By Nicole Miller
As soon as I’d committed to compete in the Captain of the Boat downhill race in the Steamboat Bike Park, I already had this whole column written in my head. I was going to place last by a wide margin — I assumed my time would be however long it takes to walk a bike down the course plus 10 minutes — but since only one other woman typically participates, my result still would be good enough to podium.
Then I was going to write about how I was queen of the Last Place Club and include a long list of the Last Place Club accolades I’ve earned in my eight years in Steamboat: four seasons of co-ed softball, three triathlons, a local mountain bike race, you get the idea. That was all before the summertime equivalent of a snow snake took me down while previewing the race course Tuesday afternoon.
It was my first downhill biking crash. It wasn’t that bad, but I walked away with enough scratches and bruises to prove it happened. I crashed on the black Zig Zag Connector, which links the green Tenderfoot trail with the black Creekside trail, where the race was scheduled to be held. The area where I went down wasn’t technical, and I’m still not sure what went wrong, but the worst part — other than not getting the crash on my GoPro — was the mental damage. I lost all my confidence.
People always say, "If you’re not crashing, you’re not trying," and there’s some truth to that. But there’s also value in knowing your limits, and Creekside was my limit.
Creekside is one of the more popular trails on the mountain, but it isn’t considered part of the Bike Park because it is not designated as downhill only. It also doesn’t have the same flow as the downhill trails. Creekside is narrower, has tighter turns and features sections that are way rockier than the downhill trails I’d ridden. Riders definitely need to have some singletrack mountain biking experience under their belts before heading out onto Creekside.
I learned to mountain bike on the amazing singletrack in and around Steamboat Springs, but it has been years since I put those skills to the test, and it showed. After my crash, I chose to walk the more technical and rocky parts of the trail, parts I would have challenged myself to ride just the day before.
My instructor, Stephen Wilson, reminded me that I’d only ridden in the Bike Park six times before trying a black trail. He said I should give myself credit for the progress I’ve made and give myself a break for feeling uncomfortable after my crash. From there, my lesson turned into more of a session with a psychologist.
Stephen used to compete in freestyle skiing, and we talked about how sports have a huge mental component. Nerves in competitive situations and memories of crashes tend to overtake more helpful thoughts when they’re most needed. During his skiing career, Stephen worked with a sports psychologist to help calm his nerves at the starting gate, and he said the results were invaluable.
I know it’ll take awhile before I feel comfortable riding another black trail. I think I’ll head back to the blues in the Bike Park to regain some of my confidence and get back on some singletrack trails to work on my skills.
As far as the Captain of the Boat race, I didn’t compete. I secretly asked the weather gods for a storm that would cancel the race and give me an out. I desperately wanted to give it a try, but I knew there was no amount of ibuprofen in the world that would make my body agree to get back on a bike 24 hours after my crash. For those who are interested in giving it a try, the final race of the series is Aug. 27, and more information can be found here.
If you’re more of a spectator, the Enduro-X is Saturday and Sunday at Steamboat Ski Area. The riders will compete on Bike Park and singletrack trails across the mountain during the two-day, five-stage event. After struggling on Creekside, I definitely have a greater appreciation for the skill these riders have and the speed at which they ride the trails. I’m sure they’ve all had crashes of their own and, like me, have a full-face helmet to thank.
Thanks for following my summerlong downhill biking adventure. Now get outside and start an adventure of your own.
If you go: The final Captain of the Boat downhill race of the season is Aug. 27 in the Steamboat Bike Park. The cost is $10 for event registration plus $26 for a twilight Bike Park pass. For more information, go to http://bike.steamboat.com/downhill-race-series.aspx.
Today’s tip: Pushing your limits can help you progress, but it’s important to know when you’re in over your head and it’s time to retreat.
Nicole Miller is the social media specialist at Steamboat Ski Area. You can read her blog at www.steamboat.com/nicole.