When Julie-Ann Chapman created She Shreds Mountain Adventures snowmobile education and adventure company, she stepped out of her comfort zone of a professional snowboarder and into a new career.
“My sponsors told me that I needed to go into the backcountry to film video segments, I told them, give me a year, I’m going to learn how to snowmobile,” says Chapman.
"I called them back after a year and told them that I had found a new passion. I haven’t put a snowboard on my feet, well I put one on at the bunny hill last year trying to teach my kid, but I don’t snowboard anymore. It’s strictly snowmobiling now.”
Being a professional snowboarder from age 17 to 22 shaped the career she has now, at 35.
“It lined me up for my passion that I still do today. It allowed me to meet a lot of people in the winter sports industry. To transfer my skills and get sponsors. It led into a new industry.”
Today, Chapman balances running a busy business with being a mom. She owned a home in Nelson for almost a decade, but didn’t live here full time as her business developed in Pemberton. Chapman describes the moment this changed.
“I always knew I wanted to raise my children here. I got pregnant four years ago and moved here as soon as I got pregnant.”
She loves so much about the area, including: “The people, the mountains, just being a little further away from everything, the affordable living. It’s a great place to raise a family.”
For Chapman, there is so much to love about the sport of backcountry snowmobiling.
“I’m constantly pushing my limits, maneuvering my snowmobile in areas that I’ve never been, pushing myself to do things that I haven’t done before like dropping cliffs and maneuvering in the woods and testing my navigation skills. It’s very fun.”
She stays very busy ten months of the year with her business. She has a business partner who assists administratively and also hires instructors and guides.
“As far as the backbone of the company, it’s all me. It’s a full-on professional business. If you want to compare it to a cat ski or a heli ski operation we’re doing the exact same things that they do. It’s pretty intense, I’m not going to lie.”
Chapman is vocal about the need for support for women to access the sport, traditionally dominated by men.
“When I started snowmobiling, I could count how many females were into the sport on one hand,” says Chapman.
“It’s a very male-dominated sport. You’re dealing with a very heavy machine; right off the bat, females think there’s no way they could do it because it’s so heavy. The social media and the whole entourage around the sport (made it) a more male industry.”
She Shreds Mountain Adventures owner Julie-Ann Chapman thought that it would be nice to offer something to people safely to help reduce search and rescue calls and to keep people alive in the backcountry. — Photo courtesy Allan Sawchuck
Chapman remembers when she was new to the sport and not immediately comfortable.
“When I started snowmobiling in the mountains, it was a very humbling experience. It’s hard. When I learned there was no instruction, no guidelines to help me manoeuvre this 500-pound machine. I was like; there has to be some kind of education because you’re exposing yourself to some pretty serious stuff in the backcountry. It’s a serious matter.”
From there, she had the idea to start running courses.
“There weren’t snowmobile specific avalanche courses offered when I started. It was a very steep learning curve. I thought that it would be nice to offer something to people to be able to have less of a steep learning curve but also to do it safely to help reduce search and rescue calls and to keep people alive in the backcountry.”
Her company is sponsored by a major snowmobile company and this connection allows her to access the best machines out there, which means a lower carbon footprint.
“We update our snowmobiles every year. As the electric snowmobile comes available, we’re definitely going to be embracing that. I have amazing support from my sponsor Polaris, and they make it feasible for me to adapt to the newest technologies.”
Chapman is hopeful that things are changing for women in the sport. She is involved in this evolution.
“In the last five years, there’s been a big growth in females getting into the sport. Now we have companies putting out products specifically for females. I’m part of the Polaris in power sports committee, working with engineers to produce a woman-specific snowmobile. It’s pretty cool to see the change over the years and how women are getting noticed.
"It’s pretty awesome.”