This past week was an entirely new adventure for me. Downhill mountain biking. Granted, I write that and smile, as I have ridden a mountain bike downhill for close to 18 years now.
But, not like this.
Downhill mountain biking is not for the weak-kneed (and believe me, there were several times that I felt weak in my knees…having a fear of heights that I try to keep at bay by constantly scaring myself up adrenaline junky feats to attempt). There is a rush of exhilaration and a sense of mega-accomplishment that accompanies any extreme sport, and this definitely qualifies as extreme in my book.
The first day at Whistler was spent doing a semi-normal cross-country mountain bike trek. Chad and I wanted to rent full suspension Specialized bikes (we are both quite brand loyal to Specialized mountain bikes) and test them out on the terrain. Until this point, I had not been on a full suspension bike, except to meander through a parking lot at a bike store. Riding a full suspension bike definitely has its perks…but I am not altogether sold on it. For six years, I have ridden the same 26″ XL frame Specialized Rock Hopper hardtail bike. I LOVE my bike!
The suspension on these Specialized bikes was fun to play with going downhill through the Lost Lake area near Whistler Village, but it was not as noticeable of a difference as I expected. Admittedly, I felt, as the guy renting the bike said: lazy. You don’t have to work as hard, you can amble easily over tricky root systems and rocky paths. I test drove a 29 medium frame Camber that day, while Chad test drove a 29 XL Stumpjumper. The best part of the bike, to me, was being on a frame more my size and having the 29er. I am sold on a 29er. I was able to scale things that I would have struggled before with my 26er. Again, I am not sure that I am sold on the full suspension, especially for what I am used to riding locally in East Tennessee.
Okay, okay, enough of my Specialized commercial!
The trails we rode on our first day in Whistler around Lost Lake were very similar to the rides we have been riding around the Knoxville area. We rode mostly on the Intermediate trails and did not encounter much difficulty, having the most fun on the aptly named “Cut Yer Bars” trail.
At one point, we attempted to ride “A River Runs Through It” and encountered a LOT of difficulty, ending in laughter and abandoning of the trail altogether.
The rest of the three days that we rode in Whistler we rode downhill – which I highly recommend trying! There are trails at this park that I will probably never attempt in my lifetime, but we did conquer several intermediate trails, my favorite being “Crank It Up.”
These trails are pristinely maintained with nicely packed dirt and perfectly formed berms and jumps. As I rode these trails, I found myself many times amazed at the drop a hill had or the angle of horizontal-ness that I found myself at on a berm. My tires left the ground many times, but nothing compared to many of the expert riders around me (including Chad).
To ride these trails, you MUST have a full suspension, downhill bike. It would be psychotic to ride a hard tail bike on these trails, knowing the ruts that carve out much of the path that you travel. There are entire berms and long stretches of trail that are JUST ruts. It is also advised to wear a full-face helmet and padding. Most riders are responsible on these trails and do wear at least a helmet, elbow and shin pads. This was the trickiest thing to get used to as my shin pads were over-sized and slid to my ankles each day. I was grateful to have protection riding, as again, I had never quite ridden anything like this!
As we did not come equipped with padding or downhill bikes, we rented from a store that Chad has been loyal to for several years coming up to the park, and a store that I am also now loyal to, Whistler Village Sports. (YOU MUST rent from here when you go, they gave a great discount for consecutive days.)
Once you have rented your equipment you then head to the ticket booth to purchase lift tickets. It was such a new world to me to visit a chairlift and NOT struggle to get my self and my equipment on board. (Many who have snowboarded with me will know my struggle to get on and off of a chairlift. Most times, this ends in hysterical laughter as I cling to the person next to me or tumble off the lift at the top.) You simply heave your bike into the metal case designed for your bike, and then await for the next chair to come around to sit on.
As you are whisked up the mountain, you get to watch your bike ride in front of you. Once reaching the top, there are two workers who take your bike off for you and tell you to have a great ride. It’s a glorious thing not struggling getting on and off a chairlift, and truly was one of my greatest accomplishments! 😉
The first day that we rode, Chad took me graciously on a green/beginners trail. I was amazed at the length of the trail (it takes about 45 minutes to get down the mountain), the amount of kicka** girls that were riding (about 30-40% of the riders were female), and the technical aspects of the trail. IT IS HARD to ride downhill. It is a very different type of riding, as my hands learned by the end of the week. You literally hang on.
The trails were captured by Chad’s GoPro camera. We found that strapping his camera backwards showed the more technical aspects of the trail, but regardless it really DOES NOT do the trails justice. I do not think there is a way to adequately capture these trails without riding them yourself. (So, go ride them yourself!) For now, I will show this is video of the Intermediate Technical trail, Ninja Cougar.
I suppose I could go on and on about this trip and the fun of downhill mountain biking. But, I think I have inundated you with pictures and writing enough. I am going to end this post with the Top 10 Things from this trip (Letterman style):
10. Trying oysters for the first (and the last) time
9. Helmets, elbow pads and knee pads
8. Not wrecking
7. Getting another stamp in my passport
6. The mountain and glacier views
5. Whistler Village Sports
4. Specialized bikes
3. Gracefully entering and exiting a chairlift
2. Having a boyfriend that knows you are capable of riding downhill
1. Realizing that you are pretty kicka** yourself for riding these trails