straight to the Big Eddy from New Zealand. I did lots of snowboarding and skiing. School was a bit better.”
Her father bought her first mountain bike, a GT Avalanche hard tail, and he would take her up to the 5K loop in Mount Revelstoke National Park every day.
She also began to idolize her brother Sam, who was six years older and was making a name for himself as a fearless freeride mountain biker. “He was my hero and he rode bikes,” she said.
One day in 2003 Casey watched Sam’s first film, New World Disorder 3. She saw him getting sponsored, getting free bikes and going on trips, and from that point, she decided that’s what she wanted to do. She got a Kona Stinky for Christmas – paying for half the cost – and started riding and building trails with friends. “We’d come up with crazy ideas, hang out in the forest and build stuff,” she said. “Some of them were rideable, some of them weren’t.”
Sam lived in Kaslo at this time, but whenever he came back to Revelstoke, she would be the annoying little sister and follow him and his friends around.
When she got older, they would go on more adventures. He would show up at her house in the middle of the night and they would go ride their bikes on the ski hill.
“I wanted to do the same kind of thing he did but it was hard as a female,” she said. “You needed to establish yourself in the industry before you can just freeride.”
In 2004, Casey entered and won her first race, at Panorama. In 2006, she started going to Whistler to ride the bike park there. She would compete in some of the women’s freeride events at Crankworx and enter one or two races a year.
In 2009, Sam committed suicide in a U.S. jail after being caught smuggling drugs across the border in a helicopter. Casey was devastated.
“You learn a lot when you lose someone that’s so important to you,” she said. “You learn to take the good things out of it. That I had a brother up until then, I was pretty lucky, especially one with such a wild personality.”
Casey Brown races down Redneck’s Revenge on Boulder Mountain. Photo by Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review.
There weren’t many doubts Casey Brown was a fast rider; the next step was finding a way onto the World Cup circuit. Her first big racing breakthrough came in 2011 when she finished second at the Canadian championships and 16th at the world championships. That’s when her friend Miranda Miller recommended her to PerformX trainer Todd Schumlick. Brown started working out with him and received a sponsorship deal that included a free bike from Commencal.
“I started going to the gym, which I didn’t like – I don’t like gym – but I liked the results, so I did it,” she said.
Last summer she started off by finishing sixth at a World Cup race at Mont Ste. Anne, Quebec, in June. Then she won the Canadian championships there two weeks later. In August, she was named Queen of Crankworx. Back on the World Cup circuit, she finished seventh at the world championships in Austria before ending the season on the podium with a fourth place finish at Hafjell, Norway.
“To get a podium in my first season on the World Cup circuit was really sweet,” she said.
Brown’s success brought her new attention – where she was barely mentioned at Crankworx despite her wins, she started having sponsors approach her. She signed agreements with Norco bikes, Shimano, Bell helmets and Sony helmet cams. She spent part of the winter filming in New Zealand.
“I didn’t have to do anything for it,” she said. “My results were enough.”
This year her goal is to reach the podium again and finish in the top-10 overall. At her first World Cup race in Scotland, she got a flat. In her second race in Italy she finished sixth. At the Canadian Championships in Panorama, she crashed in training, hitting a big rut in the trail that had developed in qualifying. She went over the handlebars and broke her collarbone.
The crash has interrupted her season but she hopes to be back in action for Crankworx in Whistler from August 9–18. Then she’ll head back onto the World Cup circuit. This year’s world championships are in South Africa, from August 26 to September 1.
Whistler is where she spends her time training because, as she puts it, “You need to be bike park fit to handle the World Cup circuit.” What if Revelstoke had a bike park? “I would live here and I would bring all my friends here from Whistler,” she said.
Brown’s ultimate goal is to win a world cup race and she thinks she’s close to that happening. Right now she is just outside the top echelon of riders, which includes the likes of Rachel Atherton and Emmeline Ragot.
Casey Brown has coached at some women’s mountain bike camps and she definitely seeks to inspire others. She says her nephew Jordan and niece Hailey look up to her much like she worshipped her brother Sam growing up. She wants to make sure women keep entering the sport in order to keep up the competition.
What does she like most about biking?
“That’s a hard thing to explain,” she said. “It’s the feeling of it, when you know something so well and when you’ve done it for so long the piece of machinery you’re on is like an extension of your body.
“It’s like flying.”