Mountain Biking Lessons: Zero to Intermediate in One Morning

nancyHave you ever had a song stuck in your head?  Over and over you hear something like, “Wake me up before you go-go… I’m not planning on going solo.”  The words keep coming back in a never-ending loop and finally when you think its over, there it is again.

Doug, our Deer Valley mountain bike instructor, got in my head during our lesson last weekend but fortunately in this case, it was in a good way. You see I have a bad habit.  I look down.  When I ski, instead of looking at where I am going, I look down right in front of me at all the obstacles I am about to hit.  Of course this means I have no time to react because I see them too late.

dougDuring our mountain biking lesson, my husband Jay and I learned a great many things including balance with the platform stance and transferring our weight way back on the bike so we are almost sitting on the back tire for steep declines.  We learned to trust the bikes; we employed controlled momentum and the 29” knobby tires took us over rocks, roots and gravel with no problems. The third important lesson we learned was vision.

Doug explained,  “When you look ahead to where you want to go instead of where you are, your brain registers everything in front of you even the fuzzy stuff in your peripheral vision.”  I took that to mean, looking down is a complete waste of time.  It’s also no fun.  When all you are looking at is obstacles, all you experience is fear.  When you look ahead to where you want to go, your brain is actively engaged in the strategy to get there, which is way more fun!

Somehow this concept I had been struggling with suddenly became very easy. The words, “Look up” were stuck in my head and I was automatically doing it.  Why now? I wondered.  Maybe it was because Doug, from a large Italian family, is a loud talker.  He told us growing up he couldn’t get a word in at the dinner table unless he spoke really loud and over top of his brothers. To the casual observer, his family dinner might sound like a heated argument but to them, it was a normal every day occurrence.  His loud clear instructions stuck with me – “Look up! Vision!  Choose your line.”

When you coupled the loud talking with his step-by-step instructions and attention to detail, we had a winning combination.  Since Deer Valley mountain biking trails start at the intermediate level, Doug started us in the parking lot where he built skill upon skill. He had us riding the bumpy stairs from one lot to the next.  He taught us how to take turns on specially prepared switchback trails beneath trees on the side of the lot. When we got the “Let’s do it!” from Doug, we headed to the lifts.

Nancy on Tour de Homes

Nancy on Tour de Homes

 

The lift operator handled each of our bikes hooking them onto the chairs behind us.  When we got to the top, we headed to “Tour des Homes” – the easiest mountain bike run but still an intermediate trail.  When we hit the first steep decent, I was prepared and looked up to where I wanted to end up – not at the ground in front of me.

The first turn – I looked ahead.

The first bump – I kept my eyes on where I was going.

When I encountered:

Rocks,

Gravel,

Grooves,

A narrow single trail,

And switchbacks with all of the above, I looked up the whole time!  I just kept hearing, “Look up!” both from Doug and also in my own head. I was cured!

Nancy's husband, Jay, on Tour de Homes

Nancy’s husband, Jay, on Tour de Homes

The most important part is we were also having fun. Jay and I hadn’t even dusted the cobwebs off our bikes this year. We’d never even ridden a single track in our lives and Deer Valley got us from zero to intermediate in one morning.  We were pretty amazed.  Our friends were amazed.  Our children were shocked.

after the lessonWe’re looking forward to taking our bikes up the lift and hitting the Tour des Homes many times this summer.  I love having that voice in my head saying, “Vision! Look up!” I hope it stays with me for the entire ski season, too.  Now, that would be wonderful.

The only problem I have now is I can’t get this tune out of my head, “Wake me up before you go-go … I’m not planning on going solo.”  Anyone have a cure for that?

To learn more about the mountain biking lessons and experience at Deer Valley Resort, click here.

Mountain Bike School: Q & A with Doug Gormley, Lead Mountain Bike Instructor

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…

DVR-DougGormley (5)JF: Hello Doug! Looks like you just had a wonderful ride?

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.

DVR-DougGormley (4)JF: What’s the ideal age for starting youngsters on mountain bikes and how late can an adult begin?

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?

DVR-DougGormley (10)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.

DVR-DougGormley (8)JF: Let’s talk now about gear. Could you walk us through your new bike rental fleet?

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?

DVR-DougGormley (3)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!

 

“Just Like Riding a Bike” Guest Blog by Amy Kersey

It’s such a common phrase referring to something easy to pick up or remember, but is clearly used only by those who have never dabbled in the world of downhill mountain biking. As a casual Midwest biker, I’m definitely at novice status out here in Utah where mountain biking is a way of life. In my first summer as a Park City local, I decided I needed to dive right into that outdoorsy lifestyle. However, instead of jumping on a bike, saying a prayer, and heading down the mountain, I thought it best to take a lesson from a professional to learn how it’s supposed to be done.

My three hour lesson at Deer Valley’s Mountain Biking School began from the earliest stages of getting to know my bike. I rented a full-suspension bike that allows for six inches of vertical movement while riding which was definitely a new feeling compared to the stiff hard-tail I’m used to.

We started in the parking lot to get familiar with the gears, brakes, and feel of the bike before taking on some basic dips and switchback techniques. It sounds easy enough, but after falling twice (in the parking lot, mind you) I’d say my pride was a little wounded. I wasn’t used to handling turns while standing up out of the saddle or actually needing to use my front brake (which would soon become my downfall). While the tips and techniques seemed like common sense, the mastery of them was going to take a lot more mental toughness than I imagined.

After completing a few turns without any falls, we took the Silver Lake Express and Sterling Express chairlifts to the top of Bald Mountain. I wasn’t sure how much actual terrain or elevation I’d be seeing as a beginner, but after my instructor said we were going to the top and my deer-in-the-headlights look finally wore off, I was ready.


My instructor, Jeff, went over the basics with me one more time before we headed down the mountain. Keep my feet parallel in platform position, keep my weight up and back, and look out ahead to where I want to go and not as much at the rocks in front of me that I want to avoid. He was also really great about preparing me for what to expect on the trail ahead. The first section had three switchback turns. The first two went well. The third did not. Instead of looking out ahead of me and continuously braking through the turn, I decided to panic, look down, and throw on my front brake harder than necessary. Over the handlebars I went in a Superman-like fashion. Another useful tip I thankfully took from Jeff? Wear gloves. When you fall, your hands are often the first point of contact with the ground.

We were pretty early into the trail so I knew I didn’t have time to worry about how dirty I was, where I was bleeding, or who was watching. “Alright, let’s go! We’ve gotta get down the mountain, right?” Jeff made sure I was okay and took caution before we started moving again which was really comforting for my first ride.

The next sections of the trail included more cross-country terrain where I could work on speed control and find a rhythm for handling the switchbacks. There were times I could sneak a peek at the unbelievable setting of sagebrush and aspen trees through which we were weaving, but I usually left sight appreciation time for when we were stopped, for my safety as well as everyone else’s on the trail.

As we approached the bottom of the hill, Jeff reminded me to stay focused on the last few turns since it’s easy to be distracted by the base instead of maintaining control through the end of the trail. I managed to finish the ride upright on my bike and still in one piece.

I can’t thank Jeff enough for his patience with me and, more importantly, for teaching me to have patience with myself. When I realized this was not “just like riding a bike,” I had to cut myself some slack. Downhill mountain biking is like nothing I’ve ever done before. Sure I acquired some scrapes and bruises, but I see it as a bit of a rite of passage into the mountain biking world. After learning the proper techniques, each ride feels a little more comfortable, the scenery a little more beautiful, and falling, which may be inevitable for me, is a little less scary.

 

Amy is the communications coordinator at the Park City Chamber and Visitors Bureau. Amy is originally from Lowell, Indiana and moved to Park City in the fall of 2010. When Amy is not mastering her mountain bike skills she can be found playing sand volleyball, practicing yoga, or browsing the shelves at Dolly’s Bookstore.