Canadian DH racer turned freeride star Micayla Gatto tells us about the mixed-media edit that made her famous, riding at Red Bull formation, and her Type Z personality

Wherever you look women’s mountain biking is more prominent than it has ever been. Yet there’s still much more progress to be made and work to be done. We speak to former downhill racer and current freeride pioneer Micayla Gatto about the state of play…

Gatto has turned to freeride after her accident in 2014

Gatto has turned to freeride after her accident in 2014 (Pic: Paris Gore / Red Bull Content Pool)

You started out as a World Cup racer, and a really successful one. Why did you leave that life?

My last World Cup season was in 2014 and I crashed really hard at Wyndham. I destroyed my hip, got a separation in my shoulder, but the bad thing was I got a really severe concussion. I suffered from post-concussion and I took a full year off. I lost my mountain bike sponsors and kind of went to ground zero. I couldn’t get on a mountain bike team that winter. And it gave me time to really reflect on what I’d accomplished and where I was at in my career and where I wanted to go with it. I’d been to all these places, traveled the world since I was 16, never making a dime, working three jobs to maintain my top 10 ranking. I’d accomplished everything I wanted to without taking it to that next level of training and sacrifice.

Did that crash end up being a good thing then, in a perverse way?

The injury, as horrific as it was, was an amazing thing that forced me to take a step back and look at what I was doing. There was a moment of identity crisis. You don’t realise how much you were forcing something until you’re out of it. You ignore the signs and put up with the struggle. Forced change is uncomfortable but it’s what you need to gain perspective. A lot of people have decided to change their lives after Covid, prioritise their own happiness and self care over making money.

I wanted to dive more into the culture and people and experience of these places rather than just showing up and racing and going home. I felt like it was time to incorporate more of my creative side and my art, as I’m an artist too, and I felt my life was really imbalanced.

Is that where the idea for Intersection began, the video edit where you ride through your artwork?

Yeah, getting into the media side of things was actually harder than I thought though. I had all these ideas for edits but didn’t know how to approach anyone. I just had this idea and waited for something to happen – looking back I’m like, no, nothing comes to you for free, you have to go out and get it. So 2016 was a fail. Then I got onto Diamondback, Lacy Kemp was my manager, and Red Bull said they wanted to do a project and we came up with the idea of Intersection.

And the Ferda Girls edit?

Summer 2017 is when it all came to fruition. I solely give credit to those two edits, after that people were coming up to me asking for advice on women’s riding. Ferda Girls created an entire movement, it was right place, right time, during the #MeToo movement. It catapulted me, Micayla’s back. And it’s just snowballed from there. Intersection won Banff Mountain Film Festival’s Best Mountain Sports Film Award, and Ferda Girls won Crankworx Dirt Diaries award, and then I did another India edit – and I’d found my calling.

After that, I was like ‘What the hell was I doing?!’ No disrespect to racers, but I’m so much more of a creative now. Looking back on the racing, it was not playing to my strengths at all. You have to be Type A, and I’m not, I don’t even know what I am, type Z maybe. Haha.

We didn’t see you at Red Bull Formation freeride event this year

I was the only girl from the original Formation not to get invited back, which I found very confusing. Especially as the girls voted I had the gnarliest line. And as it’s a progression session – I didn’t ride one of the drops I’d built, but in my eyes there was no requirement to do a top to bottom run. I pushed myself as hard as I could, if you’re not failing you’re not pushing, so the fact I got scared and couldn’t overcome one of my features showed I was out of my comfort zone. I was super gutted though, I spent time being sad about it. It sucks, but that’s the game, that’s just the way it is.

I don’t want to take any shine off this year’s event though, everyone invited deserved to be. And I want to be invited back! The competition is stiff, there are a lot of amazing girls and I guess they saw potential in others. They 100 per cent should have been there, so all you can do is work harder.

Tell us about the Dark Horse Invitational

I’m just stoked to be there, I don’t want to think of it as a competition as I don’t want to put expectation and pressure on myself. But when I’m there, I’ll love the dynamic of ‘she can do it, I can do it’ and your progression just skyrockets when you get a bunch of girls and guys together. It raises the bar so much faster than going to a bike park by yourself.

The Dark Horse is based off the Fest series, so it’s rider judged. In the past, there hasn’t been a lot of encouragement and recognition of rider talent, lifting each other up. Now that’s all changing, it’s really important to have women recognising other women’s abilities and successes.

How big is women’s freeride now?

The progression in the last two years has been insane, giving women the spotlight, then other girls see it and go try it. It’s grown exponentially.

The mtb industry hops on trends, a few years ago it was all about enduro, now there’s a lot of attention being put on women’s freeride. It’s more than it ever has been, and you have all these events starting to crop up, like Mons Royale’s Progression Session in New Zealand, Dark Horse, Formation, and Big White Slopestyle has a women’s category now, and Nine Knights has that, and Proving Grounds has a women’s section.

Is women’s freeride downplayed?

A few years ago it was like, ‘well the women aren’t doing as big a stuff as the men,’ and ‘that’s embarrassing because you’re not doing backflip tail whips’ – that’s garbage.

People were very unresponsive and unencouraging. We were laughed at. Yes we were behind the men, but being laughed at and discouraged is no way to grow a sport.

Now it’s undeniable, if you’re going to say women’s riding isn’t impressive then you’re living under a rock. Vinny Armstrong’s whips are in that top 10 percentile of riders, men and women. So no, you don’t even have any legs to stand on anymore. Sit down, bro.

Do you still have something to prove in mountain biking?

A big part of what motivates me is normalising things that would generally be stereotyped as more male-centric. Since the beginning of time women have been told they can’t do things, they’re not strong enough or smart enough or it’s not safe if they go out by themselves. It’s a mindset to feel like we need a male presence.

I want to smash that down a bit – you have the resources to go out and do these things safely without having to rely on anyone but yourself.