It’s downhill at Keystone | VailDaily.com

It’s downhill at Keystone

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

It's not every day you see a gaggle of women decked in full-face helmets riding beefy downhill bikes — but that's most Wednesdays at Keystone Bike Park.

At a recent Women's Wednesday, no less than 12 women were cruising around the skills park at Keystone, many of them experiencing downhill mountain biking for the first time. After learning some basics of bike handling from an enthusiastic group of women instructors, the group headed up the lifts for a session on the resort's 100-plus miles of lift-serviced singletrack. They looked just like any group of armor-clad riders — maybe just wearing a little more pink and purple.

Growing the sport

"Women's Wednesdays at Keystone have been going strong for the past two years," said Jennifer Leigh Bowe, Keystone Mountain Bike Academy downhill instructor. "Although more and more women are mountain biking, there is still a vast disparity in the male to female ratio. For the sport to grow and become stronger, we need more female riders."

Hence, Women's Wednesdays were created two years ago in an effort to grow the sport. Keystone partnered with VIDA Mtb, a women's-specific mountain-biking network that focuses on skills instruction. VIDA sends out volunteer ambassadors to teach the sessions alongside Keystone women instructors. The weekly sessions are priced right as well — $30 gets you a downhill bike rental, protective gear, instruction and a lift pass. The lessons are geared toward beginners, but instructors say they see people of all skill levels — from riders with decades of experience to women getting back into the sport after a hiatus.

Ladies club

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Riding Keystone's Summit Express chairlift, with bikes securely loaded on the mountain's new bike trays, riders can look down on a sprawling network of 55 trails that range from low-key green trails that you could ride on a hardtail to expert black runs with mandatory jumps and raised bridge features. You'll find manicured berms, steep rooted sections, wood features and raw, rocky pitches.

At Women's Wednesdays, the groups mostly stick to greens and blues, working their way down the mountain and stopping to troubleshoot and get tips from the instructors.

Bowes said there aren't specific lesson plans for women's groups — the sessions are effective simply because they are for women, by women.

"The instruction for women is no different from the instruction for men. I would recommend that most men looking to get into mountain biking should take a lesson at some point, just as I would for women," she said.

The difference comes in the support — Bowe says she hears many women talk about biking with their husband, boyfriend or brother and being told at difficult sections "just to ride it." It leads to frustration, but being in an all-women's group is different, she said.

"Don't ask me why, but I think women are just more supportive when you get a group of us together. The good vibe is really sort of magical and even when we have tumbles and scrapes, we all leave feeling good. Lots of high-fives and laughter," Bowe said.

At the end of a recent session, the women were visibly more comfortable on their bikes, and a handful of them stayed behind to hone their handling in the skill park or try some jumps in the jump park. The last hour and a half of instruction seemed to have come with a big shot of confidence — of course, body armor and 7 inches of travel doesn't hurt either.

Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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What: Keystone Bike Park offers more than 55 trails of all levels, plus several bike parks for riders of all kinds, although they are known for their downhill singletrack. Lessons are encouraged, and besides the Women’s Wednesdays, there are Bike 101 and Bike 201 packages for both men and women who are newer to the sport.

When: Women’s Wednesdays are offered every Wednesday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. through the summer season. Keystone’s Bike Park will remain open daily through Sept. 7, with two additional weekends Sept. 12-13 and 19-20.

How much: Women’s Wednesdays are $30, which includes protective gear, helmet, bike rental, lift ticket and instruction. General one-day bike park tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for children ages 5-12.

More info: http://www.keystoneresort.com/activities/mountain-biking.aspx