Bombs Away! - Page 2

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Following the Leader: More terrain within the Snowshoe Bike Park  (courtesy, Snowshoe Mountain Resort)

Even an average of 150 riders a day is an impressive visitation stat. But youÂ’d never know that many people were out there from riding the trails, this despite the fact that all the resortÂ’s bikes were rented when I first joined Philip and a group of his downhill-obsessed friends from Columbus, Ohio, one warm August morning.. As with skiing, a dearth in people is a godsend.

I followed Philip and the other cyclists as we pedaled off the top of the mountain, dropping onto a cat road that slipped under the Ballhooter lift before looping around the mountain in a lazy S-curve. The downhill runs off the eastern side of Snowshoe Mountain lie within the stretches of dense forestland between the resort ski slopes, marked by unassuming letters—A, B, C, up to J—alongside a much more sobering sign proclaiming that the trails are only for advanced and expert riders. I knew I could swing with most cross-country routes, but as for being an advanced rider? A descents—and time—would tell.

IÂ’d gone downhilling at Snowshoe once before, two years previously. But my intro to the sport ended when my photographer cut his chin open at the end of our first run. HeÂ’d made it down without incident, saw the lift, instinctively relaxed, and a number of stitches (three internal, five external) later, heÂ’d decided downhill mountain biking wasnÂ’t for him.

He’s still not changed his mind—but a lot has changed at Snowshoe since 2003: body armor and full-face helmet rental, a new fleet of rugged Kona downhill bikes, almost double the terrain. But I confess I was still apprehensive, especially when I watched the line of cyclists drop without hesitation into the narrow mouth of a shadow-scattered trail marked by rocks, roots, mud, and—I was certain—1,001 other wheel-sucking, endo-inducing obstacles. But lest I be caught staring white-knuckled at the drop in as Philip and the others lapped me, I offered a silent prayer, leaned waaay back, and eased over the edge.

"YouÂ’re braking way too much," Philip told me as I pedaled out of the first stretch of singletrack, lungs aching, fingers cramped from near-constant clenching on the brake levers.

Philip’s advice seemed woefully counterintuitive. It also turned out to be spot-on. If pedaling through winding singletrack on a hardtail is like piloting a jet fighter, then driving a downhill rig is tantamount to driving an A1 Abrams. And in the world of downhill, speed is your friend—keep your momentum going and you don’t have to find a clean line through a rock garden or gnarly root section; you power through it, hands off the brakes, ass hanging over your rear tire to keep your balance back as the bike gobbles up the basketball-sized boulders and drops and slick roots that comprise much of Snowshoe’s downhill trails. The full-suspension Kona bike rentals at Snowshoe are custom-made—50 pounds, eight to nine inches of travel in the front and back, hydraulic disc brakes—and they conquer damn near everything in their path. For someone who’d spent most of his cycling life on a cross-country hardtail, full-suspension downhill was a true, fat-tire revelation.

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Snowshoe Mountain Resort

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