I’ve always been of the opinion that mountain biking is a far cry from regular bicycle riding and over the years, as I’ve fallen in love with this rugged sport, I’ve learned it the hard way and always wondered if some good tips or a few lessons wouldn’t have shortened my learning curve significantly. That curiosity of mine was finally satisfied when I got to spend a few moments with Doug Gormley, Lead Mountain Bike Instructor at Deer Valley Resort. I caught up with him as he returned from a ride with some fellow staff members…
Doug Gormley: Absolutely! Great ride, tons of fun!
JF: How long have you been a mountain bike instructor?
Doug Gormley: This will be my 20th summer teaching mountain biking at Deer Valley Resort.
JF: What about the rest of the year?
Doug Gormley: I also work for the resort. The last two years, I am one of the on-snow ski school supervisors and the 17 years prior, I was a ski instructor.
JF: So instruction is your calling; you know how to bring fun to the outdoors?
Doug Gormley: That’s the key to me; getting people out there and share the fun with them!
JF: Most folks think that because they know how to ride a bike they’ll breeze through mountain biking? What do you have to say about this commonly held belief?
Doug Gormley: I do think that’s a misconception. That’s not to say that people who are on bikes regularly can’t adapt to it quickly, but even the most experienced road bikers are often shocked at how much technique is involved with mountain biking and this is even more applicable to someone who only ride occasionally. Everyone will benefit from some good instruction.
JF: Could you define the fundamental difference between regular riding and mountain biking?
Doug Gormley: One of the biggest differences is how much time you spend standing up on the pedals during a downhill and remain seated going up, whereas a road biker will only stand up during a climb and will sit going down. There’s also a strong need for front brake use; this is hard to learn at first. The front brake has to be used all the time, in addition to the back brake. If the latter is the only one used, this will lead to skidding down the trails.
JF: If someone is a ranked beginner, how long will it take you to bring that person to some intermediate skills level and be able enjoy most of the trails at Deer Valley?
Doug Gormley: When beginners first show up for a lesson, we begin by spending a full hour doing drills, on our practice loop, near the lower parking lot; then, we take that person on the trails and practice the skills learned. Generally speaking, after a beginner gets here, it takes about two to three hours for that individual to get some basic technique and reach an intermediate level.
JF: As you’re instructing both skiing and mountain-biking, do you see some similarity between the two?
Doug Gormley: Oh yes. There are many similar techniques that apply to both, specifically vision, keeping pressure on the outside of the turn among others. In general, most skiers adapt very well; they can pull from some of their skiing techniques and adapt them to mountain bike riding.
Doug Gormley: The age issue is always difficult to answer. Our children’s clinic starts at the age of eight. Under that age, we require a private lesson. I have had a six year-old out mountain biking, but this might be a practical minimum while eight is definitely the perfect age to begin. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s pretty much like skiing, we can attract and entertain a very wide age range depending on the shape and motivation of the participants.
JF: What about gender differences?
Doug Gormley: As of yet, we don’t offer women-only clinics, but we have women instructors on staff and there’s always the possibility of private lessons to address some special needs. That said we have weaved teaching techniques and tips that take gender into consideration.
JF: This brings me to your Bike School program; what options are you offering this summer?
Doug Gormley: Every day, we offer a three-hour clinic for kids from age eight to 12, one begins at 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. and another from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. At the same time, we also offer an adult clinic geared towards the beginner/low intermediate skill level, from the age of 13 on up. New this season is our “Guided Tour” for 13 and older; intermediate level or above, going at the same exact times (10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.). This new ride is meant to explore more of the mountain, with some use of the chairlifts, but it’s essentially a “get-out-and-pedal” opportunity, where uphill climbs and downhill segments are mixed we try to see all of Deer Valley, and in the end, give the opportunity to the participating two to five riders we take along to walk away a much stronger rider. Finally, we offer private lessons (two hours minimum required), these are totally adapted to the rider’s needs. Riders can come as downhill experts or total beginners we are staffed to cover all ability levels.
JF: So the “Guider Tour” sounds similar to your winter mountain tours?
Doug Gormley: Yes, but with the added benefit of providing participants with the expert advice of an instructor; so it’s not just a guided tour, it’s also a great opportunity for getting some serious coaching and useful tips.
Doug Gormley: We carry very high end bikes that work well on Deer Valley’s terrain. If you rent one our bikes, it can always be changed to a different size or if a bike has a problem of any kind it can be replaced on the fly. What’s nice about our rental fleet is not only do we provide bikes and helmets, but we include gloves, elbow pads and knee pads. Our downhill pads come with a full-face helmet.
JF: What about folks bringing their own bikes?
Doug Gormley: That fine as long as their bikes are equipped with front and rear brakes. A typical BMX bike wouldn’t qualify. A dual suspension bike works better on Deer Valley trails. So-called “Hybrid Bikes” can be more of a problem. Those type of bikes often don’t have the traction required and are not perfectly geared and setup to riding the true mountain bike trails we have.
JF: This is great information. Do you have any advice since Deer Valley Resort is now open for summer activities?
Doug Gormley: I’d say that it’s a shame that some people who have tried mountain biking in the past and have given up because they didn’t get the proper training or didn’t have the right equipment in the first place. The good news is that we can change that. With some solid foundation, good instruction and a sound technique, mountain-biking is a sport that a wide range of ages can enjoy and it will deliver an incredible amount of fun and satisfaction, especially if you are a skier. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy the mountain in the summer. So if you’re still standing on the fence, don’t hesitate. We have everything you need to attempt your very first steps or try an experience that you’ll want to repeat!