I'm staring at a pile of body armor and a full-face helmet, required gear for my first ever downhill biking lesson; a Bumps & Bends clinic at Northstar. I've logged a fair share of cross-country miles, and I'm a decent descender. Suddenly the prospect of being taught how to ride a bike while wearing body armor feels restricting.
We load the chairlift and head for the resort's signature trail, Livewire. Loaded with manmade jumps and berms, Livewire boasts a watering system that runs the length of the trail, keeping it firm, grippy, and smooth. As soon as I start flowing downhill I understand why Northstar recommends gear rentals and a clinic. The trails are designed to allow more speed and more air. The surface is smoother than any singletrack around Lake Tahoe. In two hours with Northstar Bike Academy coach Luke Sheppard, our group learns braking, cornering, course reading, and jumping techniques—some of which seem counterintuitive but effective. When I struggle to keep my front tire from slipping out on Tahoe's loose, dusty corners. Sheffield advises keeping my weight on the outside hand in the turn—and like some Bill Nye physics trick, the cornering knobs hold confidently around every berm.
Armed with new skills, protective gear, and an indestructible rental steed with seven inches of suspension, my confidence level spikes. By lunchtime, two novice friends and I clear tabletop jumps without hesitation—a milestone that seemed out of reach on day one. —Ryan Dunfee
If you go: Northstar's guided bike tours and clinics are priced moderately for a wide audience. For $35, riders can take a two-hour Bumps & Bends clinic—ours had three students and one coach. With 33 trails, from beginner fire roads to a signature Tahoe rocky singletrack, there are ample riding options. Northstar is open for biking weekends through October 7. Visit northstarattahoe.com for more information.