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I took a First Timer MTB lesson with the Cardrona Bike School. You know, for science.

Let's set the scene:

The snow is my happy place. It's the reason I work up at Cardrona – I love the mountains, I love the people here, and I LOVE snowboarding. And then summer came along...

We started the Cardrona Bike Park back in the summer of 2013/14, and in 2015 I decided that this snowboarder needed to get into mountain biking. I've never been the most confident biker, but I remembered how I found the uphills much harder than the downhills when I was a kid. So in my mind, a downhill mountain bike park should've been just my cup of tea. I got some quick advice from a friend ("be a bear" – what?!) and pushed off down Morning Glory. The first corner I took a heavy fall; straight over my handlebars, took a brake lever to the leg, scraped all down both arms, and watched my ego flying off into the distance as I limped my way down to Whitestar. 

This was me. Just not as graceful.

I decided it wasn't for me. I spent five summers watching bikers hooning down the trails, listened to colleagues telling me about how good the beginner trails up here were now, and played designated driver for my friends and workmates who wanted to ride the Peak to Pub at the end of the day. I benched myself – I didn't think I could put my body or my pride through downhill biking again.

Until now.

For the sake of science (or this blog), I volunteered to try out a First Timer MTB lesson package:

The hypothesis: The Cardrona Bike School instructors can take anyone (read: me) who can somewhat ride a bicycle and give them the confidence to enjoy riding downhill trails. 
Date of experiment: December 31, 2019 (just over five years post-handlebars incident)
The subjects: Myself and a workmate (Louisa)
The instructor: Claire (actual legend)
The conditions: A two-hour lesson using Cardrona's full suspension Trek rental bikes, helmets and knee pads

We met Claire outside The Lounge and rode uphill (I know!) to winter's Beginner Area. She ran us through a few drills to improve our confidence – braking, skidding our back wheel, body position and turning. Every drill involved a small climb (mostly flat but it was hot and I am unfit) back up to the top of a series of rocks. We got to the point where we felt pretty good on our bikes; turning around the rocks, braking before the last one, and changing our body position between more relaxed and the "ready" position.

The Beginner Area is in the same spot as winter – just above the bottom of McDougall's Chondola.

Heading up the McDougall's Chondola posed a new challenge: loading our bikes onto the back of the chairlift. Claire showed us how it was done; use the back brake / swing your front wheel up into the air / push it towards the lift in a wheelie / lift it up from the seat with your leg and pop it up onto the bracket. What we did; use the back brake / flail around until the bike was sort-of in a wheelie / tentatively walk forward / realise we haven't moved fast enough (even though the lift comes around slowly) / watch the lifties spring into action and help you lift your bike onto the bracket. Thanks, lifties. I love your work!

All the prep work we did with Claire came in handy once we moved onto the trails. We started with the top section of Sweet As and then moved into Afternoon Delight, taking it very slowly with Claire giving us different things to work on in each section. We did three laps in total, with the last one riding all the way down Sweet As (with plenty of encouragement from Claire). We also had a play at the end of each lap on the pump track, and it was amazing to see how much our riding changed each time we rode it. 

Claire giving us tips on body position...
... and a demo

My key takeouts:

  • These bikes are REALLY good – they're designed to handle rocky terrain and have amazing brakes for beginners like me. There wasn't any point where I felt like I was going to fall off because the bike was so solid.
  • I felt safe at all times because Claire took things slowly and never took us anywhere outside of our skill level. She pushed us so we felt a sense of achievement (and there were a couple of times where I was definitely nervous), but I never felt the same terror as I had in the past.
  • Look ahead.
  • Change your body position so you're more bent (my words, not Claire's) when you're heading into corners and more tricky spots.
  • Work on one thing every lap so things start to come more naturally.
  • Don't freak out, but if you do; use your back brake (or both). If you don't want another handlebars incident, don't use your front only!

The result

At the end of the lesson, I was SMILING. I'd had an absolute blast. Since then, I've gone out biking a couple more times on my own bike (note to self: start saving to upgrade) and I'm growing my confidence every time. I've even signed up for more lessons! I never thought I'd say this, but I'm loving this new challenge and have set myself a goal of riding Prospector by the end of the summer season. Watch this space.

Look at that! I'm smiling!

If you want to ask me any questions about my experience, feel free to comment below, or send a message via the Cardrona Facebook or Instagram pages. I'm definitely only an expert of my own experience, but I'm living proof that a lesson definitely helps you grow your confidence and actually enjoy biking. 

A huge thanks to Claire from Bike School for the amazing lesson and support of my biking ever since. You're the best!

About the Author

Jen Houltham

Communications

Jen is Cardrona's resident word nerd. She's out & about on the mountain most days; a big fan of carving groomed runs, powder hunting & laps through Lil' Bucks!