Last year, Hailey Elise and a few friends shot one of their downhill sessions entirely in the buff—and even that wasn’t as revealing as the pro mountain biker and photographer’s latest film.
“We did a shoot last year where we were all naked, riding, and at the time, I thought it better to just not think about it until [the video] showed up,” Elise says with a laugh. “I feel it’s kind of similar to this film: I don’t want to think a lot about it until maybe I go to the premiere.”
Premiering April 29 at Vancouver’s Rio Theatre, part of the iF3 Mountain Bike Film Festival, before a still-to-be-confirmed Whistler screening at the Maury Young Arts Centre, Elise is at the centre of the new documentary, Dancing with the Mountains. The 20-minute film, produced by Canadian organic muesli brand Holos, follows the Whistler mountain biking prospect as she and her crew of local dreamers and rippers venture into the forests surrounding the resort to build—and ride—a daunting, unsanctioned trail. The short doc also discusses both the physical and mental toll the sport can have, and delves into Elise’s own mental health challenges along the way.
“Working through anxiety and the psychological side of sports has been something that has been a common thread in my sports journey,” Elise says. “That was something we thought would be cool to talk about more.”
Also starring fellow Whistlerites Kaz Yamamura, Denis Courchesne, Mark Mackay and Elise’s partner, Ollie Jones, Dancing with the Mountains depicts the passion project that saw the crew carve a trail out of the Soo Valley that was more technical than they had planned.
“When they built it, they really wanted it to be fun for everybody, but it developed into being kind of rowdy. I knew that approaching it for the first time was going to be challenging,” recalls Elise. “The actual riding of it was challenging. It had stuff that, when you’re going through it, you don’t really realize how difficult it is until you try to ride it. ‘Hey, it’s not so smooth right there. That doesn’t set you up best for the next one.’ It was definitely challenging both technically and mentally.”
The friends eventually crafted the trail to their liking, but it took plenty of trial and error to get there, a process Elise likens to her own mental health journey. On one particularly tricky section, she kept getting in her head about it, worried a specific feature wouldn’t give her enough speed to make the next jump. After talking it over with her crew, they went to work smoothing it out.
“It was just this reminder to not get stuck and remembering all the possibilities before you,” she says.
“That’s what’s kind of cool when you want to be better at a sport and you’re presented with barriers mentally. Trying to overcome those, there are a lot of parallels with dealing with anxiety: Positive thinking, positive self-talk, looking at the challenge from a different perspective. Having a support network to talk about things with and to work through it. All of those were there for me on that trail.”
It was this, the unyielding power of community, that Elise has continually relied on whenever coming across another bump in the trail, be it literal or figurative.
“My community and my friends and my people have always been alongside me, pushing me. We’ve had this reassuring relationship where we’re all just trying to make it work here and be our best selves, and I think they really help us out a lot,” she says. “They also are always a good reminder of what’s really important, and that’s good people.”
Tickets to the Rio Theatre screening are available at if3mountainbike.com.