Steamboat Springs A few years ago, I went to Whistler, British Columbia, on a trip with my husband. We were looking forward to biking at the famous downhill park we’d heard so much about. Neither of us had done the downhill thing before and we were excited to give it a go.
We were the first in line at the bike rental shop the next morning. A young, tattooed shop attendant fitted us with really cool downhill bikes, Darth Vader-looking helmets and more padding than you could imagine. He gave us detailed (and passionate) descriptions of the trails that got us even more excited about our new adventure. After a few pointers on the safe operation of our rental bikes, we were on our way.
As we left the shop, we laughed at one another and took what seemed like a million pictures of our new look. The heavy, low-profile bikes and stealth feeling behind our helmets and goggles had us fitting right in with the local crowd while at the same time providing anonymity so that no one knew we were rank beginners at the sport. It was quite a departure from the Lycra shorts, colorful jerseys and lightweight feel of our high-end road bikes back home.
We boarded the lift with the twentysomething crowd and headed to the top of the mountain. Below, we watched what looked like the X Games in full swing. There were massive jumps, rolls and banked turns and lots of really good riders negotiating the terrain with ease. I started to get a little uneasy, looking anxiously for the beginner trail the shop attendant so carefully described.
Once at the top, we found our trail and off we went. The first thing I felt was how low the seat was. It took a little adjustment to get my balance and position on the bike. My husband was a natural and started to pick up speed after the first turn. It took me a little longer, but before long I eased off the brakes.
The trail design was great. The beginner trail meandered at a low-angle pitch through thick forest. At some points along the trail we could see the built-in terrain features of the more advanced trails nestled in the trees. We stopped to get a better look when along came a rider on an overhead ramp. He flew through the trees and launched himself off the end of the ramp, sticking a perfect landing on the ground below. Wow!
We had so much fun and laughed our way to the bottom. The bikes were smooth and stable, so my confidence increased as we went. I was probably going at a snail’s pace compared to a real downhill rider, but I sure felt like I was going fast. Back at the bottom, we couldn’t wait to take another run. By my third run, I even caught some air.
Our half-day rental was just about right. We got in five runs and I was getting tired by then. The body position on the bike was different than my mountain bike and I was starting to feel some muscles I wasn’t quite used to. We returned the bikes and the gear and were off to try the zip line course, another great adventure attraction at Whistler.
As the Steamboat Ski Area gets ready to create its own downhill bike park, I can’t stress enough how great this will be for our town. Aside from attracting world-class downhill riders and big-ticket events, our kids will have a chance to train with Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coaches and compete with the best. Just think about all the people out there who would love to give it a try.
I must say that my experience at Whistler was well worth the price of admission. Picture the full-service rental shop at Steamboat: knowledgeable (and passionate) shop attendants, great bikes and all the gear to rent to have fun for a day as a downhiller. Bring it on!
Johanna Hall is an administrative assistant for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association’s Aging Well program, and a member of Routt County Riders.