I used to ride with a pretty tough crowd. For a time in my 20s, my primary social scene was a group of mountain bikers that lived to push the limits of what could be done on two wheels. Weeknights after work we did “urban assault” rides through the city, making the built environment into our own personal bike park. On weekends, we loaded bikes and camping gear into the boxes of trucks and hit the road in search of steeper terrain, gravitating to spots like the Mount 7 trails in Golden, B.C. During the winter months, we even convinced the administrators of what was then known as Canada Olympic Park (now WinSport) to run the chairlift for us after hours so we could ride our bikes downhill on the snow.
It was all very crazy and fun. Until it wasn’t.
I can’t recall any specific incident that turned me away from mountain biking. It was more so an encroaching doubt that the reward was worth the risk. I sold my bike, split up with the guy who was my partner in life and in riding. A new guy from a new scene came along. We had a baby. I got older. And one day, I realized that downhill mountain biking was something I used to do.
Until last summer, that is, when myself, my partner and our now eight-year-old baby, had the opportunity to ride the bike park at SilverStar Mountain Resort near Vernon, B.C. Carved into the mountain slopes that serve as ski runs during the winter and accessed by chair lift, this world-class bike park has more than 69 kilometres of downhill trails in a range of ability levels, from beginner up to “people ride their bike down that!?!”
The three of us started our day getting geared up at the rental shop with full-face helmets, and elbow and knee/shin pads. We then got fitted for bikes equipped with the suspension to absorb all the bumps and the tires with the appropriate traction for coasting around berms. We also had the services of a guide to show us the ropes and show us around. Our first stop was an adjacent lot for a crash course in how not to crash. We learned how to brake so not to send yourself flying headfirst over the handlebars; how to approach and flow around hairpin corners; how to ride in a crouching stand-up position over the seat to stay balanced and in control. It was all stuff I realized I knew from my past life. Even so, the refresher was refreshing.
We did get up on the mountain that day, bagging a handful of dusty beginner runs. At one point, our guide pointed me down an intermediate section of trail that reconnected further along with the beginner trail my kid was riding. I went for it, feeling the familiar rush as I cleared the steeper terrain, but this time it was enhanced by the rush of seeing her get the hang of it. Though the trails we were on would have been laughable to the me of two decades ago, they were delivering a new kind of thrill, and the joy of re-learning something you forgot you once loved.
The SilverStar Bike Park is open June 23 to Sept. 17, 2023 (subject to change). For information, visit skisilverstar.com.
Tips for Getting Back On the Bike
If you haven’t ridden a downhill trail for a decade, here are some ways to make the return to freeriding a little smoother.
1. Sign up for Lessons
Bikes and bike parks have changed a lot in the past decades, so even beginner-level instruction can offer something new for a formerly experienced rider who has been away from it for a while. Both Fernie Alpine Resort in Fernie, B.C. (skifernie.com) and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden (kickinghorseresort.com) offer lesson programming through their mountain schools. The Discover Biking lessons are for new riders, while private lessons provide skills training tailored to the rider’s specific needs. All lessons can be combined with rentals.
2. Hire a Guide
This is a great idea for riders of all experience levels. A guide takes away the guesswork of whether a certain trail is a good fit with your riding level. This is particularly smart when you’re checking out a new bike park and are riding with a family group of varying abilities (nothing kills a kid’s enthusiasm for an activity faster than ending up on a trail that’s too hard for them). A guide can also encourage you to push your limits without going too far. Most alpine resort bike parks offer guiding services at full or half-day rates, available through their mountain school programs.
3. Join a Riding Group
Beyond your day at the bike park, you can keep your skills sharp by joining up with a riding group or club such as Spin Sisters, a women-only mountain bike club for adults (age 18+) in the Calgary region. Sisters is all about finding progression through camaraderie and does weekly rides for all skill levels facilitated by ride hosts. You can find out more about this group, as well as download a questionnaire to determine your skill level, at spinsisters.ca.
Avenue’s writers and editors are occasionally invited to experience dining or adventure experiences as a guest, including some of the experiences in this story. Neither complimentary experiences nor advertising are required for coverage in Avenue. Neither companies that advertise nor those that provide other incentives are promised editorial coverage, nor do they have the opportunity to review or approve stories before publication.