Downhill Mountain Biking: Fear, Freedom & Death-Defying Endos


Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado ski instructor Kevin Jordan is the area’s mountain bike coordinator in the summer, helping everyone from rank beginners to daredevil dirt demons refine their two-wheel skills.

A lifetime skier, Jordan said that, “Once I got into mountain biking, I stopped chasing winters around the world.”

“I love being able to have that same feeling of having the lift take you up the hill, then riding back down and picking your line with the same sensations of the wind blowing in your face,” Jordan said. “Add in a couple bumps in your downhill, and just like on skis you can fly into space. Man, and woman, like to take flight.”

When we caught up with Jordan he had just returned from the National Ski Areas Association Mountain Bike Summit in Windham, NY. Since Congress passed the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act in 2011, allowing areas to offer more warm weather activities on their slopes, lift-served mountain biking has exploded. And areas like Windham, Snowmass, Winter Park and MTB’s spiritual home of Crested Butte, have capitalizing on offering year-round, gravity-fed descents.


Photo: Aspen/Snowmass, Seth Beckton

“No matter what season it is, gravity is the common ingredient to the thrill you experience,” Jordan said. “That and what I call, ‘The Goldilocks Equation,’ which is about finding that perfect mix of speed and control where you’re just on the edge, and you don’t get hurt.”

While at Windham, Jordan and three buddies rode the Citizen Downhill, a black diamond run which in places, is like a rock staircase. “There were so many rocks it was like a rock garden,” Jordan. “But it was so much fun that we just kept hitting it again and again, going faster each time and taking more chances.”

Asked to boil down the three main ways mountain biking is like skiing, Jordan didn’t hesitate. Here is his top three list.

  1. They are virtually the same thing: Most skiers and snowboarders don’t know that they’re downhill mountain bikers, yet. The equipment scares them off, and taking those harder hits. But when I am cutting through the snow, I have had the same sensation on tires, tipping the bike and basically carving a turn in the dirt.
  2. Freedom: You get to control the ride (as opposed to say, sliding on an alpine slide), and the margin of error. You choose your own adventure, including which trail you want to ride, and at what speed. Get on one of the old school downhill trails that is pretty much straight down, like somebody burned it with a dirt bike, and the pros can come down it in two minutes. It might take 30 minutes if it’s the first time you’ve done it.
  3. Cheating death, and the overall sense of accomplishment: Skiing and mountain biking are definitely among the more dangerous of sports. That risk versus reward scenario is one of the reasons many of us have devoted our lives to the sport. At Windham, the reward from taking risks in the super rocky terrain, and all of us having these close calls going head over heels, felt just like being out with your buddies on a nice powder day. Which is why at the end of the day the beer tasted so good!

Bonus- Kevin Jordan’s ‘CPR’ Progression for Mountain Biking Jumps

As a certified Level III ski instructor, Jordan often translates skills he teaches on the snow to riding a mountain biking. Here is his ‘CPR’ Progression for getting better at jumps.

“CPR” stands for Crouch, Press, Release. If you have ever “ghost-ridden” a bike over a jump, as soon as the front wheel is in the air, all the force is pushing on the rear wheel. This causes the bike to rotate in a front wheel first position or the beginning of a front flip. CPR helps us change the trajectory. To break it down, on a tabletop jump, we have the in-run (approach), lip (take-off), table portion (maneuver happens here), and then the landing.

On the run-in, I want my pedals level, elbows wide, knees slightly bent, and butt off the saddle. Coming into the tabletop, I bend my knees and elbows a little more. This brings my sternum closer to the handlebars. All the while, I look where I am going to get over the jump and set up for the press and the release.

Once both tires are on the lip, as I am going up the ramp, I am going to press. I extend my knees and elbows and press through my feet and legs, which transfers energy through the bottom bracket of the bike. This will change the trajectory of the bike from a horizontal trajectory to more of a vertical one.

When my front wheel is about 6 inches or so away from leaving the lip, I “release,” and allow the bike to come up into my body. How? Through flexing or absorbing the forces that the ramp or lip is applying to my bike. I flex my knees and elbows, allowing the saddle to come up and tap me in the bottom. This helps level out the bike and set up for the landing. When I land, I extend my elbows and legs and try to land with the front wheel touching down slightly (and I mean slightly) ahead of the rear wheel.

Want to improve your riding, or skiing? Take a lesson from a certified instructor. It helps even the best skiers (or mountain bikers) have more fun on the slopes.