Anna Boyd has seen 6-year-olds that can ride A-Line well. By 8 or 9 many of them are really good, adds Boyd, programs supervisor for Whistler Blackcomb’s DFX Kids Mountain Bike Program. The fact that kids barely old enough to tie their shoes can shred one of the famous bike park’s toughest trails shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The program accepts kids as young as 4 — and even 3 if they’re almost 4 and able to ride on two wheels using a hand brake. (No coaster brakes allowed in the bike park.)
DFX (as in downhill, freeride, cross-country) offers three core programs, a summer-long club session for the local kids (about 300 are enrolled), day camps for out-of-towners, and new this season, 5-day programs that essentially clone the club program with 3 days of cross-country and 2 days of downhill.
“It’s a segment that is really exploding,” said Rob McSkimming, Whistler Blackcomb’s VP of business development. “And we are starting to see the industry respond with better kid’s gear and bikes and clothing.”
Indeed, along with a massive array of adult bikes, the Whistler Blackcomb demo fleet includes 20” Norco Ninjas and 24” Giant Yukons, a dual suspension rig that Boyd says Giant originally built just for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
“It used to be really hard to find small size kid’s bikes without coaster brakes, so we used to buy Norco’s and take them into shop and install a new wheel,” recalled Boyd. “But now there are more options. The industry is catching up with the kids at Whistler and all the other bike parks.”
The other — perhaps more important — impact of all these kids on bikes has been on their parents.
“We usually see two basic demographics,” continued Boyd. “Most of the Whistler parents already ride bikes. But with the daily and weeklong program, that number is maybe half. But what happens is that the moms and dads get pulled in because they see their kids doing it. A lot of those people used to think that the bike park was unattainable, big jumps and too much risk because that’s what you see on the internet or at Crankwork. But then someone sees their kid having a fun and safe time, and that boosts their confidence to give it a try.”
When those new-to-cycling parents do decide to give it a try, they have options. The bike park will always be front and center. But the Whistler-area also boasts a massive network of cross-country trails.