Cashmere’s easy to love. It’s soft and warm and makes you want to curl up by a fire and settle in for a cozy evening. It’s not, however, the usual impetus for a badass mountain biking trip across the rugged mountains of Nepal—but Corinne Prevot isn’t your ordinary mountain biker.
The 26-year-old from Burlington, Vermont, founded Skida headwear in 2008, when she switched from alpine to nordic skiing and needed headwear that kept her warm and dry when she was working hard. She started making hats for friends and family—she’s part of a tight-knit community of skiers and bikers in Vermont—and Skida grew organically from there, into a beloved brand responsible for some of the best hats and neckwear out there. As the brand expanded, Prevot maintained the ethos it was founded upon: limited edition products, local production, and a fresh perspective.
Prevot first encountered Nepal’s local cashmere industry while living in the Kathmandu Valley and was captivated by the commitment to craft and the long history of the trade. She studied the history and supply chain closely and later returned to visit factories in Kathmandu, eventually developing a line of knitwear to complement Skida’s existing performance wear. During her time living in the Kathmandu Valley and many visits since—Prevot returns every year—she forged relationships with the team on the other side of the globe who oversee, weave, and knit what has become Skida’s small batch Cashmere Collection.
This spring, she brought her mountain bike halfway across the world to meet with the cashmere goat farmers in person, along with a team of four other mountain women. With just over two weeks in the country, they planned to bike a 68-mile unguided route through high-altitude subsistence farming villages, visiting the goat farms of the family run manufacturers that produce Skida’s cashmere. The first 30 miles of the route followed ancient herding and trade trails, after which it descended 9,500 to the valley below, following the sacred Kali Gandaki river. The majority of the riding in the Mustang region is loose, steep, rocky singletrack and brutal switchbacks, and Prevot and her team handled the riding and travel—including sketchy suspension bridge crossings, broken bike parts, and plenty of changes of plan—with grit and good humor. We caught up with Prevot to learn what it takes to make a bikepacking trip happen in a region with little bike infrastructure, far from home.
Tell me about your travel partners—what about your personalities complement each other on a big trip like this?
On this trip, I had a handful of epic travel partners.
Katy Kirkpatrick was the catalyst for turning this “routine” product development trip into much much more. Katy and I went to Burke together and have been adventure buddies since our early teen years, getting together to camp and hike all over New England. This was Katy’s first time in Nepal and my fourth trip – but my first time acting as a “guide.” Katy is patient, open-minded, and game for all facets of adventure – perfect traits for a travel buddy! She has also been a huge supporter of Skida since the early days and was excited to dig into the behind-the-scenes of our new Cashmere line.
Lani Bruntz jumped on board last minute as a fellow mountain biking enthusiast. Lani is a Colorado native. We were teammates on the Middlebury Nordic Ski Team in college and overlapped while living in Ketchum, Idaho. Lani is a travel and on-the-go expert, so we were stoked to have her join in at the last minute. She’d traveled to Nepal just a few months prior to trek with family friends. She was game to bring her mountain bike and charged the most technical singletrack with ease!
Already in Kathmandu was Julia Van Raalte. a fellow Vermonter, former ski racer (we overlapped as young skiers in Vermont’s tight-knit ski community), and Nepal enthusiast. Prior to Nepal, Julia was living in Crested Butte and had crossed paths with Katy and Lani through Vermont and southeast Colorado circles. She was working for a NGO, the dZi Foundation, based in Kathmandu, and so generously welcomed us into her apartment. Julia joined us on the bike adventure, squeezing the logistics into her busy work schedule. We’d done a similar bike trip in the Annapurna region the year before, so she knew what to expect and was excited to go again, but this time with friends!
In terms of personalities, our group worked seamlessly. We battled sickness, travel logistics, gear and equipment with ease…and all found beauty and magic in the people we met and places we visited.
How long did this trip take to plan, and what did that planning process look like? What elements of it were you were forced to leave to chance?
The unknowns were weather, lodging, and some travel logistics. These we figured out along the way, but in advance we planned our dates, routes, equipment, and flights. We’d spent the month before departing planning and referred to a prior trip in terms of expectations, but had to be flexible with a bigger group. We ran into some troubles with packing our bikes – we were constantly assembling and disassembling them to get on planes, buses, and taxis. Traveling with a bike is much different than on a bike.
Have you taken trips like this—small team, lots of question marks, big-time adventure—before? What are some of your favorite (or proudest) journeys you’ve taken by bike?
Julia and I rode a similar route in September 2016. It was fall and the end of monsoon season, so the trees were all changing from green to yellow – the views were stunning. And the road segment at the end of the ride was so so muddy. This most recent trip took place in March and it was so dry and dusty in anticipating for the rainy season. We were fortunate to have a seamless, trail-blazing journey.
I have traveled a fair amount in Nepal, but on my own, where you are nimble and can be flexible with your own schedule. Getting to Nepal was the furthest I’ve traveled with a bike, and I hope to take more adventures on two wheels in the future!
Tell us about the riding. What were the best days, the hardest days, what were the trails like?
Every day was so different! The riding around the Kathmandu valley is superbly different from the Mustang Valley. Kathmandu has “red mud” which is super slippery and the trails are walking paths – not built for bikes, so they can be very technical, steep, and tight at times.
On a local ride around the Kathmandu Valley, we traveled up into the foothills surrounding the valley, and rode through the low-lying industrial areas, seeing brick kilns, farm lands, and old hydropower plants – it was an incredible variety of sights, environments, and cultural outlets.
From the city of Kathmandu, we traveled by bus and plane out to the mountains for the multi-day segment in the Mustang Valley. We road a variety of trails – jeep roads, single track, long suspension bridges, herding paths, and rocky river beds. The first couple of days were long, slow, climbing days. The sun was hot and the trails dry. We climbed from 8,000 feet up to 12,500 feet. We spent an extra day up high in the village of Muktinath, enjoying the surrounding areas, acclimating, and resting. Then, we descended over the next couple of days from 12,500 feet all the way to 3,000 feet. We traveled through many different ecosystems, environments, and trail conditions, following along the Kali Gandaki River, one that now resonates with me spiritually. It flows from the Himalayas all the way down to the Ganges River, eventually pouring out into the Bay of Bengal.
How long have you been bikepacking? What about it captivated you?
I love the accessibility of getting around on two wheels. I’ve done a couple forms of bikepacking, but am still fairly new to the mode. It has quickly become my favorite as you can cover so much more ground than on foot, see so much more than by vehicle, and to me, it is the best way to engage with the place in which you’re touring. You can truly move at your own pace.
What challenges did you face while moving through a region like the Mustang, with minimal bike infrastructure?
With our collective Nepali language skills – Julia and I both had language training while studying abroad years ago – we were able to navigate quite well. We did face challenges with the first flight to the mountains, as we were asked to pack our bikes on the plane without the boxes. My front wheel axle almost got left behind in the cargo area! Otherwise, navigating river crossings and high suspension bridges were challenging and sometimes scary due to wind and high water.
How did you connect initially with the farmers and families you stayed with throughout your journey? Can you tell us more about that relationship Skida has with these farmers?
Cashmere is made from the soft underbelly fibers of Chyangra goats. They live high in the Himalayas, where they face harsh elements and cold conditions. In the spring, the goats are brought down to the villages to be brushed. While we were visiting, we saw babies birthed and fiber procured. This is done seasonally, so it was part of the plan to be in the village at this time.
The goats belong to the extended family of the factory owners with whom we work in Kathmandu. I have become close with them since I met them as a student six years ago. Their family is from the Mustang Valley originally and is still connected to maintaining their herds.
Has this trip changed how Skida approaches sourcing materials or any other aspect of your production? In what way?
At Skida, we strongly value a close relationship with our production. Similar to how we’ve approached our Vermont-based production, the introduction to cashmere came out of curiosity, passion, and local connections. I feel so lucky to have fostered such a close relationship with our suppliers in Nepal. They have welcomed my team and me in Nepal numerous times, and were willing to connect us with their family in the mountains. It is truly an unusual relationship and one I hope to continue to grow.
Photos courtesy of Skida