By Nicole Miller
Last week, I realized that my summer of learning to downhill in the Steamboat Bike Park was nearing its end, and I hadn’t even gotten off the green trails. (Using the words “summer” and “end” in the same sentence causes me more anxiety than any downhill adventure.) I was lamenting my lack of progress to a friend, who told me to get on a blue right away.
She said the blue Rustler Ridge trail isn’t that difficult and is way more fun than the green Tenderfoot trail I had been riding.
It was all the convincing I needed.
I scheduled a lesson with instructor Tim Price, who also had taken me down Tenderfoot a few weeks earlier. At the Rustler Ridge trailhead, he talked to me about what to expect on the trail — banked turns, steeper descents and rocky sections — and explained that a blue isn’t that much harder than a green, but it is designed to be ridden faster.
We hit the trail the day after a thunderstorm had closed the Bike Park, and apparently that’s a good thing. When it comes to biking, the day after a rainstorm is the equivalent of a powder day. The trails are tacky, which gives tires better traction and allows for more aggressive riding. I’m not an aggressive rider, so the great conditions were lost on me that day, but the trail was a lot of fun.
The banked turns were easier to ride than those on the green trails because I didn’t have to brake as much. The steeper terrain helped me feel more comfortable with the extra speed, and my momentum easily pulled me up and down the gravity-inspired trail.
Tim said the rocky parts sometimes frighten new riders, but my bike took care of those sections all on its own. I learned a long time ago that mountain bikes are designed to handle just about anything a rider might encounter on the trail, so I trust my bike.
Throughout this experience, I’ve really liked having an instructor with me the first time I ride a new trail. On Rustler Ridge, Tim could set the pace, warn me about upcoming obstacles and tell me when to pull over for other riders. Basically, I felt like I could focus on having fun, and Tim could focus on the rest.
After exploring a trail for the first time, I like to ride it on my own. Sometimes it’s easier when you stop thinking about what you’re supposed to do and just go for a ride.
There’s hardly anything on Rustler Ridge that’s too challenging for someone at my ability level, so I tested myself by trying to ride a bit faster, which makes the trail feel like a mini roller coaster with curves and rollers and small jumps.
Now that I feel comfortable on the blues, I have my sights set on my next challenge: the Captain of the Boat downhill race series. The course changes for each race, but it almost always includes portions of some of the black trails on the mountain, none of which I’ve ridden. I plan to ride the course once it has been announced early next week, and if my instructor feels comfortable, I’ll be competing — and by that I mean taking part — in my first downhill race Wednesday.
I also hope to take a sneak peek at sections of the Enduro-X course for the Aug. 16 and 17 race. That competition is way beyond my skill level, but it’ll be fun to ride parts of the course without the risk of getting run over by serious competitors.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a number attached to my bike and for good reason. I placed last by more than 20 minutes in the women’s novice category of a local mountain bike race series a few years back. I rode so slow that the men, who’d ridden a longer course, overtook me on the trail. I have panicked memories of stopping, unclipping and moving my bike off the singletrack every couple of minutes until I finally just stopped and waited for all the riders to pass.
After that, I swore off racing bikes, but I’m coming out of retirement next week and hoping for a better experience.
Check back next week to read about the Captain of the Boat race, and follow my summerlong downhill biking adventure at www.steamboat.com/nicole.
If you go: A two-hour Progression Session lesson in the Steamboat Bike Park costs $49 without a bike rental and $89 with a bike rental. For more information, go to http://bike.steamboat.com
Today’s tip: From rocks to logs to bridges, your bike is designed to handle any obstacle on the trail.
Nicole Miller is the social media specialist at Steamboat Ski Area.