EAGLE — In Eagle this summer, kids are learning that there’s much more to mountain biking than just power in their pedals.
Developed by Mike McCormack, the Vail Valley Alternative Sports Academy MTB 101 program is a camp created in partnership with the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District, with a fundamental goal to develop lifelong sport habits, while educating a new generation of land and trail stewards.
In its second year, the camp is six days, with two separate sessions, held on three Tuesdays and three Thursdays in June, and the same schedule breakdown in July. Each session meets at the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink and goes from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day.
This year the sessions have had between 50 and 60 riders, ages 7 to 12, with each session implementing safe riding techniques, basic bike maintenance and trail stewardship, on both singletrack and dirt pathways. Depending on participation, the group is divided into like-minded and like-ability riders. When cold or threatening thunderstorms hit, the kids can use the time to play in the ice rink.
“Safety for the kids is our biggest priority, and our biggest goal is for the kids to stay mindful of the trails,” said program director and professional mountain biker Karen Jarchow. “Our trails are constantly under potential closure, and unless we can help motivate a new generation of trail users, that’s never gonna change, and we’re just going to continue to lose our lovely trails.”
It’s these up-and-coming trail stewards who will also be well versed in the techniques they learn at the camp.
“What we’re really doing is getting kids on bikes,” Jarchow said. “Just having fun, and teaching them how to stay safe and goofy at the same time.”
This year, the mountain bike camp is collaborating with U.BU, a mindfulness program for youth, designed to help kids initiate greater awareness and acceptance of themselves and others.
The 45-minute U.BU sessions — one each for the June and July camps — introduce practices on being more present with what’s going on inside and outside of the body, and identifying fear, what it creates physiologically, and how to develop more mindful responses.
“The idea of mindfulness practice in general is to be able to practice these techniques and these tools in a setting that is safe, peaceful and calm, so that when you get into those situations that maybe aren’t, you’ll be able to access them — so they become habit,” said Emily McCormack, U.BU founding partner and co-owner.
Camp program manager Laura O’Connor said the emphasis on skills training, stewardship and mindfulness are meant to be informational, but not to diminish the overall “looseness” in the days that make for a camp experience rather than a school experience.
“We want to develop lifetime riders and show them the required pieces that are key to riding bikes, but without over-structuring the learning environment,” O’Connor said. “We also break into more rider groups now — allowing for a better and more cohesive group riding experience. Kids become friends and really encourage each other on the trail.”
Jarchow said it’s the people who show up every day for the kids who really make the program successful, including the coaches, volunteers, photographers, mentors and trail crews.
O’Connor said the program will continue to expand and continue to integrate other sports, such as trail running, as possible extensions to VVASA. She said the potential of the mountain bike camp is still growing, and that will be the focus before more sports are added.
“In 2015, we doubled our attendance over 2014,” O’Connor said. “We saw many return riders to the camps; witnessing the growth in their abilities and personal satisfaction from the sport really has been an amazing experience — especially when we see transformations in habits and confidence. The riders have been showing us that we are on the right path, with each smile or fit of laughter on those weekly rides.”