Costa Rica has always been known for its beaches and surfing, as well for its huge jungle parks. It has also been recently recognized for its mountain biking with long descents down volcanoes, and hundreds of kilometres of singletrack and doubletrack trails and roads once used to access coffee plantations.
Thats what brought Whistlers Chris Winter to Costa Rica in the first place. As the owner of Big Mountain Bike Adventures, a tour company that offers high-end mountain biking tours around the world, including Switzerland, Italy, Morocco and Whistler, he was scoping out Costa Rica as a potential destination.
He headed there in January to check it out, accompanied by various pro riders like Thomas Vanderham, Wade Simmons and Dave Watson to ride trails created by Costa Rican downhill rider Paul Valle in a mountainous region of the country. Valle first ventured into the remote area a few years ago, and with a machete and basic tools built a series of downhill trails with descents up to 7,000 metres from the rim of volcanoes.
According to Winter the riding was incredible, but one of the highlights was the children in the local town of Povindencia. Provindencia is a remote agricultural centre with two telephones and issues with drinking among the adult population.
"When we pulled into the little town, a whole bunch of kids chased us down the trail, and we hung out with them a little and let them ride our bikes around. It was a fun day," said Winter.
Winter decided to add Costa Rica and Valles trails to his tour company offering, and is offering two 12-day bike and surf trips in February and March.
About a month ago he was contacted by Valle. Valle went back to Provindencia to ride and do some trail work, and met up with the same kids they hung out with in January. They pulled him along to show him the trail they built, a short loop outside of the town. They also had a broken-down single speed bike that over a dozen kids took turns riding.
"Costa Ricans are a really warm and caring people in general, and Paulo is a big hearted guy even by their standards," said Winter. "He knew he couldnt let this just sit, that he had to do something."
Valle enlisted Winters assistance to launch the Providencia Project, and to get Sea to Sky residents to donate their good, used bikes to the kids in Providencia. Evolution in Whistler, Cove Bike Shop and Dizzy Cycles have agreed to accept the used bikes, and will fix them up to be shipped to Costa Rica. Winter is also hoping people will donate helmets, gloves, shorts, spare parts, and other gear to the project, as well as $600 to pay for the cost of shipping.
"Between Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish Im hoping to get about 10 good bikes to ship to Costa Rica, to a lot of great kids," he said. Hes looking for about seven kids bikes, as well as some smaller adult bikes. They have to be in good shape.
"Theres not much to do there, and there are some problems with drinking in the town, and we thought this would be a good way to introduce something positive into their lives," said Winter. "I think theyre going to see a lot of mountain bikers in the area in the next few years, and it would be great if the kids had their own bikes. It might even create some opportunities for them as guides or whatever, but the main thing is that theyll be doing something."
Winter is also one of the founders of the Zero Ceiling program, which brings at-risk youth to the mountains and trains some of those youth to become snowboard instructors. Winter sees similarities to that, but says he is a lot less involved.
"This was Paulos project, and its the bike shops like Evolution that are making the biggest contribution here. My job was just to get this started. Its an opportunity to get more youth into mountain biking down there, and if I see an opportunity to help people I cant say no," he said.
When he goes back to Costa Rica this winter, following a shipment of bikes, Paulo will have pictures of the kids and bikes which will be given to the donors. If you ever take Winters tour, you might even get a chance to visit the bike you donated.
For more information about Big Mountain Bike Adventures visit www.ridebig.com.