But what actually IS DH (downhill)? Don’t be fooled by the misleading name of the discipline... Of course, you’ll go down hill. But going down hill doesn’t make the discipline easier than road biking and climbing mountains, on the contrary! Downhill mountain biking requires genuine riding skills in order to hurtle down less-than-perfect slopes with fluidity (on which you may find pebbles, roots, etc.), with sometimes sharp bends, and often embellished with varied modules (jumps, bridges, banked corners, etc.).
Who can do downhill mountain biking?
Before getting started, a few prerequisites are needed: you need to know how to ride a “classic” bike, stand up on your pedals, and be able to brake with both hands. Don’t panic: there are systematic reminders at the start of each lesson to ensure that you have the basics covered before diving head-first onto the slopes. Céline, a State-registered instructor at Évolution 2, said: “More than just the age, the physical condition is the most important. Some of my pupils are 5 years old, others 80! However, they share the same fondness for “extreme” sports in the broad sense (including scooters on a pumptrack for little ones, for example). This doesn’t mean that I’d advise against downhill mountain biking for those who aren’t thrill seekers: there is such a diverse range of slopes in the Bike Park of Tignes – Val d’Isère that I always find THE route that best suits each and every mountain biker.”
Céline also had something to say to girls, in particular: “Ride! “Toutes en selle” (get on your saddles), to reiterate the name of the famous 100%-bike related film festival! The discipline is not only for boys, quite the opposite. Everyone can have fun, regardless of your level. I actually run an “all girls” group every Saturday morning in the summer for local riders, proof, if indeed any were needed, that you too can give it go!”
From the first sensations to passion...
Downhill mountain biking provides the ultimate thrill... that you’ll soon become addicted to! Adrenaline, concentration, your heart beating faster before the beauty of the landscapes: the discipline is clearly addictive, without necessarily having to be an expert to enjoy the advantages. “I encounter very diverse profiles in my line of work. The days go by, but each one is different. What do I like the most? Seeing beginners going from apprehension to pleasure in just a few hours! I love seeing their faces when we start kitting them out with all the protection... There is a little moment of doubt: “What on earth have I have got myself into??” Once they’ve got their bike, that’s when the fun begins! It’s always a surprise to go from a classic mountain bike to a big downhill bike, with full-suspension and disc brakes”.
What is a typical lesson like?
Once you’re equipped (and your bike is properly adjusted), a downhill mountain bike lesson also starts with a reminder of the basics: how to stand up on your pedals, how to brake with both hands. To do so, the instructor will probably take you to Bike Land: a fun area with a slalom to learn to make turns and with green, blue and red-level wooden modules to test your level.
Next, you’ll head for the peaks! You’ll take the ski lifts of the Bike Park Tignes – Val d’Isère to get to the start of the downhill slopes. First, the green slopes (not to be confused with green ski slopes, as the two sports are hardly comparable), then the blue slopes, when you feel more at ease. Progress can then be pretty quick onto red and black slopes... “The Bike Park of Tignes – Val d’Isère is rather technical due to its topography: it gets steep quickly, the earth is rather “pebbly” despite the work of the Bike Patrols to “clean” the slopes. I am therefore in the habit of saying that once you know how to ride in Tignes, you can ride anywhere”, Céline told us. “In general, beginners start with a half day of lessons “just to see”; but it is not uncommon that they continue with a course over several days. You quickly get a taste for these sensations! And once you’ve gone down a few slopes, you don’t want to stop there: you want to progress and become a real rider”.
good to know
- A beginner lesson is essential to develop the right reflexes in terms of safety and gain in confidence. See the list of mountain biking schools.
- If you’re an intermediate or experienced rider: Don’t hesitate to talk to an instructor: you’ll improve in fluidity (no need to look at the signs, just follow the instructor) and you’ll benefit from their tips to improve your technique and style.
Also to be tested on the Bike Park of Tignes – Val d’Isère: all-mountain slopes (or enduro), wilder slopes and techniques with downhill and uphill sections (no need to take the ski lifts); or even the slopes especially for eMTB (practice authorised from age 14 in France). More information on the Bike Park.