In this school, children share their classroom with chipmunks, squirrels and deer, and the hallways are lined with gravel.
What kind of school lets children scream at the tops of their lungs and go as fast as they can in the halls?
The Whitefish Mountain Resort Bike Academy, of course.
Here, recess is always in session, every day is a field trip and fun is the main course of study.
The academy is a summer program that teaches children ages eight to 17 everything they need to know in order to begin their journey about mountain and trail cycling. Two days a week, students learn techniques for crosscountry riding, uphill riding and downhill riding, plus some tips on maintenance and trail etiquette.
The academy rides mainly the trails at Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly Big Mountain), but the academy often takes trips to local trails as well, such as the riding trails on Farm to Market Road between Whitefish and Kalispell. During one expedition to the trails on Farm to Market, after a brief stretching period the young cyclists, led by their coaches, ambled off into the forest.
Their chains rattled and pedals clanked, and the sounds of children’s voices mixed with the din of nature’s sounds.
“My tire feels flat!” hollered one child, just minutes into the climb from the parking lot.
After 90 minutes of climbing into the deep forest along single-track trails and old logging roads, the group broke for lunch in a large meadow. Then came the most fun part of the day: the downhill portion.
From the steep switchbacks on Big Mountain’s bike trails, to the “Pig Farm” trails on Farm to Market Road, the students get a wide variety of terrain to ride. The switchbacks on the winding trail up Big Mountain presented one challenge for the young bikers trying to negotiate the turns.
The instructors know that their students are in middle-school range and they realize their attention spans might not last 10 minutes. They keep things simple.
On one ride, a schoolyard-like conversation took place among a brother and sister. The brother wanted his sister to take home rocks in her backpack. She didn’t care for the bland, grey rocks proffered by brother. “Those are boring,” she said. “I’m not carrying them.”
ON THE COMPETITIVE SIDE, Whitefish Mountain Resort is gearing up for the first mountain bike competition of the year – the fourth annual Early Bird XC Race on June 30.
This year the course will start slopeside of Moguls Village Pub in the mountain village. From there it will continue to Tenderfoot and Bedrock trails, and down to the Nordic area through the Gopher trail, then back through the village before heading to Moguls from the Kristiana area.
This is a warm-up race that sets the pace for the summer Thursday Night Race League series. There are three race divisions including Beginner, Sport and Expert with Male/Female and age classes in each. Helmets are required for all competitors. Registration happens from 8:30 a.m. – 10 a.m. at the Information Center Deck, located at the Moguls building.
Race start time is 10:30 a.m. with experts going first, followed by sport and beginner divisions. Cost is $20 and includes an official race t-shirt to the first 40 who register. An awards ceremony will be held on the Bierstube deck 30 minutes after the last racer finishes, approximately at noon.
In addition to the Whitefish Mountain Resort Bike Academy, the resort offers a Thursday night race league.
For recreational riders, beginning June 30, Chair 3 will be open through July, offering mountain bikers lift-served access to lower mountain trails and a mountain bike skills park. The charge for riding Chair 3 is $7. Hikers may use the chair, but no downloading is available.
On the Net: www.whitefishmountainresort.com
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