Thought green, blue, red and black runs were just for skiers and boarders? Think again. Helen Keeling reveals that, come summer, the slopes gear up for another type of rider.
Have you ever wondered what happens to ski resorts in the summer months?
Until a few years ago they became sleepy hamlets, populated by resort locals and a smattering of keen hill walkers.
However, in recent years a new craze has emerged. Mountain bikers, and novice riders looking for a new thrill, have turned up to ski resorts with the intention of pedalling down the runs.
Starting on the green and blue runs, the rider can then attempt the red runs and, if they’re feeling brave, the blacks.
“The health benefits of mountain biking are obvious,” says Rob Pearce, of Mountain Edge in Kitzbuhel, Austria. “Not just physically but mentally. The focus needed to navigate a hard section of track wipes out any other thought, leaving you in a fully concentrated state.
This leaves you with a free mind and a great feeling of achievement after a good ride.” Physically, you can burn between
500 and 1,000 calories an hour when mountain biking.
It will also improve your strength, endurance, balance and cardiovascular fitness.
Before starting your ride you will need to hire a suitable bike from a respectable company. Mountain bikes for downhill riding will usually have front and rear suspension, heavy frames and large disc brakes.
It is also essential to hire a helmet (and for the more extreme rider a full face helmet is advised).
Other recommended accessories include cycle gloves, eye protection, padded shorts (trust me on this one), sunscreen, filled water bottles (and/or a hydration backpack) and quick dry clothing.
For those attempting the more extreme descents, full body armour is also a must. Respectable bike hire companies will also ensure that you are furnished with a map, puncture repair kit, pump and first aid kit.
Whilst the superfit can elect to ride up the mountains to the starts of the runs, the majority of riders take a gondola up. At most resorts the bikes can simply be wheeled straight into the gondolas in tandem with their owners.
Once in, simply sit back and enjoy the view.
Technique is all important when riding down steep slopes, both to avoid nasty falls and to make for a smoother ride. You should generally keep your weight centred above your pedals.
Standing up on your bike can also sometimes make for more control (and a less bruised posterior). Other tips for the novice include employing light, rhythmic braking, as opposed to constant braking (which will make your bike skid), keeping your legs and arms slightly bent so that they act as shock absorbers and keeping your pedals level (to avoid ramming your foot or pedal into a rock).
Women on wheels
For girls wanting to make friends with other female riders, or wishing to be taught by female instructors, there are initiatives such as Flow Sister (www.flowsister.com).
Through forums and clubs like these, likeminded women and girls can share tips and experiences and arrange rides together. Mountain biking down the slopes provides you with both physical and mental health benefits, adrenaline rushes and spectacular views.
“The freedom of the outdoors, being with good friends and the fresh air of the mountains makes for a perfect day,” says Rob.
Get the gear
Stay cool on the mountains this summer and autumn with our best buys.
SixSixOne 2012 Comp Shifted Full Face Helmet (£64.99)
Osprey Zealot 10L Pack (£70.00)
The North Face Muddy Tracks 1/2 Zip Tee (£50.00)
Dare 2b Glance Off Convertible Short (£40.00)
Dare 2b Crashmat Padded Short (£30.00)
Seal Skinz Ventilated Cycle Gloves £22.00