Crown Gravity Collective Launches in the Flathead Valley

The nonprofit youth mountain bike team provides both competitive and noncompetitive coaching for ages 5 to 17, growing to 70 kids in its second season

By Maggie Dresser

A handful of years ago while living in Bellingham, Washington, Ashley Larson and her family started mountain biking after her husband brought home a used bike, triggering a new hobby that would soon bring them around the Pacific Northwest, traveling to races with their kids.

“There were existing teams in Washington, and it was such a cool community for the kids to have, especially as a primarily individual sport,” Larson said.

After moving to Whitefish a few years ago, the Larson kids joined the Whitefish Mountain Resort Freestyle Team, where they were offered that same culture during ski season. But Larson was looking for that sense of camaraderie in the summer, and she started asking other parents if they would be interested in a mountain bike program.

Larson and her husband, Aaron, launched Crown Gravity Collective, a nonprofit, last year with about 15 families signed up at the beginning of the summer. By the fall there were more than 50 kids in the program. This year, Larson tried to cap the program at 50 kids, but there are currently 70.

“When we were traveling around to races, we saw the enthusiasm behind biking,” Aaron said. “We felt it was really on the verge here so we thought we would do it now before somebody else did and we absolutely hit a vein.”

Crown Gravity has a noncompetitive freeride team and a competitive race team, where kids ages 5 to 17 race a variety of different disciplines, including downhill, cross country and enduro.

The race team primarily travels to Idaho, Washington and Oregon for downhill races, competing in the Northwest Cup Series. There are also opportunities for serious competitors to travel to races nationally and internationally, with some heading to Whistler Mountain for multidiscipline races at Crankworx this summer.

While the race team provides options for travel, the freeride team typically has less coaching involvement, but kids still have the opportunity for training and less-competitive coaching.

“The race team is more interested in traveling and coaching with the goal of getting faster,” Larson said. “They still all practice together throughout the week, we just run an extra practice for the race team.”

Crown Gravity has four coaches, including Larson and her husband, and two college students – Tyler Ells and Hannah Amick, who return to the Flathead for the summer to help.

With 20 girls on the roster, Amick coaches the 12- to 13-year-olds and Larson says the group has gained a lot of confidence since they started.

“That group is my pride and joy right now,” Larson said. “They are the nicest girls and it’s such a powerful group. The goal is gaining confidence and it can be really intimidating to break into extreme sports that trend towards boys.”

Aaron has a Level 1 certification from the Bike Instructor Certification Program and both Larsons have USA Cycling Level 3 certifications and Basic First Aid and CPR certifications.

Practices run in multiple groups broken up by age Monday through Thursday, but the Larsons say training has been a challenge this year between logging closures at Spencer Mountain and June snow at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Legacy Bike Park in Lakeside has been a strong supporter of Crown Gravity, and Larson says it’s become the team’s mecca.

The team has also received sponsorships from Dharco, an Australian bike apparel company, which recently distributed jerseys, and Great Northern Cycle and Ski in Whitefish, which has supported the Crown Gravity since its inception.

With 70 kids already, the Larsons aren’t sure how much Crown Gravity can expand, but next year they hope to have a scholarship program to help families who can’t afford the sport.

“Mountain biking has a really high barrier to entry,” Ashley said. “I never want the cost of this team to be a reason a kid couldn’t do it.”

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