Written by: Alex Showerman / Photos by: Katie Lozancich
We’ve all been there, standing on top of a feature we’ve never ridden before. Our palms are sweaty, heart racing and our body stiffens as our confidence evaporates. The fear becomes overwhelming, and we step away from the ledge. Whether you're a big name pro dropping into the lines at Formation, or you’re a newer rider trying your first small drop, we all deal with fear on the trail.
For the longest time, the anxiety response I would get as I rolled into large jumps and drops was so overwhelming, I started to assume that big airs weren't for me. I’d avoid the jump trails and seek out my comfort zone of technical enduro-style riding. I misinterpreted the anxiety as a message saying “I can’t do that,” and stayed away.
This spring while I was riding in Utah, all of that changed. I visited one of the freeride mecca’s in Green River with fellow pro and aspiring freerider, Blake Hansen. The terrain instantly captured my imagination; it was so steep and exposed, we joked that we forgot to bring our avalanche beacons. Some of the coolest lines had natural drops in them, and down low in the spines, emanating from the castle-like mesa, were expertly crafted jump lines built by some of the top pros in freeride. It hit me that to ride the terrain I wanted to, it was time to overcome my fear of jumps.
I made it my commitment to learn how to jump this summer, so I could return to Utah ready to ride with creativity and joy, instead of fear and hesitancy. It’s been a wild ride, and I wanted to share seven tips that helped me go from anxiety to joy around hitting jumps.
Shift to a Growth Mindset over a Fixed Mindset
A fixed mind set is one that lives in fear of failure. It’s unchangeable, immutable. For years, this was how I viewed big jumps and airs. I just thought “I can’t do that,” and avoided them all together. This summer, I shifted my mind set to be, “I just haven’t learned how to do it yet.” I was no longer looking at the slopestyle course at Highland Bike park, thinking to myself “I can’t ride that.” Instead, I was asking myself the question “what do I need to learn so I can ride it?” This shift in thinking removed my fear of failure and set me on a path to learning and discovering. You can read more on developing a growth mindset here.
The Power of Coaching
Despite being a strong technical rider, I felt overwhelmed as I started my journey to learn how to hit big jumps. I had no idea where to begin, or even how to approach it. Rolling up to the bike park, I would find myself super intimidated, so I would avoid even trying. Working with a coach allowed me to break down the process into small steps, and have somebody to serve as a guide on what to focus my efforts on at what point in my progression.
One of the biggest challenges in my search for a coach was that a lot of bike parks don’t have many female coaches. I had an awesome coach lined up but she got injured in a slopestyle comp right before we started working together, so I wound up working with male coaches throughout the summer. I found it really important to have clearly articulated goals, and to express my needs.
Practice the Basics
One of the most humbling things was being forced to practice basic skills like bunny hops and manuals on flat ground.
For big airs, it’s important to have a consistent take off from the lip on each jump as small changes can lead to big changes in your flight pattern on larger features. Practicing these skills on flat ground gives you the necessary foundation to nail your take offs.
Pro-Tip: In my first coaching session, I found out that because I was used to riding clipless, I had learned how to jump almost completely backwards. I was relying on the clips to pick the back end up, which made my nose dive and gave me inconsistent and scary flight patterns. I quickly switched to flat pedals on all of my bikes and relearned how to bunny hop. This made my take offs instantly more consistent and confidence inspiring.
Second Pro-Tip: If you are interested in honing your skills, a Dirt Jumper is an awesome investment. The small size and hardtail set-up of the dirt jumper gives you more direct feedback. As a result, dirt jump parks are a great place to practice your skills in lower consequence, slower speed settings.
Play Like a Kid
Manual that bridge, slash that berm, bunny hop that stick. Even if you don’t do it with style right away, keep playing. Lifting your front tire up two inches still counts as a manual. Do this in your driveway, do it at the trailhead while waiting for your friends, even play along the trail. The more you play, the more you improve.
When you’re in the air, make a shape. Turn the bars a touch, do something simple and fun that helps you stay loose and relaxed in the air. Don’t worry about looking cool, just enjoy the air time.
Become Friends with a Feature and Visualize Success
This summer I had the privilege to chat with a Red Bull Sports Psychologist about mental toughness, and one of the most interesting insights he shared was on the power of visualization. “The brain can not distinguish between you doing it in real life and you visualizing yourself doing it,” he said. Take the time to get off your bike, walk around a feature you want to hit, become friends with it, and get to know it intimately. Learn it so well, that you can flawlessly visualize yourself riding it, even when you are sitting in your bed at home. This reduces your anxiety as you drop in for the first time since your brain already feels like it knows what is going to happen.
Another way to help build confidence is to find a smaller version of the feature you are trying to ride elsewhere that you can practice on. You can develop the feel for how it rides. Then when you step into the bigger version, you have more confidence knowing that you have ridden something like it before. This also helps your brain more clearly visualize what success looks like on the bigger version before you even drop.
Find Your Crew
This is especially true if you are working on bigger jumps at bike parks. It can be an intimidating scene - Teenage boys and full grown want-to-be teenage boys dominate the vibe. Seek out the other women in the lift line and say hello! I’ve met some of my best friends and riding partners in the lift line!
Also, start following other women in your area who are riding the features you want to ride! Say hello on Instagram! Having a crew to ride with can help you feel supported and take away the intimidation factor of the bike park.
Inspire Confidence with the Right Gear
I’ve found that the bigger the features, the more important it is to have the right bike and right gear. It makes a huge difference.
A major frustration I have with how bikes are sold is oftentimes women are pushed into shorter travel, less aggressive bikes solely based on preconceived ideas around our gender. Short travel trail bikes are less stable at the high speeds often found on bigger jump trails, and have less room for error on landings. I found that this contributed a lot to my lack of confidence on bigger features.
When deciding on what bike you want to purchase, make sure to be explicit about your riding goals. If the sales person makes assumptions based on your gender, ask for another sales person. My go-to park bike is the Pivot Mach 6. The 160mm of travel and 27.5 inch platform is incredibly stable at high speeds, forgiving when things go a bit sideways, all while still keeping a playful attitude to match my riding style. Switching from my 140mm travel bike to this instantly helped me gain more confidence.
I also find that when I look stylish, I ride with more confidence. Ninety percent of big air is confidence-driven so every little bit helps. The new Freyah Pants are so freaking flattering and comfortable, you will be hitting the slopestyle course in no time :-) As I’m writing this, I’m heading off to go hit Blue Steel Jumps out in Bellingham Washington, with some of the top women in Freeride. Just four months ago, I never would have even thought it was possible to hit jumps of that size. If I can go from, “I’m just never going to hit big airs”, to now finding incredible joy and fun in it in the span of one riding season, so can you!
If you have any questions or want to chat about your experiences, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram. Always happy to be a support in your progression journey!
Super relevant read for me with actionable advice. Thank you for sharing!