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.
Not only is mountain biking a great way to keep your legs in shape during the skiing and boarding off-season, it’s just plain fun. Many ski resorts offer mountain biking in the off-season because the elevation loss you’ll find traveling from the top of a snow-less ski resort to the bottom makes them ideal locations for two-wheeled fun. Resorts like Whistler, Killington, and Winter Park are popular when the snow’s falling, but they also offer mountain bike parks for folks interested in visiting during the summer.
So, what’s the difference between a mountain bike park and the singletrack trails you’ll find in the woods in your community?
The trail networks at ski resorts makes use of downward sloping terrain and, in most cases, riders can take advantage of chairlifts back to the top of the hill. Mountain bike parks are often designed to take advantage of gravity, and the trails are specifically designed to maximize fun, including man-made jumps, bridges, and more. When you’re riding in the woods, you’re less likely to find purpose-built jumps and features than you would be at a bike park, for example.
Heading out to your favorite ski resort’s bike park this summer, or to any bike park? Take note of what NOT to do out on the trails.
1. Don’t worry about taking a lesson.
It’s just biking, right? Everyone can ride a bike. To some extent, everyone can, but if you’re a novice rider heading to the bike park for the first time, consider some instruction. If you’re an experienced rider, you can likely skip mountain bike park lessons, but if you’re new to downhill mountain biking, you’ll benefit greatly from knowing what you’re getting into.
Just like skiing, there are efficiencies and nuances that make speeding down the hill more fun, and safer. Instructors can help you learn the nuances of the sport and give you helpful tips like how to brake properly, how to keep your weight in the right place, how to choose a line, hazards to watch out for, and more.
2. Forget about renting a bike at the park. Your old hardtail will do just fine.
Just like you wouldn’t take cross country skis down a mogul run, you don’t want to take just any bike to the bike park. Downhill biking is significantly different from road cycling, gravel trail riding, and even winding singletrack mountain biking. Some bike park trails, like those at the Mountain Creek Bike Park, are meant to be ridden on full suspension bikes with disc brakes.
Even if your old hard tail works great for the trails you ride near home, consider renting a bike at the park. Park staff members will be able to fit your bike and tune the suspension based on your weight and skill level. They’ll also be able to outfit you with any safety equipment you might need, including pads and full-face helmets to keep your body protected.
3. Don’t do any trail research before you go.
Most mountain bike parks will have novice, intermediate, and advanced/expert trails. Just like a beginner skier looking for a green run wouldn’t want to end up in double black diamond glades by mistake, it’s helpful to know as much as you can before you head out so you don’t find yourself in over your head.
Take a look at trail maps and keep one with you while you’re out there. And don’t hesitate to ask questions—bike park staff members can help you choose the trail that’s best for you based on your ability, and what you’re hoping to get out of your experience. Make sure your expectations, including how long you’ll be able to ride for, are in line with your experience level.
4. Ride off-trail as much as you can.
When it comes to backcountry travel, the principles of Leave No Trace suggest traveling on durable surfaces. Translation? Don’t go off trail unless you have to. Taking your two wheels, even your two feet, off trail when you’re at the bike park can cause damage to vegetation and promote erosion.
And keep in mind that just like bumps and hills you find on the slopes in the winter, trail features might change between visits to the bike park. Weather, trail maintenance, the popularity of a trail, and modifications made by bike park staff can affect how the trail rides from one trip to the next. Stay alert, and do your best to stay on maintained trails.
5. Don’t pay any attention to other riders, or to where you stop on the trail.
When you’re in an environment that causes you to travel downhill at high speeds, it’s important to keep safety in mind at all times. Know if the bike park you’re visiting permits uphill riding, and if it’s not allowed, keep yourself pointed downhill. Stay in control of your bike and your speed. Make sure you’re always able to stop if something or someone unexpectedly ends up in your path.
Remember, the rider in front of you has the right of way. If you’re approaching them and hope to overtake them, let them know, and choose a safe spot to pass them. It’s your job to avoid running into them. Finally, don’t stop in the middle of a trail, or in a location that will cause trouble for riders behind you.
If you’re a regular bike park rider, what other tips do you have to share? We’d love to hear from you!