The sun is out, the air is clear, the trails are gnarly and my colleague Aaron is nearly in tears. The sun may be out, etc, but the Snowy Mountains are also still full of snow, deep powder that demands he go boarding on it, not bloody mountain biking.
But no. In a few weeks, and by the time you read this, the snow will be gone and then what do you do? Last year, Alpha’s editor went hiking here, but really, if you’re going to do summer in the Snowies, you can do better than that.
We have three very expensive (hired) bikes a guide and a car. The bikes are for us, the guide comes with the bikes and the car is to get us up a hill east of Jindabyne that no one outside someone training for London 2012 really wants to climb. Once there, we helmet-glove-and-water-pack up and disappear into the bush.
Biking in these mountains has always meant downhill: get a chairlift somewhere high and hurtle to the bottom; repeat. But from Jindabyne through Thredbo and all around the valley are many kilometres of good cross-country trails – both fire and single-track, and they’re building more all the time.
The start of the Tyrolean trail has a good view of Lake Jindabyne and contains what the guide describes as “some very challenging cross-country”. Within seconds we’re confronted by a huge boulder that people apparently ride over without dying, an area that looks like the surface of the moon, and a plank over a steep drop.
As beginners we’re not cycling any of this, but what we do is plenty: 7km of single-track trails, tight switch-backs, loose sand, bitchin’ obstacles and hill climbs that are just a bitch. It’s what the guide terms “very technical”, which means we need to constantly work out braking (one finger on the brakes only, or you disappear over the handlebars), gear changes, pedal position, weight distribution, saddle height and speed.
My enjoyment of the challenge and the scenery is offset by the fact that I can’t get enough air in my lungs. It could be the altitude or sheer lack of fitness, but every hill needs a several-minute recovery period. My legs have turned to water. Those downhill specialists know what they’re doing, alright.
We cycle over the dam, up single tracks to a bay on the Jindabyne side of the dam wall where we finish, two hours after we started. I can barely walk to the car.
Today, we are promised, quite literally, an easier ride. A good job, because at the first sign of a hill my legs fall apart again. Pender Lea is a flatter, more intermediate trail, stretching from Alpine Way up to the edge of the Kosciusko National Park. There are a few obstacles and some tricky cornering, and it’s amazing how fast the downhill sections seem with bush rushing past close by your ears.
We do 4km of beautiful, scenic bush-riding, startling cows and the occasional roo along the way. There are plenty of options here – at least another 10km of winding track – if you want to climb into the hills. One day, maybe, but right now it’s definitely the last thing I want.
In the afternoon we are in Thredbo cycling around the foot of the mountain. Aaron sees happy snowboarders and makes groaning noises. “Boarders love mountain biking in summer”, says the guide. Aaron looks happier. This is a weekend of good fun, good exercise, and it can be as easy or as hard as you want. What’s that they say about riding bikes?
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