Editor’s Note: This summer, lift-served mountain bike lift tickets and packages from resorts across North America will be available on Liftopia.com for the first time. Check out our FAQs to learn more about lift-served mountain biking, how it works and where you can do it.
First, a disclaimer: I am neither a pro athlete nor a particularly competent cyclist.
So when I tried lift-served downhill biking at Winter Park’s Trestle Bike Park in 2011, I was skeptical…and nervous. I went with my family. They kicked my butt, quickly progressing to rock gardens and step-ups.
But while I didn’t attempt many of the obstacles, I could keep up with them and I enjoyed it.
So now, five summers on, if given a choice between grinding it out on a cross-country bike or enjoying the flow of a downhill trail, I’m picking the downhill trail.
And I’m here to tell you: if I can downhill bike, you can downhill bike. Here are 10 reasons why you should give it a try.
1. There’s a trail for everyone.
Just as in skiing, trails are rated from easy green beginner runs to crazy, insane double black extreme runs.
While all levels of downhill trail will have some obstacles and features, most trails have alternate routes around the larger barriers. You won’t have to jump if you don’t want to jump.
2. It’s a full-body workout.
Unlike any other type of biking, you stand up while riding downhill. This means everything from your legs to your arms to your core is engaged. And that includes your brain, too.
DH biking can definitely be tiring, so be sure to bring some snacks for the chairlift and either wear a Camelbak with water, or stop occasionally to replenish.
3. The scenery and views are out of this world.
This one almost goes without saying. Ski resorts are found in some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. While these mountains are gorgeous in winter when covered in snow, summer is even more special, with verdant forests of pine and aspen, alternating with green meadows lush with wildflowers.
Of course, if you’re going fast, you may not see very much of the landscape. But you can take it all in from the chairlift on your next lap. Or pull off the trail to catch your breath and soak in the scenery.
Make sure to bring a camera to take action photos of your friends.
4. The machine-built trails are professionally designed and constructed.
Downhill trails are often, wider, smoother and, to my mind, less intimidating than many cross-country trails which can be eroded with lots of roots and rocks sticking up or are adjacent to areas of extreme exposure.
At many parks, the downhill trails are machine-graded with banked turns for optimal speed. In between features, they are butter smooth and forgiving.
5. It’s much more fun when you have the proper equipment.
While you can use a cross-country mountain bike on downhill trails, the trails are engineered for purpose-built downhill bikes.
Downhill bikes are heavier, with different geometry than cross-country mountain bikes. The travel in the suspension is much deeper (usually about 8-9”) and the seats are much lower. They are built to coast, corner and brake, all under the power of gravity.
Rent a bike at the resort. Just as you wouldn’t learn to alpine ski on skinny cross-country skis, you don’t want to try downhill biking on the wrong type of bike. It’s much more fun when you have the proper equipment.
Also, if you can, save time by reserving a bike online, so that it will be ready for you when you show up.
6. Armoring up will not only protect you, but also make you look and feel like a badass!
While it can be a bit intimidating to don full body armor, do it. There’s a reason downhill bikers wear full-face helmets, sturdy boots, shoulder and chest padding, and arm and leg protection.
It’s not the sport is super dangerous, but as you improve, you go faster and if you fall, it’s going to hurt.
So start out right by wearing the protective gear, which you can rent when you rent the bike. If nothing else, it will make you look (and feel) like a badass.
7. Most bike parks offer package deals with lessons for beginners.
Because downhill technique is different from any other biking technique, take a lesson your first time out. Most bike parks are set up with package deals for beginners. While the offerings vary from resort-to-resort, these often include bike rental, protective gear, a lift ticket and a group lesson.
Expect to learn how to stand on the bike, how to steer and shift it with your weight and how to coast and brake. Often the first lesson will take place at the base of the resort or in a special beginner area where you can practice rolling over berms, bridges and other barriers.
When you’re ready, your instructor will take you up the lift. Ask a lifty for help if you don’t quite understand how to load your bike. And then relax. At many parks, bikes go up on the chair in front of riders and will be waiting for you at the top.
8. It’s a great way to challenge yourself.
You may be surprised at how quickly you’ll gain confidence. As I said, I’m not a strong mountain biker, yet on just my second day of DH biking, I was riding Valhalla, the marquee trail at the Snowmass Bike Park. And while I may have skipped the Wall Ride (a nearly vertical wall of wooden slats around a turn), I happily took on three consecutive table-top jumps known as the Three Amigos.
Downhill mountain biking is all about flow and consistent momentum. With gravity fueling your descent, your role is to scope and anticipate the trail and smoothly shift your weight through the turns and over obstacles.
So, embrace the flow. While it can be tempting to clamp down on the brakes as you approach corners or features, this will actually make the ride more difficult. Let gravity guide you down the mountain and always think of flowing through the turns and effortlessly rolling over obstacles.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the brakes or that you have to fly down the mountain at top speed. I don’t. Instead, I find a personal sweet spot where I feel comfortable and at ease.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed after your lesson, choose just one focus. Maybe you want to concentrate on balance and stance, or on shifting your weight as you turn. I find that emphasizing just one aspect of technique makes everything else fall into place.
My go-to focus when I need to concentrate? Head up. Eyes forward. I look where I’m going and anticipate what I need to do. – I think it’s good advice for any type of biking (and life itself!).
9. It’s a great way to spend time with family & friends.
Gather a group of friends or family for your first adventure. It’s more fun if you know the people you’re with and when the lesson is over, you’ll have folks with whom to ride. Plus, you can learn from one another and help each other improve.
10. It’s fun.
Downhill biking adds another dimension to the experience of riding on two wheels.
If you enjoy biking and you’re looking for a new challenge, my family and I totally recommend it. Embrace gravity and the feeling of flowing down on a mountain. Make the experience as easy or as difficult as you desire. Enjoy the cool mountain air and warm sunshine.
Most of all, relax and have fun.
This summer, Liftopia.com is selling advance purchase tickets to many North American bike parks. Book your lift tickets, lessons and rentals online, and you can save some serious cash!