By Nicole Miller
After surviving my first two downhill lessons in the Steamboat Bike Park, I thought it was time to meet some like-minded ladies and ride in a more social environment. The Bike Park hosts weekly evening clinics for men and women, Gravity Girls on Thursdays and Bros, Bikes & Berms on Fridays. And best of all, the clinics end with a free drink.
I’d wanted to try Gravity Girls for a while, but I also wanted to make sure I had some basic downhill skills under my belt before I got left in the dust. I’d taken a women’s beginner mountain biking class through Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus a few years back, and although I learned a ton, most of the ladies in the group were far from beginners, and I felt a bit out of my element.
I was worried the same thing might happen again.
My Gravity Girls experience turned out to be much different than I expected. The bad news: I was the only person who signed up. The good news: I got a private lesson for $20.
My instructor, D.J. Nudy, leads the women’s clinics and says attendance varies, but he tries to have no more than four people per instructor, and the group typically splits into two based on skill level. That way, the women in the clinic can ride at their ability levels and get tips while riding trails on which they feel comfortable.
I was bummed I wouldn’t be riding with ladies — so far I’d only ridden with male Bike Park instructors — but I knew the one-on-one time would be even better to help me progress. We decided to ride the green Tenderfoot trail and work on some of those troubling turns.
I was riding a Specialized Status I for the first time, and I wasn’t a fan. As a beginner, the differences between this bike and the Status II I’d ridden in my first two lessons had a big impact for me, and I struggled to feel comfortable. But having ridden Tenderfoot before, I knew what was coming, and I followed my instructor at a good pace down the trail and through the turns that had caused me so much anxiety just a couple of weeks earlier.
We talked about picking a line on the trail, and D.J. recommended heading into the turns high on the outside. Even though it initially made me feel nervous to ride so close to the edge, it gave me more space to navigate the turn. I was careful not to ride too close to the outside edge; loose dirt can pull a bike in like quick sand.
Getting miles on a bike is the best way to improve, D.J. said, and for the first time all summer, I felt like I was doing just that: improving.
After my third lesson, I decided it was time to head out on the trails on my own. On Tuesday, I got back on the Status II and headed up the mountain to ride Tenderfoot for a third and final time.
I took it easy on the first few turns, readjusting to the feel of the bike. I remembered all my lessons: flat pedals, neutral stance, one finger on the brakes, eyes ahead. I picked up speed and played on the rollers like a pump track. I caught a little air on accident. “I love this bike,” I thought. I heard myself laugh. I was actually having fun.
And then a funny thing happened: Bikers stopped to let me pass.
The really fun part of downhilling is riding the trail the way it was built to be ridden, and that’s all about momentum. Industry leader Gravity Logic designed and helped build the Bike Park trails with flow in mind, meaning the trails are meant harness your energy and minimize pedaling.
I think it’s finally time for me to ease off the brakes and hit the blues.
Check back next week to read about my experience riding the blue Rustlers Ridge trail, and follow my summerlong downhill biking adventure at www.steamboat.com/nicole.
If you go: Gravity Girls meets at 5 p.m. Thursdays and Bros, Bikes & Berms meets at 5 p.m. Fridays in the Steamboat Bike Park. The cost is $20 without a bike rental and $59 with a bike rental. For more information, go to http://bike.steamboat.com
Today’s tip: Coming into a turn high helped me feel like I had more room to navigate the switchbacks. Find the line that makes you feel comfortable on the trail.
Nicole Miller is the social media specialist at Steamboat Ski Area.