Clinic turns women into mountain bikers

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Maybe it's the threat of falling down, getting hurt or looking stupid. Maybe it's the Lycra. Women have given former World Champion Katie Lindquist every excuse in the book for believing they can't mountain bike.

Lindquist hears the reasons but doesn't listen because she has taught women of all ages and shapes how to ascend and descend on mountain trails through her women-only clinics and camps during the past two years.

Friday, eight women of various ages, builds and athletic backgrounds registered for one of Lindquist's four-hour courses, interested in learning more about the sport of mountain biking.

Some had never been on a mountain bike. Others had ridden several times but wanted an accomplished professional to provide basic instruction on technique. Every woman wanted to prove to herself that she could climb a mountain -- or at least a steep hill -- and safely come back down.

Every woman was successful, supporting Lind-quist's belief that mountain biking is a sport to be enjoyed by anyone able to ride properly functioning equipment.

"It's so exciting to turn people on to the sport. It's a great feeling," Lindquist said.

Lindquist's clinics run exclusively on Fridays at the Steamboat Ski Area. The cost is $45, which includes instruction and a buffet lunch at the top of the gondola. Additional costs can include renting equipment or obtaining a gondola lift ticket.

The clinics are designed for beginner and intermediate female mountain bikers ages 16 and older. They run through Aug. 29 at the Steamboat Ski Area.

Friday's clinic began with a bike test to ensure that everyone's bike was working properly and seats were adjusted to the correct height. Lindquist then took the clinic participants to the top of the gondola to ride on several steep hills -- at least in the minds of the beginning bikers -- behind Thund-erhead. There, she and assistant Emily McWatters taught the women how to switch gears, when to switch gears and why certain gears are better for certain terrain.

The fundamentals of correct mountain biking seemed fairly obvious once Lindquist explained and demonstrated them Friday morning, but for people unaccustomed to the appropriate body positions on a mountain bike or unfamiliar with the basics, it was valuable instruction.

The women discovered the proper way to ascend a hill by spotting the safest way up and focusing on what was ahead rather than what was directly below them. The women also learned to descend in the correct semi-standing position through sharper turns with loose terrain.

The women even learned the importance of carrying enough water and quick energy sources, especially on a hot day at high altitude, when one of the clinic participants -- me -- hit a wall about midday and had to sit in the shade to avoid throwing up.

The women-only environment was supportive rather than competitive and encouraging rather than frustrating.

Women simply learn differently than men, Lindquist said. Men will pick things up by following the instructor. Women want demonstrations, explanations and reasons why certain techniques work better than others. Lindquist provides all three.

"When you ride, you know what feels right but you don't necessarily know why," clinic participant Monique Allen said. "I was so excited to participate in this clinic. I'm excited for the opportunity to have an active vacation."

Allen, 26, of Portland, Ore., is in Steamboat visiting her father and stepmother. She was given two weeks notice from her stepmother that they would be participating in the clinic together.

"The people I work with are avid bikers," Allen said. "I live about 10 miles from work so having the option to ride my bike to work would be nice."

Allen had another reason for learning to mountain bike.

She is in the process of losing weight and already has shed 80 pounds this year, but she has plateaued in her weight-loss plan and wanted another form of exercise, a fun one, to help her drop an additional 10 pounds.

Three of the eight women taking part in Lindquist's clinic Friday were from out of town. The remaining five were Steamboat residents.

Elizabeth Hartung has been waiting all summer to take the women-only clinic, but Friday was the first available date that fit into her schedule. After working through several obstacles on a course near the base of Preview on Friday, she felt comfortable and confident on her mountain bike.

"I've gone riding with people trying to teach me, but this was more intense," Hartung said. "I learned a lot. It's not all physical strength. It's mental, too."

Lindquist, a recent winner at the 24 Hours of Vail mountain bike race, also hosts summer camps that run over multiple days and build upon the techniques taught in the clinics.

Anyone interested in registering or obtaining more information about Lindquist's remaining summer clinics and camps can call 871-5382.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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