The All Mountain Mamas had the opportunity recently to test our limits during an adventurous work-retreat in beautiful Smugglers’ Notch and Stowe, Vermont. From climbing high at ArborTrek at Smugglers’ Notch to soaring along Stowe Mountain Resort’s giant zip line, we came together for three days of adrenaline boosting fun balanced by brainstorming sessions, yoga, and delicious, Green Mountain farm-to-fork fare.
From Skis to Wheels
Being mountain mamas means that even though we spend lots of time enjoying Vermont from our skis during the winter months, we’re always happy to discover new adventures around the resorts during the other three seasons. The Women’s Mountain Biking Clinic at Smugg’s provided us with a great opportunity to do just that.
On a personal note, I’ve done a good amount of road cycling in my life including a few multi-day trips. Still, despite my experience on two wheels, I’ve always been a bit daunted by mountain biking. The terrain seems challenging and I was afraid of launching myself head first over my handlebars when my front tire hit a rock or a rut. I carried this apprehension with me as we made our way to Smuggs’ MTB Bike Shop and Skills Park.
Ready to Ride
My concerns began to disappear as soon as we arrived. Smuggs runs a first-class mountain biking operation offering everything from full-day camps to beginner lessons and advanced skills clinics. Even the smallest cyclists can get in on the action on pedal-less balance bikes called Striders.
At the bike shop, we met our instructor, Danielle, while other staff members fitted us for our bikes and helmets. The guys in the shop expertly checked seat and handlebar heights for comfort and safety before sending us on our way. My bike was in great condition with smooth gears, responsive shocks, and efficient brakes.
When everyone was geared up and good to go, Danielle brought us out to the resort’s brand new skills park. We spent some time getting acquainted with our bikes, shifting gears and familiarizing ourselves with our brakes. We took turns pedaling up a small hill and coasting back down to practice standing up off our saddles. Danielle demonstrated how we could use our legs to absorb the bumpy trail rather than our bottoms, a skill that would come in handy when we got out onto single track later that afternoon.
What followed was about an hour of mini-lessons in which we learned to balance over plank bridges, ride in a tight circle, and coast around the perimeter of the nearby pump track. We got more than a few sideways glances from the crew of adolescent boys zipping over the bumps while we practiced!
Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t ride over the planks in the MTB park without my bike falling off to the side. I found myself getting a little frustrated—I like to master new skills quickly. Danielle encouraged me to go easy on myself—a mantra she repeated several times throughout the afternoon. No shame. There’s no shame in walking your bike. There’s no shame in falling, in not getting it right, in getting stuck. It happens to everyone—even the most experienced mountain bikers.
Green Mountain Summer
With some skills under our belts we headed out for a ride. The Smuggs property offers guests 11-km of mixed single and double-track biking trails. The surrounding area boasts an additional 100-miles of single-track hiking and biking trails that are readily accessible to visitors and range from beginner to seriously challenging. Danielle started us slowly, and we rode out along a wide, easy double-track trail that followed a gurgling stream in the woods.
We learned how to use a “pop-a-wheelie” motion to lift our front wheel over ruts in the path as we made our way to a forested single track. This was when I really felt like I was mountain biking. At one point I commented that as an avid hiker, it would never had occurred to me to take a bike out on that kind of trail. There was soft ground, woods to navigate, and a fairly substantial uphill grade and we were all huffing a bit when we came to the top. And I learned that my preconceived notions about mountain biking were unfounded–there’s no need to go out there and kill it. It doesn’t have to be an extreme sport.
We emerged from the trees and crested the hill with just a few more pedal strokes through a wildflower-filled meadow. Our efforts were immediately rewarded with a pretty spectacular view of the Green Mountains. Vermont summer at it’s best.
There was definitely a sense of accomplishment among us at the end of the clinic and Danielle was a really fabulous teacher. I loved being paired with a female instructor for a women’s clinic, too. I’m not sure if that’s always the case, but Danielle was a great role model for the Mamas’ foray into mountain biking. Our dinner that night at the Hearth and Candle was well earned!
Gina Vercesi is an award-winning freelance writer with an adventurous spirit and unwavering wanderlust. In 2009 Gina founded Kids Unplugged, leading weekly hikes for families near her home in New York’s Hudson Valley. Kids Unplugged has since evolved into a vibrant site featuring unique, off-the-grid travel experiences for families.
Despite growing up in New England, Gina didn’t don a pair of skis until February 2014—the result of being raised by a beach-loving dad who eschewed everything having to do with snow and cold. When she finally took her first lessons and hit the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort, she became an instant convert. As an All Mountain Mama, Gina loves sharing the joys of Vermont skiing with powder-lovers and novices alike.
Gina’s work has appeared numerous print and digital publications including the Boston Globe, Yankee Magazine, and Lonely Planet. She is passionate about helping families (including her own!) unplug from electronics and the frenetic pace of modern life and believes that travel and adventure are the best ways reconnect to one another and the world around us. Gina lives in a friendly village on the Hudson River with her husband, three daughters, and a good dog.