2013-02-10_14-54-27_15

My Favorite Winter Mountain Biking Destinations

Great Winter Mountain Biking Destinations

As someone who spends 12 months a year traveling the world coaching mountain biking, mountain biking and racing I have my favorite spots! When 90% of the US is freezing there are a few spots I love to ride in.

za-pics-1

Photo from the Harkville forest trail!

My new favorite winter riding spot is the well named Garden Route in the  Western Cape of South Africa! There are mountains popping up right out of the Indian Ocean and riding along the cliffs above the ocean (Harkville Forest).  Knysna and George are the two biggest cities in the area (George as an airport) and there great riding in George, Knysna and in between the two at the Garden Route Trail Park,  www.gardenroutetrailpark.com . Did I mention that if you are coming from anywhere in Europe or the US that it is an incredibly inexpensive country  to stay, travel and dine in! Their infrastructure is surprisingly robust with great cell reception, good roads, nice airports and it is an English speaking country (as well as 8-9 other languages but almost everyone speaks English). There is much to do off the bike too, surfing (one world class surf break just outside of George and the famous Jeffreys Bay less than two hours away), photo safaris, hiking, shopping (inexpensive!), paddle boarding, bunge jumping, fine dining, sport fishing and just good old sight seeing.

 

Winter Mountain Biking Destinations

Sweet flowing Singletrack at the Garden Route Trail Park!

 

The number 1 spot in the US is actually Phoenix, AZ! Before you judge let me tell you about mountain biking in Phoenix, it is incredible. Phoenix is by far the best big city in the country for mountain biking. In Phoenix (not off in distant suburbs) are two great riding areas and one pretty decent mountain biking area. When you add in the suburbs, Scottsdale, Mesa, Cave Creek, Glendale and Black Canyon you could ride for over a month and never repeat a trail (but that would be lame because the trails are so good you will want to repeat them). Arizona is the furthest West sate in the Mountain Time Zone so the sun sets a 5:30 on the shortest days of the year and the winter weather is amazing, warm (mid 60′s are the average high temps in January the coldest month of the year! )  and sunny. If it does rain it just makes for better riding as the rain makes the mountain bike trails tacky and fast.

South Mountain has downhill worthy trails as well as miles of smiles xc trails.

We will start with South Mountain. At over 16,000 acres (for comparison Vail Resort is the largest single mountain ski resort in the US at 5,289 acres) and over a thousand vertical feet it has great trails for advanced beginners to pros. South Mountain is my favorite place to ride in Phoenix as it has some of the rockiest, most challenging trails in the country that always keep me on my toes. They claim 51 miles of trails but I bet there are double that if you include the super challenging ones like Old Man Trail.  Despite being in the city of Phoenix South Mountain is never that crowded as Phoenix does seem to the most outdoorsy city (this mountain would be mobbed if it was in Denver or Salt Lake City). South Mountain also has great views in all directions and cool cacti everywhere.

Next is the Dreamy Draw/Trail 100/Camel Back/Phoenix Mountain Preserve area (locals will use any of those 4 names to describe the area). Although not as big as South Mountain the terrain is pretty similar with fun, flowy, flatter trails and very steep and technical trails. A very fun and underrated area to ride.

Right between Phoenix and Tempe is Papago Park which doesn’t have the elevation or size of the other parks but has some fun flowy trails scattered about as well as a little free-ride jump area.

Mesa, AZ (an Eastern Suburb of Phoenix) just built a great bike park and is home to two great trail areas, Hawes and Usery Pass. Pass Mountain Trail in Usery Pass park his one of my favorite trails in the state! Fun singletrack and gorgeous views!

Pass Mountain Trail!

 

For great camping and fun advanced beginner/intermediate trails check out McDowell Park. There is $6 day use fee but the trail head has a shower! The main mountain bike focus trails are short loops with a lot of fun corners and dips. Not as challenging as South Mountain but very fun if you crank the speed up a bit. They also have trails that can be linked to form epic rides including the punishing Quadruple Bypass ride that some sadistic locals enjoy.

North of Phoenix off of I-17 is the Black Canyon Trail which has several trail heads and will one day go from Flagstaff to Tucson. It has quite a few fun sections all not far from I-17.

My number 2 Spot for deep winter mountain biking is a tie between Tucson, AZ and Sedona, AZ.  Tuscon has warmer weather and better night life while Sedona has a lifetime of great trails and incredible scenery but colder weather (usually about 10 degrees colder than Phoenix or Tucson). Both Tuscon and Sedona are also less than 2 hours from Phoenix making it easy to hit all three in a week.

My number 4 spot for deep winter mountain biking in the continental US is Boulder City, NV. Boulder City has the famous Bootleg Canyon mountain bike park (known for it’s challenging downhill trails but it also has some fantastic cross country trails). Visit the most well stocked bike shop I have ever seen, All Mountain Cyclery for advice on trails to ride and any upgrades you are seeking. It is also 20 miles from the Las Vegas airport and 30ish miles from the great “Cottonwood Trails” Southwest of Vegas.

Joey Schusler railing a turn at Bootleg Canyon, March 2007 Camp

For late fall until spring riding (Mid-November through April) all of the above are great with Sedona and Boulder City warming up quite a bit.

Other favorite late fall and late winter destinations are Austin, TX, Albuquerque, NM, Saint George/Hurricane, UT and most of California.

Austin has friendly people, great music and really good trails. No huge elevation gains or losses but fun flowy trails at Walnut Creek (with a great pump track), one of the most technical trails I ever ridden at City Park and fun trails you can ride right from downtown in the Green Belt. Some famous road racer lives in Austin too!

2013-02-02_14-39-20_696

Albuquerque has trail options in many different environments. Check out White Mesa for cool desert canyon singletrack and Sandia Peak for high alpine wooded singletrack. Be sure to stop in Bike Works for local trail advice.

Saint George/Hurricane, UT is home to the famous Gooseberry Mesa Trail as well as many less famous but very fun trails. Great high desert riding from singletrack to Red Bull Rampage jumps and drops. Say hi to Quinten and DJ at Over The Edge in Hurricane and they can update you on trail conditions and recommend rides.

Although the late winter can be the rainy season in California there are good trails from San Diego all the way to Oregon there. Do some research online before heading out to California. My favorite areas inland San Diego (Nobel Canyon area), the Laguna Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz (I haven’t explored much North of their yet).

The Southeast also has fun Fall/Winter/Spring Mountain Bike Destinations but on less grand a scale. There is great riding all over Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. What they lack in elevation gain they make up for in fun corners, roots and rocks.

I have purposely left out a lot of great trails and areas near those above as we live in a big, beautiful country, go out and explore! If you have a favorite winter spot or two tell us about them!

1348518115106

Mountain Biking The Whole Enchilada, Successfully

Mountain biking the Whole Enchilada (“WE” to save my fingers) is on many a rider’s “bucket list”, as it should be, it is one amazing ride! However, do the fact it is a “shuttle ride” and only approximately 27 miles long many people under estimate it. I want everyone to really enjoy this ride and avoid many of the mistakes riders make in tackling this ride.

Mountain biking the whole enchilada

Dave and I on top of the Burro Pass climb, 2008?

I have no idea what your fitness or skill level is but I just want to make sure you understand what you are getting into on this ride. :)

The WE is a long and very challenging ride! It takes great skill and great fitness. Every time I ride it I see people walking the first little rocky descent on the trail that takes you to the base of Burro Pass. This frightens me as the trail only gets much harder for the next 27 or so miles. It gets much steeper, rockier and rougher as well as having two tough climbs and a lot of short climbs, it is by no means downhill the whole way!

The first climb, about 10 minutes from where the shuttle drops you off starts at 10,300 feet and goes to 11,200 feet. That climb alone is more taxing than most entire mountain bike rides. Then the Burro Pass trail descent is steep! and ROUGH! This ride is unlike any ride most mountain bikers have done and probably 50% of riders attempting it are missing at least one vital component they need to finish, much less enjoy this ride.

Many people think (including me the first time I did this trail), “27 miles, I do that all the time! And this is a shuttle ride so it is mostly down hill!”. Well, a common saying in Moab is a mile in Moab equals two anywhere else and it is true. Moab is sandy and rocky, big, square edged rocks that are angled toward you. The pedaling is harder here as the sand and rocks rob your power and speed and the descending is rough also robbing your speed and fitness (your upper body will be as tired as your legs after this ride!).

Just past halfway at the famous view point. You start near the top of the La Sals behind you!

Just past halfway at the famous view point. You start near the top of the La Sals behind you!

Burro down (the original name of this ride) is best done by a skilled rider, who is very fit and on an “enduro” bike, all the steep sections are much easier on a bike with a slack head angle (67 degrees or less) wide bars (740-820mm) and a short stem (35mm to 60mm), a dropper post and at least 2.3, tubeless “trail tires” (with a thicker sidewall to resist cuts.punctures and pinch flats). Yes, people have done it on steep head angle hardtails but why? That’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight!

I’m not trying to scare you or act elitist but this ride no joke. It really scares me watching the unprepared and/or under skilled riders get off the shuttle and start this ride. Unless you are much fitter than me (which isn’t too hard to be these days!), the ride will take at minimum four hours but your “average rider” probably takes 6-8 hours to finish. Which means you also need a heavy pack with enough food and water for 4-8 hours of exercise in a hot, dry environment and enough clothing for the cold temps at 10,000-11,200 feet (where it could be snowing sideways). This fall we started at 2:30 pm (not the smartest thing we have ever done! ;) ) and started catching people from the 10:00 am shuttle less than halfway through the ride! When we finished we had passed many riders from the 8:00 am shuttle and they looked like Zombies, many were out of water and walking their bikes.

Mountain biking the Whole Enchilada

View from the start of Kokopelli

Now, if you are either really fit (able to do a 50 mile mtb ride), really skilled or hopefully both this is one of the best rides in the World. Honestly though, my skills are better than they have ever been but my fitness isn’t what it used to be (not because of my age but because I simply don’t train as hard as I used to) and this ride works me, I am hammered at the end. It worked me when I was really fit too, as I went faster, so. no matter what your fitness level is it will probably wear you out.

For most riders, starting a little lower than Burro Pass is a blessing! It is still really fun from Hazard (trail) down or Kokopelli down. If that turns out to be well within your fitness and ability then ride the WE a day or two later. The nice thing about these two options is they open earlier in the year and stay open later as they start lower.

If you prepare for this ride it is a blast! Make sure you are in shape enough to ride a 50 mile mtb ride and have the skills to ride steep, technical trails and enjoy your ride!

ride your best in 2017

Mountain Bike Your Best in 2017! Free Planner For Achieving Your Riding Goals

As the 2016 MTB season is winding down (for many of us) it is time to prepare for next season. If you are serious about becoming the best mountain bike rider or racer you can be now is the time to act. All the knowledge in the world is worthless without action. Below is an abbreviated version of the questionnaire I use with our full-time athletes to evaluate their season and design their training program for the next racing season.  Use this to evaluate your riding “performance” in 2016 and plan to mountain bike your best in 2017!


At some point this fall take a break from riding (if you haven’t already). Two weeks off the bike can do wonders for you! Hike, travel, surf, relax, read, do anything but ride your bike. Your body needs a break from riding and so does your mind. Don’t worry, two weeks off the bike won’t hurt your fitness much and for most of us it will make us stronger as we give ourselves enough time to recover from so much time spent on our bikes (a lot of time on the bike is not always the best thing, it becomes really easy to create in-balances and over use injuries). During your break set your goals for 2017. They are your goals so I won’t tell you what they should be as we all want different things out of riding and life.

I will tell you to set measurable goals that you feel are within your reach if you work enough (too high a goal makes it is easy to give up and too easy a goal doesn’t motivate you). Examples of great goals our students have set are: “Clean Widow Maker Hill!”, “Improve my max squat by 15% by April 1st.”, “Shave 10% off my fastest time on the long loop at McDowell by May 10.”

If you are a racer be careful to set performance goals as well as outcome goals, as it is impossible to control how your competition performs! For example, I really wanted to win the World Masters Championships in 2006, but I had no idea who would show up or how hard they had been training (two things I can not control) so just setting the goal of winning might have set me up for failure despite possibly having my best performance ever. Although one of my main goals is to win the race my other goals were; shave 7% off my race times from 2005 (where the tracks are the same in 2006), increase my max squat by 50% (to where it was when I was 35) by April 15th, to decrease my 40 meter sprint times (on my downhill bike) by 20% by July 15th.

For each of these goals I set sub goals (example: increase max squat by 25% by Jan. 1) and process goals (example: work up from one five minute imagery session a week to six 10 minute imagery sessions a week by 7/15/06). If I achieve or surpass all of my sub goals and process goals I will know I have done everything in my power to perform at my best on race day. Which I did and I ended up third, I was simply out ridden by two competitors but I prepared and raced my best! After I got over the disappointment of not winning I was pretty proud of my effort!

Do you keep a riding/training diary? A diary is a big help in the following exercise and through out the season for finding factors that lead to changes in performance. If you haven’t kept a training diary in the past, start now. A training diary helps you learn what parts of your training are working and what parts are not. Reviewing it can explain “peak” performances and poor performances and is a great confidence booster by tracking all the hours of training you have put in.

Your training diary should contain all information that affects your performance, morning HR (heart rate), recovery HR, weight, hours slept, hours training, time in HR or power zones, time using imagery, mood, what you eat, etc. Once you have established your diary it will be easy to find out “why” and test eating, sleeping and training concepts. Why did I feel so strong today? Why did I feel so sluggish last week? Simply look for patterns, examples: “wow, every time I eat pizza for dinner I feel sluggish two days later.” When I eat a big breakfast and do a morning ride I feel weak (need to eat earlier or lighter)”, “surprisingly I climb strongest the day after doing my favorite workout including squats and ab work”. If you really want to ride at your best start a diary today. Goggle docs/drive is the perfect tool, just set up a spread sheet and once you get it rolling it will only take five minutes a day to keep up on.

Here is the abbreviated version of the questionnaire we use with our full-time students to help you analyse your 2013 season and help you set your goals for 2017.

Step One: Assess your racing season and your riding ability. Honestly and objectively answer the following questions about your 2016 season.

Did your skills improve over the course of the season?

What are your strongest skills? (cornering, jumping, steeps, etc.)

What skills need the most improvement?

How did the season go physically?

Did you start strong and get stronger as the season went on?

Did you fade in late July and August? Why?

Did you have the optimum combination of sprinting speed and endurance?

Did you pick 3 to 5 big races/rides to peak for? Were you able to peak for those races?

How was your mental game?

Were you confident and riding to your potential or did you find yourself riding below the level that you know you are capable of?

Why?

What factors helped your confidence this season?

What factors hurt your confidence this season?

Did you a have comprehensive (mental, physical and skill) training program? What part of your program worked? What parts didn’t work?

Did your riding/racing improve as the season went on?

Did you create and write down concrete goals?

Did you reach your goals?

Step Two: Use the answers to these questions as an evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses setting the foundation your 2017 season training program.

Set career, three years from now and this season’s racing goals (top three over all in my state series, etc.), physical training goals (decrease my 50 yard sprint time by 15%, increase my maximum squat by 20%, etc.), skills goals (improve balance, improve cornering, etc.) and mental training goals (improve visualization, learn relaxation techniques, etc.) for your 2017 season.

Racing Goals:

1. Career goal

2. Three year goal

3. This season’s goal

Physical Training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Skills Training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Mental training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Read this article on creating a step by step to ride at your best, http://wp.me/p49ApH-191

Work with your coach or consult a book such as The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible, by Joe Friel; James Wilson’s MTB strength training programs; or Lynda Wallenfels coaching  to create a training plan to reach all of the above goals. Why a coach? A coach can provide you with a structured training program designed to reach your goals, keep an objective eye on your skills and physical training, motivate you and share his/her wisdom, all of which will speed up your improvement.

Step Three: Act on your training program! Ride! Workout! Visualize! Constantly update your goals and training program based on improvement or lack of improvement.

Remember, unwritten goals are just dreams, goals you write down you will commit to and strive to reach. Good luck next season and feel free to call or e-mail with any questions.

Mountain Bike Lesson

Mountain Bike Lesson That Ended With a Broken Collarbone

Would you be upset if you paid for a mountain bike lesson that ended a broken collarbone? All because the instructor wasn’t trained well enough to keep you safe?

Two weeks ago a friend called an invited me to ride Winter Park resort with him. He said his wife and her friend would be taking lessons while we were riding. I was excited as I didn’t think any resorts in Colorado were still operating during the week so this would be my final lift served riding of the year! The day started out great, no lift lines, cool weather, a perfect day, Hans and I were having a blast! Then, after lunch Hans’s phone rang, it was his wife, her friend had broken her collarbone and punctured a lung. We raced down to the onsite emergency room and checked in, she was in a lot of pain!

A mountain bike lesson should NEVER end with a broken collarbone! She was no where close to having the core skills mastered enough to be hitting jumps on Rainmaker (Winter Park’s expert “jump trail”). Why did her “instructor” take her there? No good can from trying to short cut the learning process! In this case a lot of bad happened, a student was injured and her confidence was set back a few notches.

mountain bike coaching

Suzy, doing her first few wheelies! Confidently, and not getting injured!

I never want my students feeling “lucky” that made some feature on the trail. I want them to approach a feature with confidence, knowing that they can make it (not hoping they can make it). You do this by slowly, using baby steps as you progress. I love getting emails from students who just made a rock garden or loose corner that they had never made before and they mention that coolest thing wasn’t just making it, the coolest thing was knowing how and why they made it and being able to confidently do it again.  Just because you made a jump/rock garden/switchback/etc without crashing does not mean you have the skill to it consistently. Riders get away with mistakes all the time but, when those mistakes happen in a tougher situation (such as big jump vs. a little jump) the consequences can me disastrous.

How do riders learn enough to hit big jumps with confidence? First they master the two foundation skills that all mtb skills are based on, body position and vision. Notice, I did not say they understand vision and body position, I said they “master” those skills. Mastering means that they do both of those skills correctly 100% of the time no matter how challenging the conditions are. Once they have mastered those two skills jumping is actually fairly easy, especially if you start small, master small jumps, then baby step your way up to bigger jumps.

I feel sorry for both the student who broke her collarbone and her well meaning instructor. The student is still in pain two weeks later and her confidence is at rock bottom and her fitness getting worse by the day. The instructor probably feels really guilty (as he should) but it isn’t 100% his fault. His training and education as an instructor are at fault. He should have been taught that many, many students want to do things they are not ready for and part of your job as coach is to protect your student from doing what she isn’t ready for yet. Instead, he did the opposite (as I might have done too at his age, he looked to be in his mid to late 20′s).

As someone who has been coaching and studying how to coach since 1989 I am really disappointed in what is happening to well meaning mountain bike “coaches” and students. The coaches, as well meaning as they are simply aren’t coaches yet. I respect their desire to help others and 99% of them really, truly want to help other riders, they simply don’t know how to do it yet. It took me ten years of being coached, taking coaching and teaching classes, studying books on the subject and coaching five to seven days a week to become a good coach. It took another ten years to become a much better coach than I was then (17 years ago) and I’m still learning after 27 years of coaching.

Coaching isn’t just about sharing knowledge, coaching is about getting the student to consistently do what you are teaching, not getting them to simply understand how to do it. Did you ever receive an A in class that was really hard? Did you feel that you could effectively teach that class after you got that A, I doubt it. Well, imagine taking a two day class in a subject and then becoming a teacher!

In short, coaches need a much better educational than are getting. An education based on how people learn physical skills, how to teach those skills and with the skills being taught backed up by physics and by the top riders in the world ! I hope I never see another well meaning but under educated coach teaching students to ride off balance and not in complete control or a coach coaching all students as if they were the same person, ignoring physical and mental differences in their students.

My goal as always been to help others reach their life goals. Since my camps usually sell out and I don’t want the stress of running a business with 13 contractors anymore I have decided to offer a certification program in 2017. This certification will cover my holistic approach to coaching (learning physical skills is not just physical, there is huge mental component too) and  require at least ten days (in three day sessions plus one day of testing) with me, and at least 100 hours of study time (with tests). More on that in my next blog post.