“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
We’ve all heard that question and most likely have doodled on that notion in primary school. Most kids write down their inspiration for their current phase and move on to discover their passions, interests, and skill sets later in life; very few hone in on their vocation as a child and continue to develop it into adulthood.
But Britt Phelan is not your average kid.
Raised in a household of die-hard skiers in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Britt was introduced to the sport at a young age. “That’s all we did growing up. In the summer, we white water kayaked, and in the winter, we skied every day we weren’t at school.”
The Olympics were a special time for the Phelan kids. It was the only team the TV turned on. “I remember watching Hermann Maier, who was my idol alpine skier. I was like, 'That's what I want to do. I want to race against Hermann Maier.'"
At four years old, Britt’s relentless pursuit of ski racing began. “It's funny how people find their dreams or their goals at different times. For me, it was always really simple. There was never a question about it. It's always what I wanted to do, and it has dictated everything I've done in my life.”
It's funny how people find their dreams or their goals at different times. For me, it was always really simple. There was never a question about it.
Chasing the Olympic Dream
Britt continued to chase her Olympic dream through high school, landing on the Canadian National Ski Team at 15 years old. She moved to Fernie, British Columbia, to centralize with the National Ski Team, and it was only a matter of time until bikes became a significant part of her training on Fernie's legendary terrain.
“I was the youngest by quite a few years on the team. Everyone had mountain biked, and I had only ridden bikes casually growing up. I remember the first ride I ever went on. The climb was just a normal spin up a road, but once we started going downhill, I immediately felt like I was skiing.
You hear about people getting hooked immediately. It was really that for me. It just brought about the same feelings that I would get skiing. Obviously, I was not great at biking and didn't have very good bike handling skills, but I could understand body weight distribution and liked going fast.”
At 22 years old, Britt represented Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, where she finished 15th in slalom. That evening after competing in her first Olympics, Britt told her parent that she wanted to switch to ski cross. “I was starting to do well and breakthrough on the World Cup circuit, so they convinced me to do another year in alpine. Everyone couldn’t understand why I was so keen on switching sports.”
Britt committed to another year on the alpine circuit before she made the jump to ski cross in 2015. “It was like mountain biking to me. All of my passions were coming together, and I found the sport that I felt like I was supposed to be in the whole time. I was able to utilize a lot of the skills and everything that I learned in biking and alpine skiing and apply it to ski cross.”
All of my passions were coming together, and I found the sport that I felt like I was supposed to be in the whole time.
Relocating from Canmore, Alberta where she had been training with the Alpine National Team, Britt drove across the country to Whistler, British Columbia to begin building from the bottom up. With the switch to ski cross, she lost most of her sponsors and government funding. Living in the woods with a teammate Britt trained day in and day out at the gym and on her bike, determined to come out of the gate swinging.
And that she did. Britt won the FIS Freestyle Rookie of the Year Award in 2017. “There were a lot of technical aspects to learn about ski cross, including perfecting skills I hadn’t anticipated, like starting quick out of the gate.”
Britt continued to dedicate herself to working on each aspect of ski cross and develop her skills year-round through her time on the dirt. “Biking and skiing, in terms of body position, has always been quite similar, and just the physics of it all—like how you arc a turn, how you corner riding, the weight distributions all similar. Once I was able to grasp that and understand the different movements I had to do to get purchased on my skis or my tires, it was super relatable.”
Beyond the fundamentals physics of both sports, there’s momentum, air awareness, reactivity, and race scenarios where everything comes down to what happens between the start gate and finish line.
“Being a super competitive person, I love having pressure and managing all the outside noise. When it comes time to perform, find a way to quiet that all down and be at peace with all the work, the effort, and the years that I have put into it. Then when I’m in the start gate, it's easy. All I have to do is ride or ski.”
When it comes time to perform, find a way to quiet that all down, and be at peace with all the work, the effort, and the years that I have put into it. Then when I’m in the start gate, it's easy. All I have to do is ride or ski.
Britt went on to compete in the next two Olympics—Pyeongchang 2018 and Beijing 2022—medaling in South Korea and a 5th place earlier this year. While some coaches may view a sport like mountain biking as a risk to a ski racer’s career, Britt feels like it has augmented her success at the highest level.
“I used to find it difficult going six or seven months from the end of one ski season to the start of the next World Cup season and not having been in a race environment. You train all year, but then you get to the race, and it's hard to know how you want to feel at the start. Since I started bike racing, every time I get in start gate, I know exactly how I want to feel, how activated I want to be, and what to focus on.”
While Britt’s commitment to ski racing has paid off in medals, her success in bike racing doesn’t fall far from the tree. Riding for the Juliana-SRAM Pro Team, Britt has a whole other team that supports her in her bike racing endeavors. Britt has lined up for everything from local and regional enduro events to the Sea Otter Classic, Enduro World Series events, and downhill events in her backyard at Crankworx Whistler.
“In the spring, I often get questioned, ‘Oh, are you trying to cram in all this bike training now and get ready for the competitive season?’ For me, it’s never been like that. I love riding so much. It's a cool way just to explore and go to the Chilcotins to do multi-day tent bikepacking trips than just riding the bike park. There are just so many ways to enjoy riding with different people. It's one of the reasons I think riding is so special. You can enjoy it in so many different forms.”
There are just so many ways to enjoy riding with different people. It's one of the reasons I think riding is so special. You can enjoy it in so many different forms.
When you live in Whistler, every ride has an epic twist to it. Whether it’s hot lapping Hey Bud, Crazy Train, and Micro Climate, or pinning on a Dark Crystal after pedaling Lord of the Squirrels, Britt is known for stitching together all-day rides that most visitors aspire to tackle in a week, let alone a day. For these big rides, when Britt is blurring the lines between bombing trails and cross-country hauls, her Juliana Joplin is up for the assignment.
Specced with the Pike Ultimate and Deluxe Ultimate, Britt’s mauve maven is ready for crushing climbs and is not afraid of the rooty chutes. “For me, being off the bike six months of the year focused on skiing, every time I start riding in the spring again, I get the most insane arm pump. That was the biggest thing I noticed on the new Pike, it was just so smooth.”
That smoothness Britt was referring to is the tiny nuggets that lie at the bottom of Charger 3 damper and DebonAir+ air spring and fit into the lower leg of the fork—ButterCups. Like a rubber mount on the handle of the chainsaw, ButterCups dampen high-frequency vibrations aka “trail chatter” before they hit your hands, allowing you to safely push the limits, even at the end of a mega-ride.
Learn how ButterCups work and what makes them the most talked-about technology of the year.
You're never going to be a master at it. Just find the little things that you can do better.
What’s next for Britt? She’s back in the first quarter of the quad cycle for the 2026 Olympics. “I still feel like I'm learning so much, and still improving every year, and getting on the podium at the World Cup, and qualifying consistently in the top three. I’m definitely ready for another four years."
Britt still is seeking an Olympic gold at Milano Cartino, but even then, she’ll never be done pursuing incremental gains. “You're never going to be a master at it. Just find the little things that you can do better. I think that's so special about skiing and biking. You're never going to make it. It's always like, ‘What's next?’ It’s the progressive pursuit of perfection that you know you're never going to achieve, but you're still going to strive for it.”
Photos by Anthony Smith taken on the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of the Lhaq'temish (Lummi) Nation and the Nuxwsa'7aq (Nooksack) tribes. Words by Sarah Rawley.