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Photos: This Coquitlam student isn't just a daredevil mountain biker, she's also a pioneer

Natasha Miller recently finished fourth at Crankworx first female slopestyle competition in Rotorua, New Zealand

When Coquitlam’s Natasha Miller was a young BMX racer, she loved flying over the track’s bumps and berms the most.

Now the 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Gleneagle Secondary School is making history as part of the first female cohort catching big air in Crankworx slopestyle competitions around the world.

Miller just returned from Rotorua, New Zealand, where she finished fourth in the global series of mountain biking competitions’ first female slopestyle event.

Slopestyle is an extreme mountain bike discipline where the emphasis is on hitting a series of big jumps and executing spectacular mid-air tricks while careening down a steep descent.

It’s thrilling, dangerous, and just the sport Miller said she was looking for when racing around the rolling berms of the BMX track no longer scratched her competitive itch. She also does downhill racing.

Slopestyle riders not only have to perfect the technical aspects of judging the speed and trajectory needed to fly over up to 10 jumps in their one-minute descent of a mountainside, they also flex their creativity and derring-do executing tricks like “bar-spins” and “suicide-no hands” 20 feet in the air along the way. Sometimes the manoeuvres are well-planned in advance, Miller said. Sometimes they just happen on the fly.

“You’re not always doing the same thing,” Miller said of the tricks that are judged for their flare, rate of difficulty and amplitude. “You do whatever tricks you want to do. You use your own creativity.”

Gaining the confidence to lift her hands off the handlebars while flying through the air has taken Miller years of practice at the skate park at Lafarge Lake, as well as facilities in Burnaby, New Westminster and the now defunct Air Rec indoor ramps and jumps in Maple Ridge. There’s also been plenty of crashes resulting in injuries like concussions and a fractured ankle.

Getting past such occurrences takes fortitude and mental resolve, Miller said.

“Crashes knock your confidence,” she said. “But you just have to ride and rebuild it.”

To earn the points Miller needs to get an invite to the Crankworx competitions, she’s attained results at events around the Pacific Northwest. While the field in Rotorua wasn’t particularly deep, measuring herself against top-ranked riders from Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand was a bit of an eye-opening experience, she said.

To reach the podium at future events, like the next Crankworx in Cairns, Australia, in May, will take more preparation, Miller said, a more defined plan of what tricks she’s going to do at each jump once she drops into the course from the starting gate. She’ll also have to work on more advanced stunts, like 360 spins, she added.

From there, success will come from just riding within herself, Miller said.

And when all those elements come together, “it’s just the best feeling,” she said.