Crans Montana

Checks on checks. Is Swiss Canadian a thing?

Another week, another trip to somewhere new. Or new to me at least. A trip where Lorne and I got to ride jumps and proved that it’s quite easy to outsmart ourselves and end up trapped in a greenhouse. Which leads to today’s random topic to tag bike photos onto…

The eternal quandary of whether self perception of our abilities is accurate.*

Don't worry, you can just ignore the text and look at the pictures, everyone will understand.

Have you heard of the Dunning Kruger effect? Even if you don’t know it by its name you’ll know it by its nature. “A cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge.” It’s been in the news a fair bit recently thanks to the queue of individuals lining up for the job of running the UK, believing that because they’ve talked about the job, worked near the job, have studied subjects tangentially related to the job; have “what it takes.” And get brutally shown that they don’t.

Can you Si-on down to the valley floor there. Sion. See on. Geddit?

We all suffer from it to a greater or lesser extent. If you’re a guy then probably greater. Check out the 2019 YouGov survey where 12% of men reckoned they could take a point off Serena Williams in a game of tennis. Less reported from the same survey was 3% of women thought the same. Hot take take away, a missing rib** makes you 4 times more likely to be deluded. The more considered point (which only Serena would have been scoring) is that these people most likely had no experience of tennis beyond seeing it on the telly.

Probably the hardest drop I rode on any of the trails, but to a lay person probably the least impressive. Which tells us lots and nothing.

You see it out on the trail, and feeding the algorithm with endless Friday fail videos.

But before we all feel too smug, it’s pretty easy to have an inflated idea of your ability on a bike. You ride the trails you ride. If you don’t live next to a bikepark, and there’s a really hard trail nearby, it’s likely to be a walking trail and easy to write off as “impossible”. Unless you’re called Akrigg or something. Surely it’s not something that folk from somewhere else would ride regularly. Similarly, if you’re the best in your group of riding friends, then you must be good. If you’ve got nothing else to compare yourself to, well, why wouldn’t yous think you’re pretty good.

You’ve got the KOM’s to prove it and everything.

Switzerland. Does good backdrop.

A wee dive into the research of the Dunning Kruger reveals some lovely graphs illustrating study participants test scores plotted against their self assessed ability scores. These two lines show that the more competent the individual, the closer their perceived ability is to their assessed ability. Interestingly there’s a crossover point where the most competent folks assess themselves to be worse than their actual ability.

So, the better we are at something, the better placed we are to know how good we are at it?

Makes sense.

Little bit left, little bit right, ilittle bit weheyhey... Copyright The Fast Show.

How do we know if we’re well good or, well, deluded then? If it’s an activity with a competition structure then we could use that. Race DH against Loris Vergier and Anne Caro or BMX against Niek Kimmann and Anne Caro, or Enduro against Nico Voullioz and err, Anne Caro then you’ll know, in absolute terms, how far you are from the state of the art. And how much potential you have to improve.

Great, but what if you don’t want to race, or don’t know if you’re good enough to race, or are good enough to know racing rewards the fastest and fastest doesn’t mean best if you aren’t measuring fastest?

Not the fastest line, so is Lorne a worse rider than a beginner who'd just roll past?

How about if there’s a simple grading system? French rock climbing grades are an open ended numerical system starting at 1 and currently counting up to 9, with a, b and c used to split up each numbered grade. If you regularly fall off 4b, you’re not an amazing rock climber. If you’ve lead 9c, you’re probably called Adam Ondra. Everyone knows where they sit in the pecking order and there’s never ever ever any debates or argument about what constitutes a “good” climber.

There's climbing to Lorne's left. Grade irrelevant from the top

We’ve kinda got that in biking. Step up and take a bow please, ladies and gentlemen; the bike park.

The trails are graded. You ride a green OK, try the blue. Blue went well, let’s go to the red. Shredded the red, hit the black.

Good, with that problem solved, lets go to a bike park.


Crans Montana then. Somewhere I’ve ridden near loads, but never where you’re meant to. Anyone who’s been on a Bike Verbier holiday will have ridden Spanish, and it’s also the home to the Plaine Morte ride which is as easy an approach to a 2500m descent as you’re likely to find in the Alps. But I’ve never visited the bikepark. Barely even knew it existed if I’m honest until the EWS rolled into town to wreck the trails as advertising for a global audience.

So it did it’s job I guess.

Perhaps the biggest driver in visiting though was the 3 free days us lucky Chamonix season pass holders get. As ever the finances drive things. It’s the economy stupid.

An economic piece of trail, making fine use of the last bit of usable land.

The trip didn’t start particularly well. Using our free passes usually involves a visit to the sales desk, only we couldn’t find it. Eventually we wandered past the ticket barriers at the gondola up to Arnouva and asked the liftie.

Who basically just let us on the lift.

A hundred meter from the top of the gondola is the Cry d’Er chair where we repeated the procedure. The Cry d’Er chair is more evidence we weren’t in Chamonix. Luxurious padded seats, secure bike racks and a protective perspex dome should you need to hide from the elements. Getting off the chair there’s 3 bike park signs in front of you. Red trail right, Blue and Black trails left.

Pre ride, re ride, free ride and all that, we turn left for the blue trail.

Don't worry, not the blue trail.

Where the signs abruptly run out.

To be fair, it’s late in the season, winter snow will be here soon so I get why the signs might have been taken down, but it still took about 30 mins of randomly riding about the hill in a gradually downwards direction until we gave up finding a proper bikepark and just followed the trail with the most tyre marks on it.

Which took us directly to the start of the bikepark.

Turns out the blue and black start from a bit lower down the hill. We know what we’re doing right?

Blue. This is not a blue in Chamonix, not for many reasons.

Anyways. The blue. Mellow left berm into slight roll into mellow left into, oh, doubles. For a blue it’s quite full on. After a few more doubles the trail splits into the black left and the blue right. And it’s pretty good. You can ride the blue wheels on the ground and just roll every feature, or up the speed and play in the air a bit. There’s plenty of extra curricular lines if you’re feeling creative too. Very nice.

A short pedal back to the Cry d’Er chair and we were up again. Well, after waiting about for a few minutes for chairs with bike hooks to come round and instead studying the automated mechanism to drop the perspex cover down on empty chairs and keep the seats dry, we were up again.

The red, doing it's red thing.

This time we turned right, and had to go all of 20m to find the well marked start of the trail. Much more like it. Fast, open and bigger tables and jumps. We were really starting to get into the flow of things, Lorne leading out, me cruising along a bit behind. Until I hear Lorne stop then shout back “yeah, it should be fine”

What should be fine?

Well yeah, it was fine.

Turns out the jumps are a bit bigger on the red. A dirt step down was the feature that gave our first chance to stop, look, and then push back up. We kept on working down through tables, doubles, hips, road gaps and more until pulling up at a ladder pointing to the sky. I’d say a stairway to heaven, but music was the last posts theme so I won’t.

Lorne’s just back from a month in B.C. So Lorne got to guineapig it. Beautifully built big features are well fun. And pretty safe if you do what the trail builders had intended.

If you've got a really good imagination, you could probably piece together a jumpy bullet-time shot of us hitting this from other angles in the post. Lot of mental effort to be fair, I wouldn't bother myself.

Back to the lift, back to furthering our knowledge of the lift cover closure system, back to the top, back to the unsignposted traverse to the actual trails, and back to the black.

It’s starts easy enough, some proper gaps that you can’t case, but nothing too big, until you crest a rise to be suddenly faced with not flow trail, but a rock garden with, like, line choice and stuff. Just as you’ve recovered from that and are getting into the flow you suddenly find yourself on a wooden ramp several meters above a road and a few meters out from the landing. You might be able to ride that blind, but we needed a push back up.

And so continued the black. Slightly bigger features, but still really well built, interspaced with much more interesting riding than flow trail. The best section gets saved for near the end. If you’ve seen any Candide Thovex edits from the year France was closed, you’ll have seen that Crans is filled with canyon lines. Well, turns out it’s not just during winter these are in play. Definitely one of the most unique sections of trail I’ve ridden in a bike park.

How cool is this!!!! Crans Montana Canyon Magic

Which is kinda the problem with the simple grading system. It’s not that simple.

The features on the black weren’t a huge step up (see what I did there) in difficulty from the red, certainly compared to the jump (ha) between the red and blue. What made the gap (boom tsch) in grades was the technical bits inbetween which, for your average Chamonix/Tweed Valley/Finale/Other-not-so-jumpy-trail-destination resident was pretty easy going. Definitely not what we’d call black, or even red. The hardest stuff for us was leaving the ground. Is that a sign of a well aligned awareness of our abilities? Or mibbies that perhaps we’re no quite as good as we think we are?

And does it matter?

Frustratingly we never quite managed to get a blur free shot on this. The curse of phone cameras.

Maybe ignorance is bliss. If someone’s having the time of their yoloing life, hopelessly out of the depth but going for it anyways and getting away with it then, well, cool no? Or in more academic terms, does awareness of ability matter when misplaced optimism can lead people to experience their situation more positively and overconfidence may help them achieve even unrealistic goals?

Surely presence in the moment is more important, just enjoy it and not worry about ranking everyone relative to each other, deluded or otherwise. I think I’m happier creating a story for myself about my ability, it helps the gnawing sensation that life has limited purpose and meaning, perhaps never did, and that if we don’t make up something for ourselves then it all gets very dark, very quickly.

Of course that all assumes that the story we tell ourselves isn’t hurting anyone else, hold the deluded and underachieving politicians feet to the fire.

Another shot falls victim to the low light capabilities of the camera on my phone. Cool bot of trail but.

There had been plans to go for a bit of an explore and see what singletrack there was to lap from the lifts but, to be honest, we don’t get to play on bigger, well built features very often, and the sun was out, so we just kept the full face lids on and spent the rest of the day riding jumps, getting to link the features in full runs without the pushing back up the hill bit. And failing to find an answer to how to know where we sit on that Dunning Kruger curve of confidence v competence.

Last lift rolled round and we lined up one final time. By now we were pretty sure where the sensors for the lift lid closing mechanism were and, keen to test our mastery of the system, dodged the sensor and congratulated ourselves as the perspex cover smoothly lowered itself and we accelerated out the lift station. My, what experts we are at this. But it’s still quite warm out, so lets lift the lid back up shall we. Yup, just lift the lid. Maybe we need to push it harder?

Is there a switch somewhere?

Can you remember if it opens automatically at the top?

Where’s that Dunning Kruger curve again?

End on a banger? Didn't take enough bangers I guess, free content so don't complain too much. Fun jump but.

*I did have an environment thing all written to coincide with COP27, how a 0.32 degree rise of temperature seems like such a small amount to change but will have huge repercussions on the weather, just like how small changes in technique or approach can have have a disproportionately large effect on your riding. But it was so depressing I couldn’t post it, so cobbled together this.

**There’s meant to be one of my wee links in here to a religious explanation for why gender doesn’t dictate how many ribs you get, but then I read a few of the arguments and decided mibbies I don’t want any code associating me with that. So just use your own scientific arguments. Or imagination.

Also, this is another episode brought to you by the wonders of phone cameras, as there wasn’t ever an intention to end up with a blog, just the process of pushing back up after checking features kinda lends itself to taking photos.