Thursday, September 30, 2010

Downhill Differences 2 and 3: The Mental Side and the Mad Skills Factor

I've been writing in the last couple of posts about the differences between downhill mountain biking and cross country riding.  These are two very different sports, and if you're going to transition from cross country to downhill there are some things that you should definitely be aware of.

Difference 2: The Mental Side
While downhilling definitely requires very finely developed skills, I found that the biggest thing standing between me and conquering various jumps and drops wasn't the lack of skills, but rather the lack of balls.

Actually, I wouldn't say that I lacked balls.  I think that I've thrown down admirably over the course of the last month for someone who had never seriously considered getting a downhill bike before this August.  As you can see from the video made on my first day of downhill riding, I was already hucking off  some respectable rocks and airing out some decent jumps.  That's right, this video was from my first day riding the Taka on dirt.

So what was really the issue could more accurately be defined as "the fear factor." After dropping several 4-5 foot drops without any problems at all, it wasn't much of a stretch to think that I could easily go off of something 7-8 feet high.  Still, it was the end of the day, and the thing looked so huge! While I probably had the skills to conquer it, my eyes and my fear got in the way.

The mental determination and commitment that it takes to be a talented downhiller is very similar to that required by a freestyle or big mountain skier. The mental process requires you to make yourself go for something (hit a jump, drop a cliff) even though it scares the crap out of you.  It might require you to put aside rationality for a few seconds: you can't think too much about the possible consequences of a crash.  If you think, "I could mess up this take off, fall face first off this cliff and rag doll down the hill and die," you aren't likely to hit said cliff. But conquering those thoughts is a tough task.  As I used to say back when I lived near snow, "the best skiers (or snowboarders) are some of the most immature."  It takes a child-like immaturity to throw down in spite of the consequences.

Downhill Specific Skills
I can't complete this blog post without giving this an honorable mention.  While I feel like I personally acclimated pretty quickly to downhilling due to my love of all-mountain riding, I am very aware that there are a ton of skills and techniques that would help me become a much better downhiller that I simply don't know about or can't do.  Yes, transitioning from cross-country pedaling to downhill shredding is a huge adjustment requiring different physical strengths and massive balls.  But make no mistake: good downhillers have absolutely mad skills on top of everything else.

Downhill Mountain Biking: A Truly Distinctive Sport
Downhill mountain biking is truly a sport in its own right, and is absolutely disparate from cross-country riding. Still, if you are willing to venture off into new territory and take on the challenge of downhilling, I think you will be handsomely rewarded with years of adrenaline and fun!

Missed the beginning of the series? Catch yourself up:
Your turn: What does it take for you to overcome your fear and just do it anyway?


Anonymous,  September 30, 2010 at 1:58 PM  

the fact that scars are simply badass but landing the jump is even more badass.

Greg Heil September 30, 2010 at 3:41 PM  

Haha yes! Even if you crash, you still get a "badge of honor."

I gashed my leg open really good about a month ago, and my wife was like, "You could probably use some stitches." I was like, "No, its not too bad, and besides it'll leave an awesome scar!"

AJ Heil October 1, 2010 at 11:36 AM  

Speaking as an experience downhill skier, intermediate mountain-biker, and action sport enthusiast - I can say that I have ran into plenty of similar fear throughout the years.

I would like to think that - first off - I try to quickly analyze the motives that I have for what I am doing, whether it be hitting a cliff drop, attempting a big trick, or hitting something for the first time.. However, usually I don't directly justify what I am doing with this technique, hence the immaturity aspect of great athletes.

This past winter was the most challenging season I've had yet. I can gladly look back and say that I never backed out of trying any big hits that I committed to hitting, unlike past years. This higher level of commitment supplemented a vast improvement in my freestyle and freeskiing skills. Here's the specific plan I used for progressing:

First, before you even make it to location - Set goals. The goals should consist of ones within your comfort zone, as well as things that you haven't quite built up to yet. Regardless, all of the goals should be some kind of variation that you haven't performed before, not something that you've already embedded in your skill set.

Secondly, when you get on locations and start ripping - Assess risks before every big hit. Things I take into account prior to hitting something on skis are as follows (for example): Take account for snow conditions, look for hazards in the takeoff, condition of the area right before the hit and on it, and hazards/condition of the landing. I envision how much speed I will need to hit it perfectly, and how I can acquire that perfect amount of speed.
On top of that, one thing that really helps is to imagine yourself hitting it perfectly, imagine the physical moves that it will take you in order to hit it in that way, and MAKE SURE that you imagine and envision all of this in a first person point of view - from your perspective, not from a third-person/outsider's point of view!

Lastly, the thing that helps me the most to cast aside my fears and hit it...
We have one life. Every time I hit something bigger than I have before, prior to take-off, I tell myself: "You only live once, right?" This is truly an extraordinary concept in itself. The reason I say this is because we only have this one life to live, I don't want to live it in fear or with regrets. Like you stated Greg, the things that usually keep us from attempting something bigger than we ever have before is not risk of injury, it's just blatant fear of the unknown. I hope that we don't let this kind of fear impact us much - It can keep us from enjoying new activities, experiencing new sports, building relationships, and specifically to this topic, progressing as an athlete. So the next time you're considering hitting something that you've never hit before - ask yourself - "We only live once, eh? Why waste it?"

Greg Heil October 1, 2010 at 11:43 AM  

Wow, awesome Bubbs! You hit on a number of great points that I didn't cover at all. Great comment. You are so right: we only live once, and we had better live it up!

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Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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