There have been a few glowing reports about coaching options down south, but nor much written about the options for those of us (well) north of the border. So, I thought I'd give a review of the skills course I've just done at Glenmore lodge.
Glenmore lodge is an outdoor training centre located near Aviemore in the Cairngorm National Park. They've been running mountain skills courses (Navigation, climbing, winter skills etc) for many years and now offer a range of Mountain Bike Skills Courses. These are based around the lodge, which provides a relaxed and friendly base. Unlike a lot of mountain bike coaching these are multi-day courses (2 day weekend courses, as I did, or five day week courses). The price includes accommodation and lots and lots of food. The menu is designed to give 4000 calories a day for people doing big mountain days out. You don't have to eat it all of course, but you wont go hungry and the 4:30 cakes are not to be missed.
There was a bit of a mix up with course titles and descriptions when the courses were first listed on the web site (now fixed) but that was soon resolved and I (with one other student) basically did the shifting gear two day course.
I should point out that I was a bit of a sceptic when it comes to skills courses. Not that I really doubted their value, but I just wasn't sure they'd be for me. We all have our own learning style and mine tends toward synthesising information from lots of sources (rather than just relying on one) and trying things out somewhere quiet on my own rather than being watched.
The course started with a bit of a get to know you session, where we met with out instructor (Neil), talked about what riding we'd done and what we hoped to get from the course (which was basically the stuff in the course description really). We then spent a bit of time going through basic safety checks and setup tips on the bike. This is where the advantage of a multi-day course comes in. If I only had a half-day I'd probably have been getting frustrated at this point, but as it was we had plenty of time to chat about bikes and setup and still leave plenty of time for riding. I ended both days pretty knackered and couldn't have ridden much more.
We then went out to the purpose built "training circuit" around the lodge for a quick warmup, which was clearly also designed to make sure we were happy riding the stuff we'd said we could do, before moving through some steep hill climbs and onto the berms section. We spent a while learning how to ride these properly (line choice, body position etc) and were soon going round them much faster than our first attempts.
We then moved onto the grass to start practising power assisted front wheel lifts (or wheelies to you and I). This gave me the first clear example of the advantages of a good teacher. I knew how to to a wheelie in theory and had been practising on and off for months, but never really got the wheel more than a few inches off the ground. After a few minutes with Neil I'd flipped the bike right over and was sitting on my rear on the (thankfully soft) grass. It was a real revelation as he hadn't really told me anything I didn't know, but a bit of time watching him and a few small changes to body position and it suddenly felt easy to get that wheel up as high as I wanted (and often higher). I even managed to flip the bike up, jump of and end up standing behind it, which was quite fun.
After lunch we moved on to manuals. Again this is something that I've tried to work on for ages with no real success and again, within a few minutes I was laying on my back on the grass !
After a quick play with some little drops we then went for a ride on the local trails where we also learnt how to lift the rear wheel and started trying to link things together by messing around jumping twigs etc. There was also a bit of just hooning around in the woods to keep things fun and keep our confidence levels high.
Neil was a very patient and positive teacher. He clearly believes that anybody can learn this stuff and if one method isn't working for somebody he'll switch to another and keep going until they get it. I guess this could be a problem if you had a larger group and one person not getting something as I'm not sure he'd ever give up. but with just the two of us it worked really well as you got lots of tips for the things you needed to work on and lots of time to practice while he was working with somebody else.
The second day we started to work on manualling off drop-offs. I found this pretty tricky but again Neil wouldn't give up and before long I'd managed to land both wheels together rather than front wheel first like a sack of spuds.
We then went up to Laggan Wolftrax to try and put all this into practice. We did a few circuits taking in red, a bit of black and some of the orange routes. Neil was keen to get us to use all the features on the edge of the red routes that people seem to ride round. He kept pointing out that this was how the course was designed and just because a big track had been worn by people going round an obstacle didn't mean we shouldn't go over it.
It look a bit of time to put things into practice out on the trail, but again Neil was very patient, getting us to session sections over again until we got it and stopping before features to walk us through them and show us the various options for line choices. By the end of the day I was even managing to launch off a few drop-offs to the side of the track with confidence and actually staying in the air for a while. Something I didn't think I could do, but which became rather addictive!
So, I came in a bit of a sceptic but, as you can probably tell. came out something of a convert. As well as some great memories of nailing stuff that I would have been scared to attempt before I've also got a nice list of things to work on and a much clearer idea of why things go wrong.
All in all, highly recommended.