WORCA youth Dirt Camp manager Duncan Munro knew he had an uphill battle to convince others about the virtues of introducing bike biathlon to his riders, aged 6 to 12. But with the support of Whistler 2010 Sports Legacies he has now introduced over 200 kids to the sport.
Campers spend one afternoon of their camps at a shooting range set up outside the High Performance Centre in Cheakamus Crossing, using Paralympic air rifles to shoot at a row of five targets.
At the range, every kid is given a safety lesson and a chance to try the rifles, then the campers are paired off. Each rider makes one lap of an 800-metre course - including a surprisingly technical section - built by Dirt Camp coaches. Then they hit the range. For every missed target the campers owe the coaches five pushups. After that, they hand off to their partner, who does the same thing. Each of the riders does two laps and hits the range twice.
Not only is it a nice change from riding singletrack after a week of hitting the trails, it also introduces a new sport into the mix.
"It's really interesting to see when the kids first get out there," said Munro. "The kids get a little frustrated, but as soon as they get into it and start hitting the target they really get into it."
Munro assisted with the Olympic biathlon preparation and events leading up to and during the 2010 Games, developing an appreciation for the sport. Through his research he has found mountain bike biathlon competitions throughout Europe, as well as other variations of the sport for the summer months.
He wants to see more kids introduced to the sport.
"I want to help make the Callaghan (cross country trails) successful and get kids into the Nordic program," he said. He pointed out that many of the kids that get into cross-country mountain biking are also getting into cross-country skiing. "We have the Callaghan and the Olympic Park and we need to get kids and everybody out there using it. In the long-term maybe we can get a five or 10 per cent cross-over from biking into the Biathlon Bears program or the Whistler Nordics."
Bike biathlon is popular with the kids and frequently the parents of the riders come out to watch - a rare possibility during a week-long camp where coaches and riders are scattered through the valley riding singletrack. Many of the parents take a turn at the range after the kids. Some have expressed an interest in trying it again during the winter.
Munro also had a chance to invite the Canadian Ski Cross team to the range as part of their summer cross-training, adding push-ups and jumping jacks as penalties to give the skiers a better workout.
Munro says he would like to see the program continue next year, which he says will be easier to organize now that people have seen it in action. Now the kids will expect it, he says.
"There's lots of opportunity to change it up, but we're definitely going to keep it as a way to attract kids to a cross-country-based program."
There is one week remaining in WORCA's dirt camp series, running from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3. For more information and registration visit www.worca.com.