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!

 

Q&A with Kurt Hammel, Deer Valley Summer Adventure Camp Assistant Manager

120615_DV_Camp-124

Kurt (left) and summer campers balancing water bottles

Deer Valley Resort blog contributor Bari Nan Cohen caught up with Kurt just prior to the start of Summer Adventure Camp 2013, and got the inside scoop on Hammel’s own camp experiences and the adventures he and the other camp staffers have in store for lucky campers this summer.

Bari Nan: Where are you from?

Kurt Hammel: My hometown is Brockport, NY, which is just outside Rochester. I went to college in upstate New York, as well, and I worked at a variety of jobs–including a small ski resort–before getting the chance to teach at Deer Valley in March 2003. I never looked back!

BN: Growing up, what kind of summer camps did you attend?

KH: Mostly the weekly, sport-specific type, for basketball and baseball. The things I remember and cherish the most from those were the friendships that were made and the sense of camaraderie that was formed. Even if we were all only attending for a week we still bonded as teammates. I am still friends with some of those kids today 20+ years later.

120615_DV_Camp-132BN: Which activities are you most looking forward to sharing with campers at Summer Adventure Camp this year?

KH: I always look forward to keeping the kids connected to the classic summer activities. I can’t believe some kids have never played kickball, don’t get to ride a bike or jump rope often enough. Our goal at Deer Valley is to keep kids connected to the community and also to just have fun being outside. We make a lot of arts and crafts, have dress up days and go on field trips too. I am most excited for our water days, when we use hundreds of water balloons, pull out a giant slip and slide, fill up the squirt guns and have a blast!

BN: What features of Deer Valley Resort create unique opportunities for campers?

KH: Having a camp at Deer Valley is great. We have almost the entire resort at our disposal! All of the age groups can take advantage of ponds on Deer Valley Drive, whether it’s the younger kids walking down to feed the ducks or the older kids riding their bikes around the paved paths. The older kids go exploring on chairlift rides and use the hiking trails. The resort does a great job of maintaining the grassy outdoor areas and inside the lodges so we have the right venue for every activity. Because Snow Park Lodge is also on the Park City bus route, it is easy for all campers to take advantage of the great activities and parks in town.

120613_DV_Camp-242BN: Are there any changes to the camp experience this season that returning campers can look forward to enjoying?

KH: We are always working to keep camp fresh and exciting. This season we have changed some of the field trips for the kids ages 5 and up. For one, we will hike to and explore Timpanogas Cave! We are always working on new art projects for the kids and make sure they leave with a personal piece.

BN: What are your favorite ways to enjoy the summer when you’re not at camp?

KH: My wife is a local school teacher and we have one dog, Cannoli. We try to take advantage of the great Park City summer climate, with its warm sun and low humidity. It is a welcome change from the hot, muggy eastern summers. I am an avid golfer and try to be outside as much as possible. My wife and I enjoy hiking and camping with the dog and enjoy of all the natural beauty this area has to offer.

An Interview with Mark Nepermann, DV Summer Lift Operations Supervisor

Earlier this week, as he was busy getting everything ready for this year’s mid-June re-opening, Mark Nepermann, Lift Operations Supervisor took a few moments out of his time to talk about summer lift operations at Deer Valley Resort.  

DVR-ops-2JF:  Mark, I can see on your face that you’re ready for summer; I mean you appear to enjoy that season a lot. How long have you been working at Deer Valley Resort?

Mark Nepermann:  I have worked here for four winters and this will be my third summer. And you’re right; summer is my favorite time of the year! I’m originally from northern Illinois, I came out here after college for one winter and I loved it so much that I never left.

JF:  Now that the weather has been gradually warming up, are you and your staff ready for your summer season opening?

Mark Nepermann: Absolutely!  We opened on June 14 and will be operating our lifts through Labor Day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., every day.

JF: Which chairlifts are open to the public?

Mark Nepermann: We’ll continue to offer rides on Silver Lake Express, Sterling Express and for the third season, Ruby Express.

JF: Who are your typical passengers?

Mark Nepermann: In the summer, mountain bikers are still the majority of our riders, we mount a hook on the sides of all the chairs to carry their equipment, we also get scenic riders who come to enjoy the incredible views that can be seen from our mountain tops.

JF: Do scenic riders have to ride down the lift?

Mark Nepermann:   No, we give them many options. They can either ride up and ride back down, or ride up and hike down, particularly on some of our hiking-only trails. They can also hike up and reward themselves with our complimentary ride down!

JF:  I’ve noticed that the lifts seem to be running slowly, why is this?

Mark Nepermann:  We run about half the speed that we do in winter, this allows passengers to easily get off upon reaching the top since they have to walk away and this takes just a little more time than sliding off the ramp with skis on during the winter.

DVR-ops-4JF:  What are these poles inside the bin, by the chairlift?

Mark Nepermann:  These are ski poles made available to hikers who want to use them, both at the bottom and the top of each chairlift; we just ask the hikers to put them back into the bin when they’re done using them.

JF:  Besides mountain bikes, are you allowing other devices on your trails?

Mark Nepermann: Sure, we see everything from old mountain bikes from the 1980’s, to the latest 50 pound downhill bike, to unicycles, mountain scooters or mountain boards, you name it.

JF: And you let them in?

Mark Nepermann:  We let riders use them as long as these machines are equipped with at least two brakes, so if one of them were to fail, there’s still a spare one. We also require all riders to wear a helmet and stay on the bike trails, even on these non-conventional devices.

DVR-ops-5JF: Are hikers also required to stay on the trails?

Mark Nepermann:  We prefer all users to stay on the trails in order to prevent trampling vegetation and avoid erosion.

JF: What happens when the weather suddenly changes?

Mark Nepermann:  Although heavy rain never seems to be a problem at Deer Valley Resort, the sole reason we would close down our lifts is if it rains hard for very long, riding could cause damage to the trails.  Thunder isn’t a deal-breaker, but lightning is.  If we see lightning we call “last chair” until the storm is passed and that is for the safety of both our riders and staff.

JF: So, when you compare winter and summer, do you find differences in your ridership?

Mark Nepermann:  Our summer guests are definitely more low-key than in winter; perhaps during the warm season people aren’t as eager to clock as many runs as possible, but we also have a wider variety of riders. Some are hard-core mountain bikers, some are nature lovers, others are here to discover mountain vistas for the first time in summer. Our guests’ expectations and interests are far less homogeneous than they are in winter .

DVR-ops-7JF:  How should people dress when they ride your lifts?

Mark Nepermann:  Temperature differences between the base and the top of the chairlift always plays a significant role. Temperatures may also change very fast if the cloud cover suddenly moves in or the breeze sets in. Just because it’s sunny and warm at Snow Park doesn’t mean that it might not be 10 to 20 degrees less at the top of Bald Mountain. We encourage visitors to dress in layers and carry a light jacket with them in the event of a sudden drop in temperature.

JF:  Any other useful tips?

DVR-ops-6Mark Nepermann:  Always carry lots of water to stay well-hydrated, don’t forget the sunscreen, another good tip is to make sure to wear a hat. Of course, all bike riders must wear a helmet. Also, having a cell phone is always a good idea in case of emergency.

JF:  So, why do you like summer at Deer Valley Resort so much?

Mark Nepermann:  I like to tell the guests I meet during winter that summers in Deer Valley are even better in terms of the multitude of options offered to visitors. There is a myriad of concerts, mountain biking, hiking, fly-fishing, golfing, great food on Royal Street’s deck and green vistas as far as the eye can see, plus it’s always 10 to 15 degrees cooler up here than down in the Salt Lake Valley. We’re a refreshing alternative to the summer heat, so come up and play with us!

Interview with Steve Graff, Bike/Ski Patrol Manager

Last week I caught up with Deer Valley Resorts’ Bike and Ski Patrol Manager, Steve Graff, as he was returning from inspecting the impressive network of hiking and mountain bike trails the resort will soon re-open to the public. Here are some of the many interesting things I learned about his busy department and their myriad of responsibilities…


DVR-MtnPatrol1

JF: Steve, it’s good to be visiting with you and the patrollers again. Tell me, where’s all the snow? What has happened to you and your staff since the end of the skiing season and what are you up to now?

Steve Graff (SG): After we closed the mountain down in April, we spent another week taking down signs, ropes, pads and getting everything ready for snow melt. After taking a little bit of time off to transition between seasons, our staff is back to work. As you can imagine, our personnel shrinks a bit at this time of the year; most get back to their seasonal jobs. Many go to work as National Parks Rangers all over the country, while those who can never get enough winter continue ski patrolling in New Zealand and Australia. Some are wild land fire fighters or smoke-jumpers, and the rest of us are back at Deer Valley Resort getting the place ready for warm weather activities.

JF: How many employees return for Mountain Bike Patrol?

SG: Out of our 70 or so ski patrollers, about 15 stay on during the summer.

JF: How long is the season?

SG: It goes from mid-June through Labor Day (September 2, 2013).

JF: Are you the crew in charge of maintaining trails and cutting new ones?

SG: Our main priority is helping injured but the bulk of our work is actually trail construction and trail maintenance.

JF: Any new trail this year?

SG: The two newest trails were actually started last season. Both are in the Empire Canyon area, off the Ruby Express chairlift.

  • Drift: An intermediate trail
  • Payroll: More of a free riding, “flowy” trail, with some nice jumps and drops that should add some extra levels of excitement in that general area

JF: This sounds promising! By the way who comes up with these unique trail names?

SG: Payroll is actually a mine name and Drift comes from a drift road that is off Tour de Sud. Some others come directly from the public, “Devo” is a good example; we were just finishing constructing it when we ran into a lady that said “Yeah, that trail is ‘Devo.”

Mountain Biking_DVR

JF: Does your remaining staff receive summer-specific training?

SG: There’s a lot of cross-over between summer and winter duties like medical training and lift evacuation skills and those are regularly being refreshed.  We add motorcycle, ATV and six-wheeler riding that are unique to our summer season.

JF: You mean, training on vehicles that get you around the mountain?

SG: Right; instead of snowmobiles, toboggans or skis, we use bikes, motorcycles and ATVs!

JF: What types of interventions are typical to the warmer months?

SG: Overall, the few injuries we deal with are less severe than in winter because speed is less of a factor. We see a quite a few scrapes and bruises though, maybe a few dislocations, perhaps more blood than usual, but in general, far less severe injuries.

JF: It seems to me that you and your staff aren’t always on the mountain; over the years, I’ve noticed your presence at all the Deer Valley’s summer concerts. What’s your role there?

SG: To attend the concert!

JF: I should have expected this! So, all Patrollers are music aficionados?

SG: Well, this is another one of our Mountain Bike Patrol duties. We offer first aid response at the Deer Valley concerts, so we attend them all. Depending on the event, between two and four of us are present. We’re there for medical emergencies or other situations.

JF: Are they specific recommendations you’d like to share with mountain bikers and hikers intent to use the Deer Valley Resort trail system?

SG: There are a few good rules; first, we don’t charge for uphill travel outside of chairlift rides. If trail users bike, they must wear a helmet and dogs must be left at home whether their owners hike or bike. Always make sure to look at the map and come up with a route before heading out; remember that there are some trails that are specifically for downhill mountain biking, others specifically for hiking and then they’re others that are designated for both. So, it’s good to know what kind of trail you’re planning to take. If you want to hike and don’t want to see bikers, go on a hiking-only trail. If you want to pedal up, make sure you chose the multi-use trail, not the downhill-only one. That way, everyone can enjoy their experience to the fullest.

DVR-MtnPatrol2

JF: Are there lessons or orientations tours visitors can take?

SG: Yes; both are available and are highly recommended. We offer guided tours of the mountain that will also provide some mountain biking tips; those are for intermediate level and above, but they’re also “mountain bike 101” lessons that will take a rank beginner straight to the single-track trails. Many riders often say: “I know how to handle a bike, therefore I don’t need lessons” but as you know JF, mountain biking is a very different deal, it’s not like riding in the neighborhood; there’s weight transfer, forward-and-back and side-to-side involved, it’s a lot more dynamic experience than pedaling on asphalt around the block.

JF: What other recommendations would you give hikers or mountain bikers visiting Deer Valley Resort?

SG: I know some people who chose to ride their mountain bike by themselves, purely for exercise. If you’re one of them, just let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Always wear a helmet and sunglasses. Even if you’re going on a short trip, throw an extra power bar in your pack, a replacement tube, enough water, some basic tools if you ever break down.  Even if you aren’t quite sure how to fix it, some passer-by might be able to assist you and get you back on your way. Always wear gloves; if you ever fall, the first thing that’s going to hit the ground is your hand. Some extra protection goes a long way!

JF: Any tips about the weather?

SG: Always be prepared for anything! In the mountains, the weather can change rapidly. Look for thunderstorms. If you can hear thunder, lightning isn’t far, so get off the high ground, don’t huddle under the tallest tree, just wait for the storm to pass; it generally never lasts very long.

JF: What about encounters with wildlife?

SG: We do see quite a bit of wildlife. This is one of the great things about hiking and mountain biking around Deer Valley. I’ve had the pleasure to see all kinds of animals around this mountain. You just got to give them space. We’ve taken a lot of space away from them and we should always treat the mountain as their own domain. If I see a moose on the trail, I make my presence known, and hopefully he’ll amble on.

JF: So, how ready are you for Deer Valley Resort summer opening?

SG: Well, we’re opening on June 14, and based on my most recent trail inspections, we’re going to have a fantastic opening, with ninety percent of the trails perfectly passable, so please, come and join us!

 

Summertime in Park City

Only 8 days until school is out, which means summertime for the kids and back to being a full-time Mom. Do we ever have time off? Nope.

Our summer “line up” is looking good for the boys. Lucas starts off with the Park City Town Shootout (lacrosse), then off to ski camp, then back for Eliteam in Park City, then back east for another lacrosse camp in Stowe, VT. Stefan’s schedule includes lacrosse with 212 camp in Park City, Lego Minecraft camp, Eliteam in Vermont and Nike lacrosse camp. Then we’ll go south to Cape Cod after Vermont a trip to the St. Lawrence River in Canada. We land back in Utah in August and stay home saying, “phew” and enjoy the few weeks before school begins all over again.

Before the school doors close (and my kids have a dream summertime schedule), I took part in Park City’s fourth annual “Running With Ed” on Saturday, May 18, 2013. This is a 38-mile relay race that raises money for our local school system. It’s great fun for a great cause. My team this year included: Simone Nixon, Kathy Pederson, Amanda Greene, Michelle Szwajkun and moi. Let’s just say I was the weakest link! Our team raised over $2,000 and this year’s event has raised over $150,000. Not too bad for some fun and exercise!

Personally, I think we had the best costumes with inspiration coming from the Dr. Seuss book, “GO Dog Go”. 2013 Thanks in part to Simone Nixon who came up with the idea. Last year we were “The Running Crayons,” another great theme. 2012I certainly don’t contribute in creativity or to the seven minute mile that everyone else runs!  I’m running for the cause, to be the comedic relief and keeping it non-competitive, (ha-ha). When I woke up Saturday morning, it was pouring rain. Always trying to stay positive, I thought, “at least it’s not snowing!” The weather managed to hold out considering what it had been early that morning. I ended up running in the rain and I must admit it was actually very pleasant! To top it off, we placed third overall for costume and third in the women’s division!

During the summer I try to fit in some hikes with the dog and, my favorite, road biking between shuttling and traveling with the kids. I also try and hit the little white ball and pretend I’m a golfer. Luckily my friends know about my love of the game but I don’t think they realized how much I love it until the other night at dinner. I always tell them about the going-ons from the “Golf Channel” which is on at my house 24/7. Seriously. They think I’m crazy, but I may be the epitome of a “fan/admirer.” My friends are nice enough to listen to me ramble on because they know the game of golf is challenging and I’m hooked on it. While we were having dinner at a local restaurant I looked over and I said, “that‘s Mark O’Meara” they all rolled their eyes and asked who? Are you kidding me? I rattle off some stats confirmed with a friend talking to him. It ended up being the best day ever. Yes, I had spotted my first celeb sighting!photo (37)

Since the summer is just beginning. I’ll continue to keep you posted with the activities and happenings that fill my days until winter rolls back around. No, I’m not ready to be on skis just yet. I need to exercise and get ready for the fall, but I promise to enjoy the warm temperatures of summer. Stay tuned for my next post on my new ski clothing sponsor!

Cheers,

Heidi

 

Gearing Up

Just like skiing, mountain biking is a wonderful sport that can be fraught with frustration if not started the right way. The problem is that, if we can ride a bicycle, we generally assume that we already know everything about the technique and the equipment, and don’t need any lessons. While this seems logical, mountain-biking is a totally different universe, because there is highly specialized equipment just for it, plenty of gravity going up and down, uneven terrain, and most often than not a narrow, single-track involved!

These differences are the key reasons for considering professional help that can take a rank beginner into a smart mountain-bike rider. Things like learning the basics of using the brakes the proper way, understanding the “platform” concept, knowing about correct body placement and feeling comfortable with obstacles and single-track riding. These elements where probably not part of the curriculum used by your mom or dad when you learned how to ride your first bike!

This said there are countless reasons for getting into mountain biking; most folks get into the sport either by accident, special circumstances, like a visit to Deer Valley Resort, or just because they want to try something new. There are also many ways to get started. First, there’s the gentle one, which consists of beginning on asphalt bike-paths, staying on flat terrain and progressively tackling the more challenging trails. Then, there’s the “full-immersion” program that takes rank-beginners into the heart of the matter, with guts and gusto, straight up into the mountain. These forms of entry points often match certain age groups too. Middle-age people will gravitate towards the former, while teenagers and young adults may pedal more assertively into the sport and enjoy a faster learning curve.

Going at mountain biking progressively is probably a good idea for middle-age and older individuals. These riders can be a bit apprehensive and often don’t have as much time available for the sport. They can transition naturally from their regular biking experience into some slightly heavier equipment in which familiarity with the proper use of gears, brakes and terrain requires some time to be learned. After practicing these skills for a while on bike path or gravel road, they’ll be ready to explore more complex terrain and get familiar with uphill climbs, descents and single-track trails.

If the riders aren’t quite ready for taking that step, either because they are just afraid or don’t have the stamina the activity requires, they might be better off switching to a lighter, cross-country mountain bike design that can be used either on gentler terrain and on wider trails covered with asphalt, gravel or dirt. Before they do, however, it might still be an excellent idea to take a few more lessons. On the other hand, if riders get comfortable on single trails and their ups and downs, improvements will largely be a function of time, mileage and increased level of difficulty. It is at this stage that a good combination of lift-assisted biking and practicing on blue runs can provide this key ingredient that’s so important in mountain-biking: Experience!

If the riders are young, energetic and fearless, they can literally take the plunge either by mean of lift-assisted, downhill biking or ease into single-track cross-country riding. As mentioned earlier, the participant’s age plays a crucial role. Teenagers and young adults can learn with buddies and thanks to a combination of grit, good balance, athletic abilities, peer pressure and lots of practice; they will learn the rudiment of the sport and improve quite rapidly.

Again, for all of these groups, the best way to get started is by taking lessons as there is a technique to be learned and this can save a lot of grief to the newcomer. Without lessons, these skills must be acquired the hard way and this can translate into a much longer process. In fact, unless the rider can get out 20 or 30 times each season, like some of the locals do, the morale of a successful mountain biking experience is to take lessons from the start, stick to practicing and getting out as often as possible.

Now, don’t delay, take that first step into mountain biking before the season is over!

Trail Ride through Deer Valley with the Horse Whisperer

What I love most about living in Park City is that everyone wants to visit, especially our adult children.  I don’t even have to guilt trip them about visiting their mom! They come willingly because there is so much to do. When our son, Brian, age 24, came last week, we decided after days filled with hiking, fishing, target practice, and a new adventure called “rifle golf” ( that’s another story) we decided to go on horseback trail ride at Deer Valley.

I grabbed my “Cowgirl Up” ball cap, threw on my jeans and my cowgirl shirt before heading out. We found Boulder Mountain Ranch tucked away by Stein Eriksen Lodge in a bend on the mine road.  We chose a two hour ride and were fit with horses based on our ability.  A few instructions and we were off.

The experience of riding a 1000 lb. animal on a trail is very different than the boots on the ground experience of hiking.  Obviously you are higher up, with an added six feet or so and you cover more than twice as much ground, but it’s more than that. The horse itself brings with him a whole new perspective.

If you listened closely to our guide, Dennis, and got into the mind of the horse, you not only had an easier time on the trail but a much more interesting one as well. Our group headed past “the beach” at Silver Lake Lodge and ducked into an aspen grove as we took the Sultan Out and Back trail.  This was when I realized that Dennis wasn’t just a guide but kind of a “horse whisperer.”  When he gave us our trail ride tips, he came from a place of understanding, compassion and respect for the animals so you realized you were on a special creature and not just on a ride.

Here are a couple examples of his direction and the depth behind it:

Stay close and follow the horse in front of you.  I know this is an obvious tip if you are on a trail ride.  But Dennis explained the horse’s nature as a pack animal; it is natural for them to follow each other.  For animals that live in packs, there is safety in numbers.  When they are out in the lead or on their own, they have a heightened sense of danger resulting in skittishness.  But when they are following, they relax and then calm is the result. It’s easier for them and, of course, for you.

Don’t let them eat.  Dennis made a strong point in telling us well before we hit the meadow that the horses will see this as “the buffet” and will go into “all you can eat” mode.  We watched for them to take their first bite so we could nip it in the bud with a quick yank on the halter and kick with our heels.  When we showed them right away we wouldn’t let them get away with it, they stopped trying.  It worked!

He went on to say that for thousands of years horses lived a nomadic lifestyle and never knew when their next meal would be.  They are “programmed” to eat when possible even if they aren’t hungry since their next meal could be days away.  Understanding their nature made it easier for us to discipline them – we knew they were well fed, and they also weren’t trying anything out of the ordinary.  We all enjoyed our rides much more without them putting their heads down to eat all the time.  Instead, they were paying attention to the trail so we could also.

As we stopped for a view of the Jordanelle Reservoir and the Uinta Mountain range, I was also getting to know, Ben, my horse. His favorite place to ride was with his nose right next to the flank of the lead horse.  I think if he could have sat in that horse’s lap, he would have. Talk about a follower!  But when my husband’s horse, Uno, tried to do that to him, Ben would have none of it.  He stamped his feet and aggressively swished his tail in Uno’s face to let him know to stay back.  I guess this is a case of “do as I say and not as I do.”

When we got to the end, we got to make a steep decline to get to the stable and Ben wanted to continue his flank attachment style of following.  In other words, he wanted to go double in a single lane. So I decided to “cowgirl up” and use what I’d learned from our horse whisperer guide, and actually said out loud, “I don’t think so Ben.  Just hold up a sec and give us some room here, my friend.”  The words were superfluous but the quick yank back worked and he immediately backed off so I could enjoy the last few moments of my ride down the switchbacks into the stable.

Dennis warned us that our legs might be a bit wobbly when we dismounted.  Mine were.  Two hours was the perfect ride for us — not too short and not too long. Overall it was “mission accomplished” for a great outing with our son because he wants to come back and do it again.  That’s all a mom can ask.

Note – For information on Boulder Mountain Ranch trail rides or to make a reservation, see their website bouldermountainranch.com.  You can call (866) 783-5819 or email them at bouldermountainranch@allwest.net.

A Long and Winding Trail Into Mountain Biking

Our first experience with mountain biking can be traced back more than a quarter of century ago, when we moved from New York to Park City, Utah. Then, Deer Valley Resort was just 4 years old and there wasn’t any lift-served mountain biking available; in fact, mountain biking had barely been invented. This period of the early 80s was only the dawn of that great sport and just a select few began to get excited about it.

I remember that for the summer of 1987, my wife and I bought two Scott mountain bikes, with fat tires, 24 speed and zero-suspension. We tested them on the asphalt a few times, but used them mostly to take a weekly trip to Old Town Park City and while I may have tried mine on a few dirt trails, I soon found out that it was more work than what I had bargained for and concluded that it was simply not for me. As summer turned into fall, the bikes were relieved of their duties and stayed quietly in our garage until the end of the decade.

Fast-forward to 1990; this was a new and exciting year for us; I was now between two jobs while building a new home. That year, we first sold our residence and the two venerable bikes inside the garage were conveniently “bundled” with the house to give the transaction more of a “mountain” flavor. Our move to a new home also coincided with a noted progress in mountain bike technology: The advent of front suspensions. That’s right, until that time there was no difference between the front fork of a road bike and that of a mountain bike. They both were stiff, unyielding and quite shaky on rough terrain. Getting rid of our first bicycles gave us the opportunity to upgrade to a pair of brand new bikes that had a semblance of front suspension.

This time again, similar scenario; we only used them for a limited number of outings, albeit more audaciously; we began venturing into singletrack trails and I even remember flying over the handlebars in a trail called “Trans-Wasatch,” just where the St. Regis hotel now stands. Through sheer luck and some divine intervention I survived the move as I miraculously landed standing up on my own two feet. Needless to say that after a mishap like this, both bikes were “grounded” for good, and they paradoxically remained hung-up forever, high in the ceiling of our large garage.

That lasted right after the Salt Lake City Olympics, when our children left us and my wife and I suddenly became empty nesters in an over-sized home; we eventually sold the house, negotiating once again the pair of unused bicycles as part of the real-estate settlement. We subsequently lived three full years without bikes in the garage. In 2005 however, I relapsed into my two-wheel pursuit and purchased two-state-of-the-art mountain bikes (front and rear suspensions, disk brakes, the works…) My wife gave me the kind of look that means something like “you’ll never learn…”

We got our bikes in the fall and began to use them on the easy stuff, like the Park City Rail-Trail plus some other bike paths and even made a few timid forays into single-track territory. While the new, modern bikes were literally a “game changer” as they’re more efficient, comfortable and user-friendly, we were both anxious, not quite knowing if my latest infatuation would last. What got us going was the investment we had made and while we realized that a third time wouldn’t automatically be a charm, we just didn’t want to give up only after having tried our hardest.

What made all the difference however, was that I was now retired and we suddenly had much more time on our hands. While we continued for a while on easy paths like the Rail-Trail and both the Farm and the McLeod Creek trails, we then dared to try the lift-assisted mountain bike trails in Deer Valley, but still were woefully inexperienced to fully appreciate them. We then honed our skills on the easy trails that crisscross the Round Valley open space that stands between Park City’s new hospital and the Park Meadow subdivision where we live.

A steady practice on that gentle but technical terrain began to bear fruits and eventually would make a huge difference in our gathering the prerequisite technique and mileage that are the foundation of enjoyable mountain biking. This in a nutshell is how we become more attracted to the world of singletrack trails and almost without realizing it, began to become more confident and enjoyed the sport so much more. Each subsequent season, more days were added to our schedule with greater challenges that turned into better skills, growing assurance and much more fun.

We can now use the Deer Valley lifts and enjoy riding Sunset and Naildriver on the way down as if we had done it for a lifetime. We love the sport and, this season alone, have logged more than 40 days by the end of July! Make no mistake though; mountain biking isn’t an easy sport to pick and stay with, and I bet that there are a multitude of mountain bikes out there that, just like our first two sets of bikes, are hanging alone in some garage, even though they were purchased with the very best of intentions! In some next blog, I’ll try to explain how everyone can get some great “traction” in mountain biking without working too hard or even thinking that they where just not made for that sport. Stay tuned…

An Evening with the Utah Symphony

I’ll admit it.  I hid the chocolate. It’s not like I needed to because there were also two pieces of lemon cake right on top of the gourmet picnic basket I carried to our blanket on the lawn at the Opera Hits concert with the Utah Symphony.  I just wanted the chocolate raspberry truffle tartlets all to myself.

You can come right out and say that’s selfish and I must be an awful person. It is all true – I can’t deny it.  But I have to say if you’d seen the desserts in the Deer Valley gourmet picnic basket, you would have done the same thing or at least thought about it.  I simply couldn’t help myself.

Food is important especially when you are enjoying an outdoor venue. I remember a few years ago, I went camping by the beach in Bodega Bay, California with my brother and sister-in-law. They invited their neighbor who brought two cans of tuna as her culinary contribution to our weekend.  I am dead serious. By the way, she also sat in my chair the entire time and I had to sit on the ice chest (but I am not the least bit bitter.)  When enjoying the outdoors, you don’t want the ordinary. You want something special.

On the lawn listening to the operatic voices of angels – the sopranos, the tenors and the opera choir backed by the full symphony orchestra, we had that something special. My husband and I lingered and enjoyed the bottle of Pinot Noir with our Brie, apples, grapes, crusty baguettes, and antipasto before feasting on a salmon steak and filet as well as the amazing lemon cake.  What a great night.

Later when we got home, he dug through the basket, found the chocolate tartlets and said, “Look, I found these for you.  You can have them both.”

“Chocolate raspberry tarts? Oh I love them. Thank you, Honey.  That is so sweet of you,” was my shy reply. He obviously didn’t know someone had hidden them in the bottom and he clearly is a better person than me.

Come on though. Wouldn’t you have done the same thing?

Easy Breezy Summer Day

Some days you don’t feel like exerting yourself -no biking and no hiking.  You just want to chill, relax and have an easy -breezy day.  Last Saturday was one of those days. We had some friends visiting from California so the chairlift to Deer Valley’s Bald Mountain was just what the doctor ordered.Great views – aspens, pines, and mountain bikers below us.  Now you are talking!

As we approached the top of Bald Mountain, my friends innocently asked me which runs I ski.  Since they aren’t skiers, I could easily have said something like, “Oh Grizzly and Orient Express but my favorite on powder days is Mayflower Bowl.  I stay away from Morningstar when it is really cold because I just can’t catch my edges but otherwise it is an exhilarating run.”

All that would have been a completely fabricated — a bald faced lie so I didn’t do it but it would have been fun to see if they believed me.  Well, instead I looked at them and laughed saying, ” None! Are  you crazy?  See the black diamond?  Let me explain what that means.  That  means not Nancy.” (Well, not yet anyways). 


We walked over to Sultan Express lift to see views of the Jordanelle Reservoir and the Heber Valley from what felt like the top of the world. We could see the Uinta mountain range from there.  I pointed out the Blue Ledge run to my friend and we stood at the blind drop off edge to get a feel for what it would be like to fly over the ledge on skis.  We stood near the top of Thunderer run and looked down on a black diamond run but with our feet firmly planted on the ground.


Mountain bikers and hikers were unloading to make their trek down the mountain as we climbed back on the lift to ride down.  The view of Park City and the valley was breathtaking.  I pointed out Flagstaff Mountain where I do hang out on the single blue and green runs.

All this sitting on the chairlift and relaxing made us thirsty! 

We headed up to Stein Eriksen Lodge to lounge on their patio, drink local brews, visit and watch the wind blow through the aspens in an easy breezy way.