30 Years of Thredbo MTB – Part One, the 90s

30 years ago, someone thought it might be a bright idea to take a mountain bike up the Thredbo chairlift and ride down the enormous mountain. And as it turned out, not such a bad idea at all, and the beginning of brake-melting history.

In this three-part series and videos, we reflect on three decades of mountain biking in the iconic NSW alpine village and ski resort – Thredbo. First cab off the rank is the 90s with a rad video and some grainy photos. The 90s were where it all began, like some crazy experiment with bikes and bodies hurtling down ski runs, hitting speeds that the equipment was not quite capable of yet. It was a boom time!

See part two – the 2000s here. 

Watch the video here 

The 90s

1991 saw the first-ever mountain bikes taken on the chairlift to the top of Mt Crackenback for a sketchy 5km ride down the gravel road to the bottom. Those early riders had no idea what they were doing, risking it all riding fully-rigid bikes with helmets resembling ice cream buckets strapped to their heads. We shouldn’t laugh too much though – it wasn’t long after that Thredbo became the place to be for epic mountain bike racing.

Hurtling bikes down ski slopes on some fundamental equipment. Rob Eva like many would do both the cross-country and downhill events over the weekend.
Foot out, flat out 90s style.
A cover of Bicycling Magazine in 1997, which talked about mountain biking as ‘extreme cycling’. It was crazy, colourful and so experimental! Pictured is Chris Bust on a Bianchi Super-G, so retro-cool.
Mary Grigson, one of Australia’s first pro riders on the World stage, takes on Hanneke Geyson in the AMBA XC.
Thredbo hosted the early years of the Insterschools, allowing school kids to race as a team against other schools.
Classic Thredbo scenes, from an AMB Magazine pullout.

For the discerning or well-travelled Australian mountain biker, Thredbo was on a scale that was hard to comprehend at the time. The mountain is just so massive! Taking a bike up the chairlift for the downhill was more than a novelty; it was a dramatic and somewhat intimidating experience as you sat holding tight onto your bike, legs dangling as you watched the trails, terrain and riders from high above.

The racer turned legendary mountain bike photographer, Damian Breach, blasting the upper fire roads.
Ski runs were a blank canvas for mountain bike races; the courses began out as simply widely bunted runs down the grass.
A few poles, tape and a grassy ski slope and presto!

Thredbo played host to a string of National Championships in a time when the fields were huge, pulling in big crowds and putting on a proper show. 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Australian Championships were held in Thredbo; these big events made the big screen with prime-time media covering the ‘extreme cycling’ happening in the alpine resort over summer. There is classic footage of total carnage as riders cartwheeled down the ski slopes, hitting the eject button from their wobbly steeds, thrown off from water bars and pummelled into the gravel wearing minimal protection.

The TV cameras loved it, but for the serious racer, the 90s was a time when the recreation of mountain biking was legitimised into a competitive sport. It was a proper test for the competitive, the runs were long, speeds were high, and the climbs were tough.

“Thredbo was so fast, and bike we had were so dodgy!” – Damian Breach

Travelling in the 90s was a big deal, for riders travelling from South Australia, Queensland and even Melbourne or Sydney the journey was a huge part of the adventure, and the small village atmosphere kept everyone together during the races giving people from all over the place the opportunity to mingle, spectate and party. And there was so much experimenting with the bikes so they could handle the terrain, Michael Ronning screwed spikes into his tyres for grip on the slippery grass, and the early disc brakes became a proper advantage, especially when the events would run through snowdrifts, as for many years the National Mountain Bike season was run through winter, so there was plenty of snow around in Thredbo to wreak havoc on the bikes.

Reebok was the naming sponsor for the 1994 Champs.
Junior National Series winner Matt Schmidt pinned on the grassy turns.
Check out Matt’s Iron Horse/Marzocchi team bike at the 1994 National Champs!
Brad Kelly in 1998 riding a very early Intense M1 with Mr Dirt forks. Rad.

Big-name brands like; Tooheys, Reebok, Diamondback, Quelch and Apollo saw value in sponsoring many of the Thredbo events. Bike Trials was immensely popular during this stage, with the intricate obstacle courses set up in the village, pulling large crowds of baffled onlookers as they watched bikes do things previously unheard of. Hans Rey was another big American name in to make it the long trip to Thredbo, to the delight of the crowds with his antics and celebrity status. John Tomac and Greg Herbold also made appearances in Thredbo during the early 90s, with sponsors Bell and Oakley funding their trip down under.

Dual Slalom was more than a sideshow during this time, with some of the earlier year competitions held under lights and in 1994 Reebok Nationals it was held down the super-steep slopes next to where the bobsled sits. Wild!

Thredbo had the events team and the terrain to manage hosting many events, from cross-country, downhill, dual slalom, trials and even a hill climb. And who could forget the ‘greasy pole’, where riders would attempt to ride across a pole over the pool during the award ceremony to a well-lubricated crowd.

National champ Rob Eva with his GT RTS and composite Spin wheels.
GT was a huge player in the racing scene, with Graeme Southcott’s GT Racing team. Ronning, Eva,  Sharples and a sweet GT RTS.
Michael Ronning making the long trip from Cairns would win many junior and elite titles in Thredbo. The Dual Eliminator was a lot like the skiing alternative and a popular event here.

Body armour was primitive; the bulky shape would make it hard to wear a sponsor jersey over the top, so many went without and showed off the logos.
Rob Eva’s XC and DH bike getting prepped in a ski lodge lounge room.
The good old days, where you used to purchase a photo from Hot Shots during the event. James Collins ripping on an old steel Bontrager hardtail, go James.
Sean McCarroll on the Giant Factory Team in the late 90s, absolute classic scenes!

Up next – the 2000s

Coming in the second of the three-part series, we look at the naughties, with significantly better bikes, faster racing and the formative Raw NRG years.

We want to hear from you!

Have you got some old pictures or crazy yarns from the old days or your first trips to Thredbo? We’d love to hear from you!

In the coming weeks, we’ll be calling on you to share memories and photos from riding in Thredbo over the last 30 years on the Flow MTB Facebook page. There’s going to be some sweet prizes from Thredbo MTB to give away, so stay tuned to Flow for more brake-melting gravity nostalgia.

This feature was made possible by the team at Thredbo MTB. 

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