Having moved to Utah to ski, everyone kept telling me, “You came for the winter, now stay for the summer." And I had no idea just how amazing this state is in the summer. With hundreds of miles of trails in Park City and many thousands more in Utah, I had to give mountain biking a try.

While I consider myself both an athletic person and someone who enjoys biking for pleasure, that doesn’t quite mean I could just jump on a bike and ride any trail. This is a sport that requires attention, patience, and skill. Suffice it to say, my first attempt at riding didn’t end so well, i.e., a bad crash. So, I decided a lesson with an instructor was a better route to learning to ride.

I don't own a mountain bike and I figured that I should try something different than the borrowed one from my crash. So I settled on a rental. There are several bike rental shops in the Park City area, but given my ski background, I went to a shop that I’ve used before and trust for equipment rental, Cole Sport. I was asked my ability, height and weight, and was outfitted with a Liv Intrigue 29 1, size medium. This was the recommendation for women who are beginners. With the hopes of continuing my biking journey beyond my lesson, I purchased a POC Kortal helmet, loaded up my bike, and headed to Woodward Park City.

Why Book a Mountain Bike Lesson

Woodward’s philosophy of progression-based learning creates a safe, fun space to learn and develop your skills without fear of judgement. Whether you’re a beginner looking to expand your abilities or seeking to ride with more confidence in various terrains.

All of Woodward’s group lessons are designed for beginner and intermediate riders. The intermediate clinics focus on specific skills like body and bike separation, cornering, momentum management, terrain tactics, and introduction to jumping. These clinics are a great way to target skills in a purposefully built learning environment. As a bonus, all of Woodward’s half-day lessons include full day access to the lift and outside learning environments.

I signed up for the focusing on the fundamentals of downhill mountain biking. And I was the only person who signed up that day, so was fortunate enough to experience a one-on-one lesson with my fabulous instructor, Karli Anderson.

Taking a Mountain Bike Lesson

While Karli boasts years of experience in a variety of different mountain biking styles, making her the perfect inspiration and instructor for me. Karli’s genuine ability to relate to the beginner nerves was soothing; reassuring me that even she still gets nervous sometimes. As much as I admire and respect the partners and friends who try to teach their loved ones a new action sport, they shouldn’t be teaching you. It can breed anger and frustration and it can hurt their feelings if you don’t share the same appreciation and love for the sport. Let the trained instructors do the teaching, and let the partners and friends do the cheerleading. Take it from me.

My lesson started on the Start Park, which includes loose and uneven dirt surfaces with small turns, gentle rollers, and other small features. Karli walked me through the basic bike mechanics: brakes, gears, suspension setup, and the drop seat feature. At this moment, I began to sweat and not because we were standing on a hillside in the late-July, midday heat. “What is she talking about?”, I thought to myself. Rather than getting bogged down by mechanics, I nodded along and waited for her to tell me when to get on the bike, so I could learn by doing.

The Start Park for beginners - Image courtesy of Woodward Park City

From here, I practiced my neutral stance. Trying to simultaneously keep my shoulders relaxed, knees apart, and my feet level, was harder than I thought. The next challenge was learning how to adjust my body positioning, while maintaining neutral stance, as I flowed through corners. Karli encouraged me to over-exaggerate the shift in weight in my hips and arms, telling me to, “Pretend like your arms are windshield wipers. Use them to direct the bike where you want to go, and remember, where you’re looking, you’re going.”

When you’re looking at the ground two feet in front of you, you’re not going to see the next corner ahead, and you just might end up falling on your face. That’s ok, it’s all in a day's work. With each minor critique Karli provided, I was able to adjust my body and feel the difference the moment I started pedaling again.

Putting It All Together

Once I was ready to progress to the downhill trails, we loaded our bikes onto the Hot Laps chairlift, and I took a moment to enjoy the scenery. Karli reviewed the best tips for conquering corners: stay high, maintain your speed and neutral position, and look toward your exit. Before I knew it, our bikes had been unloaded off the lift by employees and put in a rack for us to pick up. Then we were off.

Karli guided me down the EZPZ trail, one of four trails at Woodward. EZPZ is the easiest green run, followed by Steezy Rider. There are two blue runs, Parley’s Way and Spiral Jetty. Karli noted that all of the runs are interconnected, so you can mix and match pieces of each to create your ideal ride. All trails include wide manmade features like berms, hips, banks, jumps, and wallrides.

After following Karli down EZPZ twice, she cheekily said, “Okay, you’re going first this time, and you’re gonna hit that corner." The corner that claimed my face as its punching bag. Reluctantly, I found my neutral stance and took off. Something switched inside of me as if I suddenly shifted into a new reality. I finally felt confident, and I understood the logic behind mountain biking being “really scary, until it’s really fun”, as I was told by the man who checked me in for my lesson.

Karli met me with a determined sense of realism. She knew where my abilities lay, she knew what I was capable of, and she gave me the reins to choose my own adventure. I was emboldened. For my final run, I opted for a combination of Steezy Rider to start, with EZPZ to finish. The switchback corners that began the day with a fall onto my face, ended with a rolling success.

Renting a trusty steed from Colesport - Image courtesy of author
Chairlift ride with the fabulous coach Karli - Image courtesy of author

Now It’s Your Turn

So, you crushed and your newfound confidence makes you wanting more – now what? Come back to strengthen your skills! Woodward offers a program called Take 3 Ride Free. Enjoy three 2-hour group mountain bike lessons and upon completion, earn a complimentary one-month mountain pass to continue to conquer the trails at your own pace, with rental mountain bikes included. This program is a great entry point into mountain biking and the one-month pass afterwards offers an unparalleled opportunity to continue to progress with a new sport beyond the initial lesson(s). I hope to see you there!