Trail running: getting prepped for the big race
IT’S TAKEN A while, but an important mind shift is starting to take place when it comes to our winter resorts. As long as I can remember, fun-loving outdoor types have taken part in a weekend exodus from the big east coast cities to indulge in a snappy weekend of snowbased activities, even though the travel distances are pretty extreme.
Now, that exodus is also happening during the summer months. Thanks to improved roads and the influx of SUVs, a weekend dash to Buller or Thredbo is no longer as onerous a task. Pack up Friday arvo, dash to the hills, play all weekend and be back at the desk on Monday; “Hey, let’s go to Thredbo for the weekend!” isn’t just heard in July and August any more.
Thredbo, in truth, has lagged behind its Victorian counterparts when it comes to turning its resort into a summertime must-do for mountain bikers. Sure, the place has been welcoming riders for more than 25 years, but it’s only in the last two or three seasons that genuine progress has been made. More trails for all abilities – including rookies – as well as chairlifts that are modified for bikes are two of the changes that are turning the NSW resort into an all-year proposition, and there’s a lot more in store.
One of the events helping to expose Thredbo to the biking world is the Cannonball Festival. A multi-discipline weekend that focusses as much on the camaraderie of the sport as it does the competition, the Cannonball’s third event includes downhill, all-mountain and flow trail events.
The vagaries of the mountain are brought into stark relief right from the get-go, as my 14-year-old son Max and I drive the five and a half hours to Thredbo from our Wollongong base. The journey itself has sped up over the years, thanks to continual additions of higher-speed and dual carriageway sections; in fact, our first stop is Cooma, about an hour and a half away from the mountain.
We stop in the small town because the weather forecast for this January weekend is… well, a bit of a concern, frankly. Wind gusts of 100km/h and more and temperatures in the low single figures are part of life even in an Alpine summer. A couple more layers of clothes bought through the surprisingly large and well-stocked outdoors stores in the main street, though, and it’s onto the resort.
Thredbo hasn’t really changed much in 25 years. The restaurants might update occasionally, and the lodges might get a lick of paint, but that’s about it. The great thing for the summer crowd, of course, is that there is a load of accommodation choices ranging from truly amazing campsites through to five-star lodges that don’t come cheap.
We choose to stay near the resort’s chairlift – it’s so much easier to roll to the chair fully kitted, rather than drive in from, say, Jindabyne. Our lodge unusually wouldn’t allow our bikes in the rooms, but are more than happy for us to stash them in their lock-up. If you’d prefer your steed closer to hand, it definitely pays to get in touch with the accommodation owner ahead of time.
Our young racer is transitioning from a career in BMX racing to mountain bikes, and the contrast in feel between the two disciplines is interesting. BMX can be cliquey and it can be difficult to decipher the unwritten rules and nuances that go with the sport. In mountain biking, there’s literally none of that. Registration is easy, the rules are simple and clearly explained and people couldn’t be more welcoming or inclusive. It’s an expensive hobby, but it’s truly heartening to see how many under-18s are getting involved in mountain biking.
The atmosphere around the base of the Cannonball chairlift is terrific, with a sea of riders of all ages and sexes mingling and chatting all things MTB. Dads and sons kitted out in similar gear mix with groups of women who have come to Thredbo to try their hand at the sport, while urban professionals escape the city to thrash their carbonfibre machines to within an inch of their lives.
One thing that strikes me is how safe and secure the venue is. Multi-thousand dollar bikes can
It’s an expensive hobby, but it’s truly heartening to see how many under-18s are getting involved in mountain biking.
be left for a few minutes unattended, and are there when you return. It always pays to take care, of course, but it’s a nice feeling to be amongst friends.
The sport has evolved over time to include several disciplines, of which enduro and flow trail racing are the newest. Enduro is mountain biking’s equivalent of stage racing, while flow trails are downhill-oriented singletrack trails with berms (large dirt turns) and rolling jumps scattered along a four-to-five kilometre length. This weekend is mostly about the flow, though the DH event has attracted stars such as South Aussie Troy Brosnan, making his last appearance for the international Specialized team before switching to Canyon.
Raceday number one dawns clear but bloody cold – the wind is keeping temps down around zero, and the extra layers are coming in handy. I send Max up the chairlift with thin catering gloves on under his regular gloves to try and keep him a bit warm; thankfully, all the arm and leg armour worn by the riders helps to keep temps in check. The high winds the previous day means Max has had no practice, but he does a commendable job to stay upright and midpack.
We catch up briefly with Tim Windshuttle, whose team of Thredbo Alpine Village guides is helping to coordinate the event. “Really pleased with the turnout,” he says at a half-trot. “It’s the third year and it’s grown every time, so that’s good.” He also tells us the plans for the mountain are in full swing, with a new trail about to open that will connect the new all-mountain trail with the main Cannonball Express chairlift, plans for a new rookie trail that will go from top to bottom, and a new trail to open every year for the next five years.
The village turns it on in the evening for the pump track race, essentially a 25-second no-pedalling event around a small track in the village square. The whole town, it seems, turns out to whoop and holler for the riders who start as young as 12 years old. It’s an event that underlines not only the skill of mountain biking, but the sense of friendship and camaraderie that the sports exudes.
The flow trail race is next – and it doesn’t go so well for Max, who crashes in practice. A quick pit stop for repairs and he’s back up on the hill – only to crash in exactly the same place during his race run! The flow trail isn’t as relaxed as it sounds; you can carry immense speed into the turns and over the jumps, and before you know it, you’re really getting in touch with nature with all parts of your body. If you’re keen to try it, we can’t recommend a full complement of body armour enough; the Thredbo store has everything for sale and for hire.
Competitive mode over, Max and I decide to tackle the Thredbo Valley Track, booking a shuttle to take us back up the hill from the finishing point at Lake Crackenback resort. It’s some 20km of winding, relatively easy and flowing trails that take riders through a spectacular vista of Alpine terrain.
It’s a great way to wrap up an awesome weekend of riding in one of Australia’s most beautiful spots. Thredbo is continuing to build its summer presence, and we intend to take full advantage of it.