Downhill Jitters

Friday, July 20, 2012

Today is the official grand opening of our introductory downhill bike trail named Gateway.  In the past few years Mount Snow has been focused on providing more hike and bike trails that are user friendly for all levels and this trail is specifically designed for the mountain biker who is ready to try downhilling.  If you are an experienced downhiller, you'll like it a lot too - just watch out for those of us who are still beginner bikers.

We offered some special rates to encourage folks to come out and try the new trail and at 10 am our bike crew held a ribbon cutting ceremony (forget the ribbon, they cut through a birch tree with a chainsaw!) and dozens of bikers headed down trail #7, Gateway.



Meet Mike (below) - he's no stranger to the mountain bike scene and in honor of our Gateway opening he pulled out a t-shirt from one of Mount Snow's first bike events.  Leave it to Mike to go retro on us!

I was late and missed the tree cutting but made it out for a run despite a slight case of the jitters.  I really haven't been on a bike since my daughter was born in 1992.  In 87 my husband bought us matching mint green Cannondale mountain bikes.  They were a lot of fun but we never did any serious downhills on them.  In general there isn't much in life I do where I go fast and take chances.  I know, I know - what am I doing in the ski industry?!  So today I knew I would have to step outside my comfort zone.  I figure if I can do it, just about anyone can. 

I went to the bike shop, where they suited me up with a helmet, shin and elbow pads.  They explained how the bike worked and gave me lots of pointers, like:

You aren't going to sit on the seat much. You are going to be in the standing position (standing on your pedals) and sit back so you are sitting in an imaginary seat behind the real seat.  Why?  Because if you sit in the real seat or stand straight up you are more apt to go over the handle bars, called an endo.

Use the front and back brakes simultaneously and tap them lightly - they are responsive so no need to jam them on.  If you brake abruptly you will also endo.

I head out with my guide, Elia (see below).  Elia is one of the guys who built the trail and it is his vision that has helped us move from steep and rocky to a trail that is built for beginners - experts but is interesting and fun for all. 

I quickly learned that Elia is also a great teacher and I will share his tips with you, too:

He reiterated that the brakes are super responsive.  He told me to only brake with two fingers in an effort to keep me from applying too much brake.

He told me that the bike could handle any terrain and they could go over just about anything.  Basically, he was telling me to trust the bike and let it go a little.  Honestly, I didn't trust the bike in the beginning - I was fighting it.

He told me to just ride over bridges - don't brake or anything, speed is your friend.

A good bit of advice was to look ahead and see where I wanted to go.

There are a lot of berms (bank turns) on this trail and he encouraged me to pick my line.  He said that I did not need to go up on the bank...I could stay right on the flat section...which I did. 

And off we went.  I was pretty tentative at the top but after the first section and bridge I started to relax a little.  The trail is amazing and so was the bike.  The trail is primarily downhill.  You shouldn't have to pedal at all.  I did a couple times because I was going turtle-slow. 

The 1st half of the trail is a sand/gravel base and you cross several familar trails like Snowdance and Canyon. 

When you get to the top of the Tumbleweed lift you dip into the woods and the trail  winds back and forth with birms and a few rollers.  You get into a nice rhythm down there with just enough downhill and plenty of bank turns to get fancy with.  I really liked the section in the woods and couldn't help thinking of snowshoeing and cross country skiing it in the winter.  I was happy to see the base area because my hands and forearms were a little tired.

I realize I was probably the slowest person on the Gateway trail today but I am glad I did it.  I would highly recommend it to adults and kids.  I think you should have some mountain biking experience but you don't need a lot.  I think a person who is used to exercising or playing another sport would most enjoy this trail.  It does take some strength and stamina.  I would highly recommend that you go out with a guide - well worth the investment.  If I did not receive the input at the bike shop and the on-hill instruction from Elia I know my review would be quite different. 

Would I do it again?  You bet I would!

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