After school program introduces middle schoolers to mountain biking

Will Bryant, 12, right, does a wheelie in front of Aspen Middle School closely followed by coach Nick Becker before the final Roaring Fork Cycling meet-up for the season in Aspen on Thursday, October 3, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

In late September, hundreds of high school cyclists from across the state competed on Fanny Hill during the Snowmassive Chase mountain biking race series.

It was a milestone for Aspen, Snowmass and Basalt riders to race on their home course for the first time in Colorado High School Cycling League history, and for their coaches with Roaring Fork Cycling aiming to grow and empower more local teens through the sport.

But while encouraging more high school students to compete is part of RFC’s mission, it’s not the nonprofit’s sole focus. RFC also is working to make mountain biking more accessible for teens earlier through its after school program for fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

“I really like everything about it, it’s just a lot of fun,” said Zeeland Bowers of Snowmass, a sixth grader at Aspen Middle School.

Bowers said he’s been mountain biking since he was about 5 years old, and joined the after school program last year as a fifth grader.

“I think we did longer rides this year,” Bowers said. “We go on a lot of good trails, … it’s a lot of fun but challenging at the same time. I think everyone should try the sport.”

On Oct. 3, Bowers met with about 30 other Aspen-Snowmass middle schoolers for the last after school ride of the season, pedaling to Paradise Bakery in Aspen for ice cream and back.

It was a nice culmination to end the fall program, according to RFC managing director and coach Tyler Durham.

“This is a time in people’s lives where so much is changing, but if we can establish the enjoyment of being active and outside, it sticks with them,” Durham said of the program.

According to Durham, the after school mountain biking program predates RFC, which was founded roughly three years ago.

This year, over 150 teens from Snowmass, Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs met RFC coaches every Tuesday and Thursday outside of their schools to ride, and over two-dozen loaner mountain bikes were available so there was no barrier for students to participate, Durham said.

“We want to make the sport more accessible for more people. If you’ve never ridden a bike before that doesn’t matter,” Durham said.

As Durham and Becky Church, another RFC coach, high-fived Aspen-Snowmass students and shook hands with parents after the final ride of the fall season, they talked about how much they’ve watched the middle schoolers grow as cyclists and as people over the weeks-long program.

“It helps builds confidence, we’ve seen some kids grow immensely,” Church said of the after school mountain biking program. “It gives them something they can do on their own and something not a lot of kids have an opportunity to do.”

“When you ride with these groups and see the transformations, it’s hard not to get really fired up,” Durham added, laughing.

Church and Durham also said that although the program has been around for roughly four years, this was the first fall RFC partnered with Access AfterSchool, a nonprofit that aims to provide enriching opportunities for teens outside of the classroom, to help put it on.

“It worked out well because they have the administrative resources to help us set up the program. They handled all of the registration this year and helped provide snacks,” Durham said of this year’s partnership with Access AfterSchool. “It helped elevate the whole program.”

Access AfterSchool offers enrichment activities like dance, sewing, creative writing and more for middle school students at the end of the school day across the valley, according to Mindi Cabe, program director for the nonprofit.

Cabe said she feels the mountain biking partnership with RFC fits into Access AfterSchool’s program and mission to provide as many positive experiences for kids as possible.

“The after school time frame is critical for middle school students. They start to gain independence and responsibility so we want to help them make good choices,” Cabe said. “When they fill that time with positive activities and build relationships with positive mentors, it guides them on a good path.”

Moving forward, Durham and Church hope to continue working with Access Afterschool, and to expand their program even more.

The growing popularity of RFC’s summer mountain biking kids camps proves there’s room for growth in programming at the elementary and middle school levels, the coaches said. But expansion only works if RFC can ensure it has enough resources to provide a fun, safe, accessible experience for everyone involved, Durham said.

“We’ve done a lot in our three years of existence and would definitely like to expand our influence, but it adds another level of complexity,” Durham said. “In this valley, the one way an organization like ours can thrive is by having access to the environment we do and so many dedicated people who believe in this program. … We are lucky for sure.”

This story originally ran in the Snowmass Sun, which can be found on newstands every Wednesday.