follow us:
Shoulders of Giants is closed. Click here for more information
Wellness / June 5, 2016

Interview: Founders of Backcountry Lifeline

Written by: Devon Balet

Last week I wrote about the importance of taking a wilderness first aid course for anyone that spends any amount of time in the outdoors. After taking the course I realized just how important it is to learn some of the basics for first aid which can be the difference between a bad situation you make it out of ok or not. I wanted to follow up with a discussion with the two of the founders of Backcountry Lifeline to learn more about the company and what got it all started!

Founders Bonnie McDonald and Flynn George.

1. How did BCLL come about?

BCLL came about in the weeks and months following Will Olson’s death, which occurred on the Crested Butte stop of the BME/EWS series last year. Mountain bikers Flynn George, Matt Hightower, and Heidi Dohse, who were riding in the Crested Butte race and involved in the response to Olson’s crash, were deeply impacted by what happened. They began to think about what types of things could make a difference in mountain bike emergencies in the backcountry. At the same time, Bonnie McDonald and Gary Olson (Olson’s fiancee and dad) were having similar conversations. When Bonnie created a user profile on Pinkbike (“WillsGirl”) to thank riders for the outpouring of support being posted on the forum, the trio (George, Dohse, and Hightower) posted back, requesting they meet. Soon thereafter, Backcountry Lifeline was officially born.


2. Whom is involved in the organization and what are their roles?

Bonnie McDonald – “Chief Happiness Officer” (PR/Marketing, Sponsorship)

Flynn George – “Dirt Monkey” (Operations)

Heidi Dohse – “Inspirationalist” (Business Development)

Matt Hightower – “Life Saver” (Contributor/EMT-B)

In reality, everyone contributes to all aspects of the organization. Flynn and Bonnie run things on a day-to-day basis.


3. The name Backcountry Lifeline, can you explain the background?

The name points to our mission: We are out to help riders be better prepared for the emergency situations that we may encounter as mountain bikers, which more often than not, occur in the backcountry. What we are doing and where we are doing it calls for a different set of training, tools, and technology than what might be needed in backpacking or frontcountry settings. What we are bringing to riders is a lifeline in the backcountry.

4. What is the mission of BCLL?

To bring the training, tools, and technology necessary to help mountain bike riders and event directors be better able to respond to emergency situations effectively.

Bonnie and Flynn welcome the first students of Backcountry Lifeline, a four day Wilderness First Aid Camp.

The camp involved around 30 hours of classroom time and amazing food over four days.

5. What classes are you offering in 2016?

For our launch year, we planned to offer only a handful of courses/events, as we worked to “prove our concept” and better gauge interest/demand. The events for 2016:

1. A 4-day WFA camp at the Buffalo Creek trails in Pine, CO, geared specifically to mountain biking – May 5th-8th

2. Three trainings for mountain bike racers, scheduled in coordination with BCLL partners Big Mountain Enduro and Enduro World Series: at the Santa Fe event (May 20th); at the Aspen Snowmass event (July 27th); and at the Crested Butte event (August 31st).

3. We also hosted an ICS (Incident Command Systems) training for Big Mountain Enduro race directors and staff. This was held in Santa Fe, on May 20th.

Although these were all the events we had planned to start, we have already been approached by various groups about offering additional courses. We hosted a class for the mountain bike coaches of the Vail Valley Alternative Sports Academy in Eagle, CO in April, and we are currently working on creating a presentation for NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) in June, as well as offering two more “Wilderness First Aid for MTB’ers Camps” in the Fall – one in Aspen, and one in Bellingham, WA.

6. Please explain the benefits offered to BME racers.

The benefit to all participants of BCLL courses, and our major value proposition, is that we are teaching riders exactly what they need to know, as mountain bikers. What injuries and environmental situations they are likely to run into and how to address those situations – and how to do so with the resources they are likely to have with them, or would be willing and able to carry once we tell them what they need and why.

For BME racers, there are a couple other benefits as well. BCLL would like to see as many riders as possible get training, so would our partners, BME and EWS, as well as many industry players. To achieve this, and even “incentivize” riders to get trained, we set out (with the help of BME, EWS, and industry sponsors) to remove as many barriers to training as possible.

First, we are bringing the training TO racers, in that we are offering courses at the BME events that they will already be at. This means no additional travel , and no needing to find a course that will meet their needs. Secondly, we have worked to reduce the price of our courses, so that cost will not deter riders from registering for trainings. Thanks to BME, EWS, and our industry sponsors Yeti, Maxxis, Specialized, Smith and Shimano, our courses only cost $35 for registered BME racers (instead of the $100 price tag First Aid & CPR courses normally carry). Big Mountain Enduro also offered any registered racer who completed BCLL’s 4-day May WFA camp 30% off one BME race.


Big Mountain Enduro 2015 Keystone. Rider- Eric Landis

Big Mountain Enduro 2015 Keystone. Rider- Dee Tidwell

7. Where do you hope to see BCLL be in the next year? 5 years?

Our goal was to introduce BCLL to the mountain bike scene this year; to partner with BME and EWS, and gain visibility; and to train 75-100 riders during 2016 season. We are definitely on track to meet (and even exceed) these goals. Next year, we hope to broaden our scope in several areas:

1. BCLL exclusive curriculum

2. More trainings: We look forward to partnering with more race series and bike events in order to expand our reach. The goal for next year is to train 300-500 riders.

3. More camps: We plan to host 4-6 Wilderness First Aid for MTB’ers camps.

4. BCLL products: We are currently working on creating our own First Aid kits and other BCLL gear.

5. Technology: We look forward to expanding the technology solutions we are able to offer our partnering organizations. We have a technology department diligently working on this as we speak.

In the next 5 years, we’d like to see BCLL be a household name in the world of mountain biking, and other “backcountry” sports. We’d like to see BCLL patches on hydration packs (which can only be attained by completing a BCLL training) across the globe. We also hope to be able to offer mountain bikers solutions in the area of communication and tracking technology. And that’s just a start…


8. Why do you think this organization is so important and valuable in the cycling industry?

There hasn’t been much (if any) focus on safety and preparedness in mountain biking to date. There should be!

For one, it’s no secret that mountain biking poses some risk; it is an inherently dangerous sport, just by the nature of what it is. We are going fast, jumping, dropping rocks, all in the woods… Accidents are bound to happen. Anyone who rides long enough will eventually encounter some sort of situation in which First Aid or backcountry safety knowledge will be needed.

As the sport evolves, the stakes are only getting higher too. Bikes are getting lighter and more efficient, which means that riders can go faster and further out than ever before. Simultaneously, the sport’s top athletes continue to push the boundaries with faster times and bigger risks, and other riders striving to follow. As the stoke grows, so too does some measure of potentially serious consequences.

In terms of safety and preparedness, it seems that cycling is behind other “extreme” sports. For example, rarely would (or should) a person go rock climbing with a new partner, without assessing their ability to belay competently, or asking what protective gear they have with them for the climb. In backcountry skiing, skiers and riders carry beacons, shovels, and probes, and typically have some sense of basic snow knowledge (gained through avalanche safety classes). If they don’t have these things, they don’t get to go. Period.

We believe these same conversations, knowledge, and safety measures need to be had/taken around mountain biking too, especially in the backcountry. Riders should know each other’s level of ability on the bike, as well as their level of preparedness and training to respond to the situations they are likely to encounter.

We don’t have the luxury of having professional medical providers nearby in the backcountry. The first person on the scene of an accident is usually going to be another rider. As a community, we should know what to do to help each other until professional help can arrive. Everyone wants each other to be able to ride again tomorrow.


Basic CPR skills can be a major life saver and is a major component of BCLL courses.

Assessing a patient involves many steps, one of which is to keep them sable and from moving their neck.

 9. Give the biggest reason why every cyclist should take your courses?

We are a tight community – we need (and WANT) to be able to help each other. Every mountain biker should have the skills to help their friends.

10. Any last words, thoughts or thank yous?

We want to extend HUGE thank you’s to BME, EWS, Yeti, Maxxis, Shimano, Smith, and Specialized. It’s pretty impressive how willing these industry leaders have been to get behind this… These guys are literally footing the bill to get riders trained, and they’re leading by example. It’s pretty awesome.

Also, stay tuned for info about a GREAT raffle BCLL will be hosting online this Summer – folks won’t want to miss this (hint: there’s a fully built Yeti SB6c involved). Winners will be announced at the rider party being co-hosted by BME and EWS at the Aspen Snowmass event, on Saturday July 30th.


Be sure to keep an eye on our website as we prepare to roll out a whole new category of articles, Wilderness Medicine!

about the author

Devon Balet

Born and raised in Colorado and living in the outdoors with a bike between his legs and a camera in hand, Devon discovered mountain biking after he started working at a bike shop at age 14.

read more
hit the outdoors

Sign up for the inside scoop on new products, member discounts and inspiration from our giants.