Words and Images by Vince Shuley
We are again in the midst of the biggest mountain bike festival in the world. Racers are hurling themselves down mountains at breakneck-speed while slopestylers are performing near super-human aerial acrobatics for our viewing pleasure. Such skill can rarely be attributed to talent alone. Years of training, practice, patience and injuries have moulded the top athletes at Crankworx. It's a long road that, for majority of athletes starts as simply as them riding a bike as a child.
Whistler is making its own contribution to the next generation of mountain shredders. Before kids start flipping onto airbags and pinning it down A-Line, they need to learn the basics.
There are several ways to get kids involved including the ever-popular WORCA dirt camps, but one of the favourites is Whistler Blackcomb's DFX Club, which has been nurturing young riders on downhill since it officially began five years ago.
Anna Boyd is the director of DFX and has had several years of experience coaching and managing Whistler Kids Club Ski programs as well. As downhill and cross-country mountain biking grew exponentially-popular in Whistler, she saw the need for a program to get local kids onto their bikes at an early age.
"Our first class went out in 2006 with four kids," said Boyd.
"They were riding the Magic bike park at the bottom of Blackcomb and used to play games during their breaks. The next year (2007) we hadn't done any advertising at all and I was the only coach. Fourteen kids rocked up out of nowhere so we had to make another class and recruit a second coach. The numbers went up dramatically every year and we now have over 170 kids in 31 groups."
DFX Club runs for the months of July and August with options of one or two days a week. Kids as young as five can enrol in the "Green" program, though they have to have ridden a bike before and be able to use handbrakes. As Boyd explains, XC is the focus for the 5-7-year-old novice riders.
"Our beginner and novice groups start on the easy trails like Lost Lake Loop,' said Boyd.
"We like to build up their physical and emotional stamina before attempting climbs like Tin Pants and Molly Hogan. When they've gained the stamina and skill to try single track they'll start descending the easier Zappa trails. The goal is to get the green groups descending a trail like Peaches en Regalia confidently by the end of the season."
The "Blue" program gives 8-12-year-olds one day in the bike park and one day in the valley. Most kids in Blue have had a year or two in Green or already have plenty of riding experience. Park days involve plenty of laps on the intermediate classics like B-Line and Devil's Club with sessions at the skills centres in between. XC days start to tackle more difficult climbs and more technical blue trails with features.