Juliana Bicycles - Minna Riihimaki

Minna Riihimaki


Can you give us a brief intro about yourself?

I am originally from Finland but the call of the mountains was strong enough to make me apply in a medical university in the French Alps when I was 20 years old.  I packed my stuff in my car and drove to Grenoble. I knew I left to stay. The studies took longer than planned as I entered the ski and mountain biking scene and also became a mother of my 2 children, but finally graduated from The Geneva University in 2005.  In the meanwhile, I had moved to Chamonix, from where it was convenient to share my time between the true passion of being on the mountains, the dental surgeon work in Geneva and running the household routine.

In May 2016, I had a terrible ski accident, caused by a reckless skier who put me in danger, and I am still in the process of recovering from that.  This unfortunate event has been a life changer for me.

Where do you call home?

Definitely Chamonix is my home.  This is where I have established my everyday life and where I can fulfil my passions.  

What’s your day job? What’s your favorite part of your day job? What’s your least favorite part of your day job?

This is a tricky question as I have many faces in the professional world.  But the job that I studied for and that allows me to pay my bills is working as a dental surgeon.  But I have always worked part time so that I have enough time for the rest. I love being a dentist but what really challenges me is doing surgery, which has become my speciality.  My character has orientated me to care for people and their health, and dental work is truly rewarding. People usually hate dentists, because they are afraid, but all my patients are happy to come see me! That is the best thank you I can get.  

Who’s your favorite riding buddy and why?

My son Elmo without a doubt!  Many of my skiing buddies ride bikes too and I share big and fun days with them, but the most memorable days are the ones shared with Elmo.  He is 13 years old now and can ride like an adult. It is so much fun to see him enjoy himself and so amazing how fast kids learn. We have skied and biked a lot together and he totally trusts me.  He’s riding my Santa Cruz Nomad, the one I had just before the Juliana Strega came out.

When did you start mountain biking? Why did you start? What made you a lifer (was it a moment, a ride, a trip, etc.?)?

Growing up as a kid in Finland made me love the nature.  My parents are endurance addicts and when they went trail running, I could keep up with their pace on a bike. I was racing in XC skiing as a teenager and during the summer the endurance training involved trail running and XC biking, anything that gave me an excuse to be in the nature.  I have never been on a road bike!

When I moved to France, I brought my xc bike with me and started exploring trails around Grenoble.  I also used my bike as an everyday transportation to go to the university in the crowded city. My practice got more and more downhill orientated as the technology advanced and in 2003, I got my first DH bike and started racing in regional cups in the Alps.  It was fun even if was on a way too big ”tank” at that time. I knew, that for me, the downhill was the driving element in biking, but as an endurance athlete, I always enjoy the uphill when I know that the true fun is delivered when biking down.

What’s the thing you love second to cycling and why?

Mountain skiing.  Expedition type ski trips and discovering new summits and steep descents.  I am a pro skier and known for some steep lines. But the most of all, I love discovering what’s on the other side of the mountain, traversing remote mountain ranges, far from crowds, just like with my bike.  

Do you feel that you have a good balance in your life? If yes, how do you achieve that? If no, what's off balance and why? 

My life today is very different from the one before the accident.  But having a good balance in everything that I do has always been one of my priorities.  

As a dental surgeon, I worked only 2 or 3 days a week which allowed me to spend time in the mountains and with the family.  I could also organise my agenda in a way, that when needed, I could leave longer periods for ski expeditions or bike trips. I cannot conceive my life without an intellectual and manual job, I don’t want to ride every day, having a job makes the ride more appreciable.  

Today and since almost 3 years, my fulltime job is the rehab.  I have had 13 surgeries with multiple complications, leading to close-to-amputation situations 3 times.  I keep on fighting back and surprising my surgeons at each check-up with unexpected results. Despite a prognosis of not been able to walk again correctly, I have spent the 2 last summers shredding on my Strega and even managed a few turns on ski slope before the previous surgery.  Biking has played a major role in my rehab. Getting back on the trails and even on DH tracks have been my drivers and ultimate objectives in all the gym and physio training. In my opinion, my recovery would not have been the same if I didn’t have this level of confidence in biking before the accident.  That confidence and knowing my physical capacities are the factors that have allowed me to take to bike out and go riding. Nowadays I definitely feel more normal on a bike than when walking!

To fill in the blanks, I also balance my time by organising events.  I am the co-founder of La Sentinelle ski event and involved as the business developer for The Unlimited Festival.  In order to fix a timeframe while on sick leave and rehab, I also decided to improve my knowledge and understanding of the business world, and recently graduated from Sorbonne Business School with a MBA at executive level.  Through the studies, I have also been involved in business development with Black Crows, my ski sponsor.

The secret for achieving balance in life?  You need to know what you want and then figure out how you will get there.  My recipe is: Motivation, determination, a lot of work, being organised and surrounded of right people and a bit of luck!

What’s your favorite ride snack?

My home prepared gluten free sandwich with cheese, ham and salad.

If you left for a big mountain bike trip tomorrow, what're the top 3 things you couldn’t live without?

Excluding all the regular gear, 3 things that make all the difference are: a friend (not a thing but…), a dictionary if it’s in a foreign country where I don’t know the language, a toothbrush and floss.

What’s your favorite local trail and why?

That’s a difficult one because I am lucky to live in a place where the choice and range of trails is huge.  But I must say that the south face of Posettes in Le Tour (north end of Chamonix valley) is probably the best.  The trail has couple of variants from technical, gnarly terrain to steep and tight switchbacks, disrupted by fast and flow sections.  The trail is never accessible straight out of a lift. In season when the lifts are running, you need to pedal 20 min to reach the top.  Without the lifts, it’s a 22 km long uphill ride with 1400 meters of vertical from Chamonix. But always worth it!

What’s one other thing in your life that is as good as this trail?

Having the chance to travel around the world and explore new mountains and to meet people with different cultures.  Nourishing an adventurous mind-set and envy for learning new competencies are central in my actions. And of course, everything that I can share with my kids is precious.  The accident and the periods of non-activity have awakened my consciousness to the fact that we cannot go back in time. Children grow and change, and those times are once in a life-time chances that cannot be taken back.   



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