By Nicole Miller
As with any sport, having the right equipment and learning from a professional make all the difference.
My first mountain biking experience was riding with a now ex-boyfriend down a partially snow-covered Spring Creek trail with my legs splayed out in an attempt to stay upright.
I saw a similar scene this month during my second downhill lesson in the Steamboat Bike Park, where a husband was trying to help his wife navigate the trail. She had a bike more suited for a comfortable ride along the Yampa River Core Trail, and her feet were off her pedals in an all-too-familiar effort to keep from falling. She wasn’t wearing a full-face helmet, so I could see her facial expressions, and they were not those of joy.
Teaching your loved ones might sounds like a good idea, but it rarely ends in a day of fun for all involved. Having the right equipment and a lesson sets you up for success in any sport. A successful day is a fun day, and having fun is the whole point, isn’t it?
This summer, I’m learning to downhill mountain bike at the Steamboat Bike Park, and my second lesson was definitely fun. I did a two-hour private lesson with instructor Tim Price, who took me up the gondola for the first time to test my skills on the green Tenderfoot trail. I found it to be more challenging than the Wrangler Gulch and E-Z Rider green trails I had ridden in an earlier lesson primarily because there were a lot of switchbacks.
Switchbacks are my nemesis. I’m certain that at least 95 percent of my mountain biking crashes have happened on switchbacks, whether riding uphill or down. To be fair, the worst biking injury I’ve ever had was a bad bruise, so my fear is not exactly justified, but it still causes me to forget everything my instructor has told me about how to successfully navigate the tight turns. I clench the brakes, freeze up and look off the trail.
At one point, Tim stopped to ask me if I was breathing. It seemed like a strange thing to forget.
Controlling my speed was one of our main focuses for the day. Heading into the switchbacks, I would slow down so much that it would become difficult to navigate the trail. Just because you’re downhill mountain biking doesn’t mean you have to go fast — I ride my breaks like a grandma — but it’s important to find a speed that’s slow enough to feel comfortable but fast enough to help you maintain your balance on your bike.
We also spent a lot of time talking about keeping my eyes down the trail, which not only helps with balance and steering, it also ensures I’m aware of any obstacles ahead. It’s an easy concept, but through every turn, Tim would have to remind me to keep my head up and look ahead on the trail.
It’s hard for me not to look at the edge of the trail where I’m afraid of ridding off, so Tim made a comparison to tree skiing: You don’t look at the trees, he said; you look at the spaces between the trees where you want to turn.
If you want to stay on the trail, it’s as easy as looking where you want to go.
On the switchbacks where I had enough speed and remembered to keep my head up, I rolled through with no problems. On the ones where I was going too slow and looking down, my steering would get squirrelly, and Tim would immediately call for me to lift my head.
With the help of one-on-one instruction from Tim, I made it through the day unscathed, I remembered to breathe, and even though it was masked by my full-face helmet, I remembered to smile.
Check back next week to read about my experience participating in the Gravity Girls clinic, and follow my summerlong downhill biking adventure at www.steamboat.com/nicole.
Today's tip: You can be just as out of control by riding too slow as riding too fast. Find a speed that’s slow enough to be comfortable but fast enough to maintain your balance on your bike.
If you go: Private lessons in the Steamboat Bike Park cost $39 per person per hour plus the cost of a bike rental. For more information, go to http://bike.steamboat.com.
Nicole Miller is the social media specialist at Steamboat Ski Area.