Out­door fit­ness

Trail run­ning: get­ting prepped for the big race

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Contents - Words & Pho­tos TIM ROB­SON

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.

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