Nick Bennette joined VMBA as the Executive Director in March 2021. As ED, Nick will work closely with staff, board members, and Chapters to create a vision for VMBA’s future and strengthen the pursuit of our mission. Find out a little bit more about Nick below.
- Where are you from?
- The midwest! I was born and raised in St.Louis.
- Why did you move (back) to Vermont?
- My wife’s family has lived just outside Rutland for the past 20 years, and we spent loads of time up here before we moved out west in 2011. We originally hoped to settle in Vermont after school, though the right concoction of professional opportunities for my wife and me were calling in in the Pacific Northwest. As Seattle became more crowded, we longed for the more well-paced, outdoors-driven Vermont lifestyle, especially with an 8-year old.
- Why do you love riding?
- I love being in the woods, first and foremost. I love downhill skiing, touring, and just about every kind of adventure you can have on a bike. Mountain biking still takes the cake, however – the feeling of being in control over technical features, in the air, and mastering challenges at the edge of my ability is what motivates me the most.
- How did you get into riding?
- I started riding BMX and eventually found my way into the basement of a local bike shop as a mechanic. That environment exposed me to every type of riding, and the older guys got me out on the trail and hooked on singletrack,
- As a straight, white, male that in many ways enforces the prevailing mountain biker stereotype, how will you approach Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
- Without question, our mountain bike community has work to do to make outdoor recreation a more inviting and inclusive place for everyone, particularly those who’ve been historically excluded. One of the things that drove my interest in VMBA was its commitment as an organization to diversity and efforts to embed it as part of their vision. I also understand that my perspective as the stereotypical straight white male rider means I need to listen and learn from individuals from excluded communities about their experiences, ideas, and ways they can be involved in helping drive VMBAs diversity initiatives. I’ve just begun that process and would welcome anyone who has thoughts to reach out to me personally. I’ve already learned tons about our need to create deeper pathways for groups whose ridership has increased dramatically to become the next trail builders and advocacy champions. Our ability to create a more inclusive community will be a fundamental metric by which we judge our success moving forward.
- What are you most excited about as being the next ED of VMBA?
- The thing that excites me the most is the opportunity to merge my professional skills and passion for trails. I also think it’s an incredible time to be part of the mountain bike advocacy community – if we can continue the momentum our community has built over the last few years, we will level up in our role in Vermont’s outdoor, environmental, and economic landscape.
- What do you feel you bring to VMBA?
- A few things (I hope!) – the decade I spent as a consultant and advisor to foundations and nonprofits has helped me build up a toolbox of professional skills, including stakeholder management, strategic planning, and advocacy & communications. I also have learned over my career to leverage the expertise and talent of those around me. After a month on the job, it’s apparent that the VMBA family and our partner organizations are full of tremendously skilled and committed individuals.
- Favorite all-time trail?
- That’s too tough. I suppose if I could only ride one more trail in my life, it would probably be the Whole Enchilada on a bluebird day. But that’s a shuttle and only open a few months a year… Other top favorites include Captain Ahab, pretty much everything at Teton Pass, Darrington, and the Raging River network and Exit 27 just outside Seattle. There are so many good trails all over the place. I’m thrilled to explore as much of Vermont this summer and find some new favorites.
- How will you fill Tom Stuessy’s shoes?
- Tom is a legend. He’s also been incredibly generous with his time helping me during this transition. I don’t think I could ever actually fill his shoes, and will just have to eventually cobble together my own pair. The best thing I can do is learn from all the Chapters and other stakeholders in the MTB community and hope to have as much of an impact on growing our community as Tom has.
Questions from Members:
Recently, we asked our members what they’d like to know. Take a moment to read members’ questions and our answers.
- Does VMBA have plans to elevate the level of public accessible technical and jump trails to the level of the likes of Quebec, Squamish and Bellingham? These areas have a spectrum of trail/difficulty that goes far beyond what is available locally and curious if that trend will spread elsewhere.
- Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I’ve spent many days at both Squamish and around Bellingham (and would include many Seattle-area trails in the same difficulty range). I personally feel expert level trails like those are an essential part of mountain biking, and part of the progression we deem so essential. There are no world-class ski resorts I know of that don’t have a host of double-black options alongside green, blue, and blaxk trails, and the best have created an array of options so that families, beginners, and pros can all ride what they want to ride. Sure, Bellingham has plenty of gnar, but I’ve also spent hours exploring Galbraith with a 7 year old. Personally, I want Vermont to have a similar range and progression.
- There are not a ton of jump trails in Vermont and the existing jumps seem to be geared towards entry level riders. This seems to be a missing link in our region where most other regions achieve this balance so well. What are your feelings towards jumps and freestyle terrain and do you plan to encourage this type of terrain to be built during your term?
- I LOVE jump trails. A lot of the build work in the Pacific Northwest has been in developing progression and creating trails that ultimately help riders build towards whatever skill level they aim to achieve. I strongly want to see our networks build out options that include expert-level trails along with lower-difficulty trails that allow riders to build confidence. I also think there are important gateways – huge tables are way less of a mental barrier than even modest doubles.
- In your opinion, what is one thing that Evergreen MTB Alliance does really well that you’d like to implement or improve upon at VMBA?
- I think VMBA and Evergreen have many things in common, and I can’t speak with authority yet as to where VMBA really has room to grow. That said, one thing Evergreen does incredibly well is host and support an extensive set of learning opportunities, everything from afterschool kids camps to adult intro classes to expert jump clinics. The environment is one where courses have become almost a norm – many people take at least one course a year, and it’s upped both the quality of riding and connection of riders with Evergreen. The other thing I’m keen to help cultivate that I felt strongly at Evergreen is the idea that becoming a member is an important step – but not the only step – in supporting our community. WIthout thousands of volunteer hours, we wouldn’t have 95% of the trails out there today. Anyone riding trail should be participating in their Chapter’s trail building days. Building and riding are quite literally two sides of the same coin, and building will make you a better rider – it definitely did for me.
- How do you plan to create proactive, meaningful engagement with Vermont’s Abenaki community and advocate for them within VMBA’s Act 250 and land use advocacy efforts in Montpelier?
- I think this really touches on two distinct topics – engagement with historically excluded groups and advocating for landowners’ rights. On the first – I wouldn’t claim to have answers yet, but would take a similar tact to approaching diversity and inclusion generally – listening and collaboration. I’m eager to engage and hear from the Abernaki and other indigenous groups about how we as a mountain bike community can work with them to jointly create sustainable recreation opportunities and economic growth. There are inspiring stories elsewhere, like that of the Simpcw Nation in British Columbia, that help illustrate what’s possible, including how trails can strengthen rights and title to lands. The second part of the question – asserting landowners’ rights – is a mission VMBA has been on for many years and one that I plan to continue full-steam. One area I hope to double-down on the Act 250 front is collaboration with partners – including indigenous communities as well as environmental organizations and business groups to collectively push for solutions we can all support. Together we can absolutely move the needle on meaningful land use reform.
- Have you considered working with the other trail organizations to pressure Montpelier to have property tax breaks for people who let the public use private land for trail use, which would be similar to current use for farming and logging but for trail use?
- In short, Yes. At the moment, we are squarely focused on protecting private landowners from onerous regulation through ACT250 modernization. But I believe we have to do better than that and actually incentivize landowners who offer their land to public use as a public good. A critical part of VMBA’s work over the coming years will be to establish a new narrative that accurately depicts our community’s role in driving sustainable recreation and economic development and provides the motive force to push for legislation that properly acknowledges landowners’ contributions.
Have a question for Nick or thoughts on his answers? Drop a comment below!