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Mount Snow Capitalizes on Popularity of Mountain Biking

October 10, 1992

WEST DOVER, Vt. (AP) _ Nancy Hughes gathers speed as she heads down a Mount Snow Resort trail.

Off to the side, leading into the woods, is a narrow path and she aims for it. She struggles up the steep incline but doesn’t have enough momentum. Down she goes.

″Go back and try it again,″ instructor John Goodell tells her as she brushes off the mud and leaves.

Up the trail, classmates watch apprehensively. Did Hughes ″pick her line″ correctly? Did she use too much angulation? Maybe not enough? Or was it the inclination? All of the lessons of the past day are going through their minds.

Not unlike most skiing lessons, they try to figure out what Hughes did wrong so they can avoid it.

But this is no typical ski class. Sure, it’s on a ski trail at a ski resort. But it’s late September and Mount Snow is bathed in the colors of autumn, not the stark white of midwinter snow.

Mountain bikes and helmets replace skis and poles. Mud and slick grass line the trails, not snow and ice.

The students, all of whom left training wheels behind long ago, are learning mountain biking and finding there is a lot to learn.

But it’s starting to make sense. Hughes wheels her bike back up and tries again. As she reaches the narrow mud trail, she picks her line and finds the path of least resistance, as Goodell calls it. And she plunges - upright - into the woods. Her classmates cheer.

Later, she’ll attempt a steeper, more slippery slope flawlessly.

Hughes spent a weekend - and about $150, not including lodging - with 10 classmates at the Mount Snow Mountain Biking School. When established in 1988, it was the nation’s first. It remains the best in the East for instruction, rental bikes and trail diversity, said Ed Pavelka, a Mountain Bike magazine editor who was in Hughes’ class.

Mountain bicycling is a fast growing outdoor sport. And ski areas are happy to open their trails to cyclists for a little summer and fall income.

But it turns out that, very much like skiing, mountain biking requires new skills. And there’s money to be made teaching them.

Flying down a mountainside requires that hand brakes be used differently than when riding on the road, for example. Jam the front brake on a road bike and you sail over the handlebars. Use the back brake too much in mud and a mountain bike will slide from under you.

And there are tricks to biking over exposed tree stumps and roots or maneuvering through swamp-size puddles.

″I’ve had my bike for five years,″ Hughes said. ″Things about body mechanics and balance it took me two or three years to learn, you learn in a day or two here.″ And she’s learning things on the mountain that she never would at home in relatively flat Newport, R.I.

Mount Snow attracts mountain biking classes of 25 to 30 people each weekend. The resort also maintains roughly 60 miles of trails that bikers not in the school can purchase passes to ride on, said school director Steve Goldfarb.

″More often it’s people who are a couple, a foursome, a group of people who don’t know anything about mountain biking and want to try it,″ he said.

Such a couple is in Goodell’s class. Peter Monius and his wife Melissa Robbins of Boston recently bought cross bicycles - hybrids between mountain and road bikes.

A friend paid for the bike school as a wedding gift. Like other classmates, the weekend ends with them wishing they owned the mountain bikes they used at the school.

″I came up here to learn more about my bike,″ said Lois Albury of Northampton, Mass.

″I’ve learned I’ve got to sell my bike,″ she said, noting she had learned her mountain bike at home was not the right size for her.

This class arrived on Friday, most never having met. By Sunday, they’re laughing and joking, exchanging addresses and telephone numbers.

They began learning the basics about gear shifting, using brakes and transferring weight properly. The next morning was spent in the repair shop learning basic maintenance.

The classroom is filled with joking about everything from presidential politics to tightening bolts.

But once the class moves onto the mountain, the tone turns serious. There is joking, to be sure, but Goodell concentrates on the technical skills for riding a steep trail strewn with stumps, rocks, logs, leaves and roots.

That’s where angulation and inclination come in - whether to lean the bike or the body into a turn.

After trailside explanations, Goodell sends the class up the hill for a try. Penny Pisaneschi of Emmaus, Pa., rides down practicing inclination.

″I couldn’t tell if I did it,″ she said.

″Then go back up the hill,″ Goodell prods her after another review.

She does and on the next run she begins to feel the difference.

Throughout the morning the class makes its way up ski trails and across muddy paths through the woods. Techniques are explained and tried on demanding terrain - such as the incline Hughes conquered.

The afternoon is spent on a long ride through the resort’s wooded trails. Goodell stops frequently to let class members catch up - and catch their breath.

Earlier rain has left the trails slick with mud and leaves. But no one seems to mind. All are delighting in using their new skills.

Pisaneschi admits it’s like being a kid again. ″I love the water,″ she says, laughing as she splashes through a big puddle that she easily could have avoided.

The afternoon features a few boffs, lots of dabbing, some augers. Goodell translates the mountain biker lingo. A boff is an uncontrolled fall - ″crashing and burning,″ Goodell says. Dabbing is putting a foot down to maintain balance, strictly forbidden among hard-core mountain cyclists. And augering in is falling forward onto handlebars. Actually going over them qualifies as a boff.

What’s the term for doing something well?

″Awesome ride, dude,″ Goodell replies, grinning.

He’s greeted with equally broad smiles from 10 wet, mud-spattered faces, apparent confirmation that awesome is a pretty good description of these newly initiated mountain cyclists’ weekend.

END ADV for Weekend Release Oct. 10-11

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