Biking coach Jon Casson talks to members of his group about bike safety before hitting the trails Thursday morning near Howelsen Hill. The group was a part of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's new youth mountain biking program, which will run for eight weeks during the summer.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Biking coach Jon Casson talks to members of his group about bike safety before hitting the trails Thursday morning near Howelsen Hill. The group was a part of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's new youth mountain biking program, which will run for eight weeks during the summer.

Mountain biking maniacs

Swarms of young riders hitting trails thanks to new program

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Bennett Gamber prepares to kick off on his bike Thursday as a part of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's youth mountain biking program. The eight-week course drew 85 riders ranging in age from 7 to 10.

— Parents watched from a distance as Blair Seymour stood in the center of the storm Thursday morning.

A storm of children, actually, who listened attentively and packed around Seymour at the base of Howelsen Hill.

Seymour said she had no idea what she was getting into last summer, when she first started teaching the basics of riding mountain bikes with her three sons and their closest friends.

Her impromptu get-togethers quickly grew and this summer, working through the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Seymour agreed to head up a new youth mountain biking program.

That her idea was a raging success needed no explanation as she parceled all 85 children who enrolled in the program off to 11 different groups Thursday. Throughout the morning, the young bikers swarmed the area like mosquitoes on a summer night.

"It was great. There were a few Band-Aids, but a lot of smiles," Seymour said of the first week. "A lot of the kids were apprehensive and nervous and had to be talked in to going, but they were so psyched and are excited to come back."

While getting children active and outdoors is one of the program's goals, one of the main purposes of the program was evident everywhere Thursday, the first day of the planned eight-week effort.

Group coach Jon Casson gathered his group together, children ranging from 7 to 10 crowding around.

"The most important thing is safety," he announced before proceeding with a thorough check of each bike in his group.

Learning bike safety is one of the most important parts of the whole effort, Seymour said, citing her own sons' struggles with picking it up.

"It's important for people to realize kids are on their bikes so much more during the summer, and they're out and around town," she said. "When I see a kid on a bike, I realize a 9-year-old can't always make totally good judgments. He can't always completely judge the speed of a car."

Better than they know

Seymour's small and unofficial program last summer quickly grew, until she was escorting 20 youths around town on bikes.

She hired experienced teenagers to help shepherd the group and started charging $3 per child, per ride.

Teenagers working for a few bucks gave way this year to some of the most experienced bikers in Steamboat Springs, who are all volunteering their time. Each group has a coach plus a junior coach who is typically a part of the SSWSC's biking program for older members.

Guiding groups Thursday, in addition to Casson, were top area competitors such as Nate Bird and Kelly Boniface, who recently won the cross-country mountain biking event at the 2008 Teva Mountain Games in Vail.

"It's important that the kids aren't just biking with their parents," Seymour said. "They tend to not whine and cry, and they do a lot more. They're more capable than they realize, and when they're riding with their friends and a coach, they tend to buck up and do more. It's pretty neat to see."

Organizers also plan to put the youths to work later in the summer, showing them exactly how Steamboat came to have such a wide variety of singletrack mountain biking trails.

And there are even more benefits. Seymour said she hopes she is creating the next flight of mountain bike competitors by getting the children on mountain bikes early and giving them the chance to mix with older and more successful youths and top-line biking adults.

"We focus more on competition, but those guys are focusing more on all-around biking. Still, it will be a big help," said Ben Clark, who oversees the biking program for older SSWSC competitors.

He said he hopes to one day reap the benefits of the youth program.

"We're trying to get athletes to think about endurance sports during the summer, too, but I wouldn't say we're just putting skiers and snowboarders on bikes. A lot of our athletes travel around to compete," he said.

The youth biking group meets every Thursday morning at 8:30 at the foot of Howelsen Hill. Riding in the full eight weeks costs bikers $100. Due to the overwhelming response, Seymour said the course is filled up for this summer.

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