Family adventures: Mountain biking

Mountain biking group

This summer, in order to serve our guests in their quest for outdoor adventures, Smugglers’ Notch expanded biking programs to include more choices for mountain biking.

As with many of our programs, mountain biking is progression-based to support the learning curve from novice to confident rider. Skilled instruction on a beginner practice area gets novice riders off to a good start and a varied trail network serves all abilities. A youth camp, group rides and private lessons offer the opportunity for fun beginner or non technical riding on the resort’s wide Nordic ski trails. For more advanced riding we’ve developed single track trails that serve snowshoeing enthusiasts during the winter season. We are also offering a guide service on or off property to explore some of northern Vermont’s best trails. The mountain biking programs will continue into our Fall season.

Smugglers’ mountain biking program manager Rick Sokoloff is the cofounder and past president of the Stowe (VT) Mountain Bike Club. In fact, if you explore local trails, you might just spot the bench honoring his 12 years of service on Kimmer’s Trail in Stowe, voted one of the 10 best mountain biking trails in America by onthesnow.com. Rick has also been actively involved in the Vermont Mountain Bike Association.

We asked Rick for a quick overview of the sport of mountain biking and his insights on how a properly developed program can serve novices. He shared the following thoughts and a few tips:

When people think of mountain biking what often comes to mind are media images from extreme competitions – someone hucking off a cliff or negotiating a really rocky trail; an experience that’s not even close to what recreational riders would consider doing. The truth is that there are a handful of people that do those more extreme trail courses, yet more people mountain bike than play golf. So what are the majority of mountain bikers doing?

Given the numbers of people participating in mountain biking, it has evolved into a very mainstream sport with multiple disciplines. Downhill mountain biking, often referred to lift accessed, is just that; you ride to the top of a mountain on a lift and then ride your bike down. As trail development has evolved, this area of the sport is seeing rapid growth.

Dirt jumping involves riders building up speed from a small hill on the approach to a series of dirt jumps. Typically there are a variety of paths that offer challenges that range from easy to advanced. A pump track, a dirt track with bumps and berms, is a great place for skill development. A pump track with novice features, like the track at Smugglers’, offers a fun way for new riders to experience trail features in a more controlled environment.

Pump track at Smugglers' Notch Vermont

Getting a feel for terrain challenges on the Smuggs pump track

Cross country riding is by far the most popular segment of mountain biking. It could mean riding on a dirt road or zipping through the woods on single track. Dirt roads, Nordic ski trails, logging roads and the like crisscross the forest and are oftentimes the beginning or foundation of many mountain bike trail networks. These types of trails offer a low technical challenge although the physical challenge may be high, depending on the trail or road. For instance, logging roads, often referred to as skid roads because you skid the logs down the hill, tend to be very steep – not very good for enjoyable mountain biking. At Smugglers’, the Nordic ski trails offer a great ride for mountain bikers as the trails tend to be fairly wide and traverse a mix of interesting terrain.

Cross country mountain bikingSingle track is just that, a path ranging from 12 to 18 inches wide with room for one bike to travel. Single track trails are being built all over the country; you don’t need to be on a mountain or climb a mountain to be single track mountain biking. As a matter of fact, a well built single track trail will have a modest grade so that you can keep climbing all day long. It is not uncommon to have a climbing trail and then a downhill or ‘flow’ trail as a reward.

A good mountain biking program serves participants with a progression that will take them from nervous novice to confident rider with good instruction and a comfortable setting for practicing skills. That has been our goal with the improvements to the program at Smugglers’. Mountain biking is a wonderful sport that families can enjoy together, and it’s a great way to get out into nature and get some exercise. Anyone with a love of the outdoors and personal challenge is likely to enjoy mountain biking.

Rick’s top tips for novice mountain bikers
1) Spend plenty of time in a learning environment like a novice pump track or an easy trail or dirt road until you feel confident with bike handling and terrain features.
2) Out on the trail, look ahead to anticipate trail features and plan your line or path. As with skiing, you will go where you look, so don’t get fixated on your front tire!
3) Relax. Being relaxed yet alert will serve you well on the trails. A death grip on the handlebars is not needed. Trust the bike and remember that it was built to handle the terrain.
4) A tire is like a gyroscope: when it’s spinning, it’s stable, but when it slows down, it’s not. So keep up a little momentum on your ride. It helps!

Does your family enjoy mountain biking? Share your experience in a comment; we’d love to hear from you!

Want to learn more about mountain biking at Smugglers’? Check out this short video!

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