Alum advocates for a place for women in a new winter sport
It’s a sport in its infancy. Snow biking is so new that the thing you ride is built from a kit, rather than sold as an individual unit. A snow bike is a wheel-free dirt bike with a ski attached to the front and a track on the back.
UW-La Crosse alumna Jackie Riess, ‘19, is one of the sport’s pioneers — particularly among women.
At a national championship snow bike race last winter, Riess looked around to find she was the only female competing. And it gave her an idea. Riess knew women were interested in the sport, they just needed to come out from the back-country trails and into the racing scene.
So, Riess launched a new Facebook group, “Snow Bike Girls.” Over the last year, her page has attracted more than 1,000 followers and brought together hundreds of women snow bike enthusiasts worldwide. The online friendships have led to in-person meet-ups for rides and races. During a “ride day” Riess helped organize last winter in Elk River, Minnesota, 30 women tried out a snow bike for the first time. After several followers of the page met up at a Snow Bike Cross race in Colorado last winter, two women raced for the first time.
“It is important to me to create a space where women feel invited to ride too,” explains Riess. “I feel responsible to set this up for the future of the sport.”
Riess has demonstrated that women should not be overlooked in the national racing scene. In the aforementioned national championship race series — the Amsoil Championship Snocross series — she earned the No. 10 spot overall nationally against a group of professional men. She earned the No. 2 spot in pro women’s class at the AMA National Championship Snow Bike Series 2018 and fifth overall in the women’s AMA Championship Snow Bike Series 2017.
In motocross, she has a long history of racing titles, including being named the Minnesota State Champion three times and the Spring Creek Super Series champion five times.
A young start in the sport
Riess got her start taking laps with a mini motorcycle around her family’s Eden Prairie, Minnesota, home at age 4. When that path became well worn, her family took her to the local motocross track. The rest is history. “I’ve been riding motorcycles longer than I’ve been in school,” she quips.
Her experience in motocross was a natural precursor to snow biking, which she started in 2017. That was just as the sport was gaining traction — transitioning from back-country riding into the national racing scene.
Riess competes in two series: The Snocross Series and the Snow Bike Series. The Snocross series added the snow bike class during the 2016-17 season.
“In four years, it is amazing how far racing has come — the skill level of the riders and the skill of the machines,” says Riess. “It is pretty exciting to be at the beginning of it.”
She calls both snow biking and moto cross both “fun” and “exciting.” But it’s the community of people in the sports that keeps her coming back. Although in movies and media, motorcyclists tend to get a bad wrap, Riess says the truth is the community is close knit and is always helping one another. “If I get hurt, I have six people helping me pack up my motorcycle trailer,” she says.
While simply being part of a community of snow bike riders is fun, many are drawn to compete in the sport and particularly for the chance to compete in the X Games, the premiere national race. Riess would like to see a woman’s class added to the X Games. To make that more feasible, women need more opportunities to practice and gain experience racing, she says. That’s where her group, Snow Bike Girls, comes in.
For now, Riess plans to keep growing her group, competing at the national level, and raising awareness of the sport and the women within it.
She says her UWL experience gave her skills such as communication that have helped her have a public voice for women as the sport gains traction.
“Communication class and all the science classes where we presented research — because of that I find it easier to talk about things I’m passionate about now,” she says. “I don’t get nervous. It feels natural for me.”
Watch her ride in Wisconsin
Alumna Jackie Riess will compete at the Ram Trucks Snocross Grand Finale in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, on March 21 and 22. Viewers are welcome to come see what the sport is all about. Find race details and buy tickets at: snocross.com.
Reiss’ sponsors include: Yeti SnowMX, FXR Racing, Soul Addict, PDR Performance, Two7 Designs, Crosstown Cycle, EVS Sports, Team Ocho, Mike’s Small Engines, 100%, Acerbis, iRev and Ride MN.