I've been mountain biking since I was about 10 years old. My father got my brother and I into it as soon as he heard about it. For me it was natural and I assumed it would be for everyone else as well. Most people know how to ride a bike by the time they are an adult, why would mountain biking be any different?
I think the first time I realized my advantage of starting early was when I started mountain bike instructing at Northstar Resort in Truckee, CA a few years back. We went over the basics like braking and how to stand on the bike and we would start everyone off on a simple dirt road. For someone that had been on a mountain bike for many years it seemed like a simple trail. I soon learned that I was wrong. A lot of sports are like languages, they are much easier to learn when you are younger. That being said however doesn't mean you can't start at any age. You can, and I have a few suggestions to make the introduction a lot smoother so you enjoy your first time and the many adventures that follow!
- Take a lesson - These days there are plenty of people out there teaching the biking basics. I've heard so many stories about boyfriends taking their girlfriends out on their first mountain bike ride that turn into horrible first experiences. Unless you are lucky enough to know someone that understands how to explain the basics of mountain biking and is willing to take the time to show you I recommend you take a lesson.
- Start slow- Sure you might be really fast on skis or even a road bike, but do you know how to handle a mountain bike when you get into a tricky situation if it's your first time? Probably not, it takes a lot of time on the bike before you may be able to handle a high speed crash and walk away. You don't need to chase your friends that have been riding for years. Take the time to work on what you have learned. In the end you just might find yourself passing your friends if you practice the basics.
- Don't overdo it- Especially if you are going to get into DH biking I suggest maybe a few hours a day at the most. Sure, you've got a lift and that could help you ride from start to close but if you are starting out it might be wise to ease into it. I personally remember when I was learning to jump. I was so nervous in the beginning that every time I went down one specific trail I was mentally exhausted. Even if you are physically in great shape your mind doesn't care. You are learning a ton of new things, stepping out of your comfort zone and probably even rolling around in the dirt a little. It's okay to take a few runs and let everything you learned sink in a little before heading back out. Once you get tired mistakes happen and bad habits come out.
- Remember to have fun- Mountain biking is supposed to be a fun experience in the outdoors! If you sign up for a trip with a bunch of experienced riders their version of fun may not align with yours. Find people closer to your level to ride with. If you do happen to go out with more experienced riders I think it helps to have at least one friend on the same level as you. Even better ride with the experienced ones on a "rest day". If they've invited you to come along they should be okay with taking it mellow.