Once the flowers start blooming, it's time to hop in the saddle again so with the new bike season kicking off, we remember our initiation at the Scott Contessa Riding Days in the Swiss Alps a little while back...
Words by Anna Langer, Photography by Maria Knoll
When I received the huge box of kit that Scott kindly sent me in preparation for their Contessa Riding Day MTB camp for girls, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Rocking the massive bike pants in front of the mirror I was laughing with excitement for what was to come. But sat in the car with three fellow campers en route to the camp in the Swiss Engadin, my smile suddenly faded. The others chatted casually about seven years of downhill racing, growing up biking with three brothers, traversing the Alps on a bike, while my own biking background (I started cycling to work last year), paled in significance.
Rocking the massive bike pants in front of the mirror I was laughing with excitement for what was to come. But sat in the car with three fellow campers en route to the camp in the Swiss Engadin, my smile suddenly faded.
But the arrival in Pontresina blew all my doubts away, not just because of the encouraging introduction from the coach, but also due to the warm welcome I received from the motley crew of biker chicks hanging out in the centre. The group ranged from successful businesswomen, to medics, to passionate amateur athletes, everyone on the same mission to hang out, have a laugh and enjoy riding the mountains together. I think for most of the girls, the real attraction of the weekend was to get a chance improve their technical riding skills, away from the pressures of having to keep up with a group of guys.
To make sure beginners like me have at least a chance, the Contessa team coaches (led by former German pro biker Karen Eller), start off with a couple of riding exercises in a small bike park. So before hitting the real stuff, we all get to show off (or in my case learn) how to deal with switchbacks, balance over planks and bunny hop over water or any other obstacles that dare to get in our way. As the first big tour from Pontresina over the Bernina Pass to St Moritz proved, Karen and her crew were right to prep our brains and calves with this training. While climbing 600 m through wide, open meadows in front of the backdrop of the mighty Bernina was a walk in the park, getting down on the other side was a whole different story. Quite an adventurous one to be precise, thanks to the steep single-track trails interspersed with roots, rocks, sharp dogleg turns and other challenges. It took all my concentration to stay on track, a shame as I hardly got to notice the stunning view of the St Moritz valley flying past my shoulder.
We all know that there’s no learning without challenges and to progress you do need to push your limits, and in turn all the campers followed the trustworthy coaches down the trails, at a pace suited to their experience. If you were scared to take on the switchbacks on your own, the Contessas were always ready to lend a helping hand, grapping your backpack and guiding you firmly but safely around the pin corners with some enthusiastic encouragement, “Keep your eyes on the route ahead! Eyes! Eyes! And now release the breaks! Release! Release! RE-LEASE!!!" You could also carry your bike over any intimidating obstacle without as much as a hint of rebuking. And the last one to appear on top of a nasty climb gasping was saluted with the same high-fives and cheers as the first one.
“Keep your eyes on the route ahead! Eyes! Eyes! And now release the breaks! Release! Release! RE-LEASE!!!"
The vibe between all the girls was amazing, with everyone supporting each other. When a tyre went down during bunny-hop sessions, campers were helping each other out, changing inner tubes and adjusting suspension forks so the same flats didn’t happen again. After a big dinner in the rustic alpine dairy on the last night, we all wandered back to the hotel together, star gazing and chatting about the highs and lows of the ride.
With a bit of a raw behind (now the padded biker pants made sense), various bruises on the shins, sore muscles all over and a light sprinkling of mud and cow dung gracing my clothes, I returned to Munich with a deep feeling of satisfaction and achievement. I headed down the mountain pass in the car with the same girls I came with, but instead of being intimidated by the tales and experiences they share, I avidly joined in the discussion. Mountain biking is not about funny pants, weird glasses and foreign lingo for me anymore.