Thrill of the Open Trail
Photography: Mark Maziarz
Adventure. Exploration. Independence. These three words describe what Young Riders gives kids while teaching them mountain biking skills and environmental responsibility.
What started in 1996 as a single ride has evolved into a program so successful that 300 kids enrolled last year. Young Riders is the brainchild of local Parkites Dave Staley and Liz Lee, who one day, more than a decade ago, asked avid biking enthusiast Heinrich Dieters to take a handful of kids on a mountain bike ride up Daly Canyon to the Judge Mine. At a time when Park City didn’t offer alternative summer sports for kids, the idea caught on, and Young Riders was born.
According to Dieters, who is now the Young Riders recreational program director, “It shows kids that they can put themselves out there if they have the physical means. That’s why it’s so cool — it takes effort to get to the top of a peak.”
Dieters is literally the face of Young Riders. A fixture in town, he is always on his bike, getting himself from point A to point B on his favorite mode of transportation. The energetic Parkite also sits on the Walkability Committee, is the Mountain Trails event director and manages the Park City Nordic Ski Club. A kid at heart, Dieters commands respect (and a little hero worship) from his riders, and his passion for biking is unmatched. “I want kids to realize that they can get on their bikes and ride urban trails to the movie theater,” he says.
The Young Riders program offers kids ages 6 to 18 the chance to explore trails throughout Park City with coaches who teach safe riding techniques and trail etiquette. The rides often include “field trips” to local pools so kids can cool off after working up a sweat. Best known for its recreational program, the organization also offers a race program led by longtime local and 2003 NORBA National Champion, Tom Noaker.
Young Riders offers three options that pair kids with coaches who know Park City trails inside and out. The Seasonal Classes allow participants to ride one day a week for the entire summer with the same group of kids and coach. This provides consistency to locals or summer residents and ensures that riders are at the same level. According to Dieters, “We have had kids start the program, go all the way through, go to college and come back to coach. That sort of understanding, knowing where the hidden trails are, is a great way to give back.”
Another option is a Week-Long Camp with daily rides in different locations similar to the seasonal classes. Both locals and tourists can benefit by tailoring camps to their summer schedules. For kids who just want to “try out” the program but aren’t ready to make the commitment for a full season, Drop-In Rides are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Young Riders groups are organized by age, ability level and gender, since gender specific classes tend to boost female ridership. Ability levels range from very basic (no training wheels please) to hardcore downhill rides with kids honing technical riding and mechanical skills. Beginners focus on climbing techniques while advanced kids conquer single track riding and derailleur issues. New this year is an Adventure Co-ed program for 12 to 14-year-olds who don’t want to race but still want to ride. Dieters will return to coaching for this program with his wife Julie leading the girls.
In addition to empowering kids, Young Riders is also a nonprofit with programs that benefit the community at large. The annual Bike Swap has become a bit of an icon in Park City, with proceeds benefiting the Young Riders race program. The Hispanic Outreach program, now in its third year, provides Trek bikes to Hispanic kids so that they, too, can experience Young Riders. The organization has also created synergy with Mountain Trails Foundation, Basin Recreation and the ski resorts to utilize all 300+ miles of trails in Park City. They also work with Share the Road to help show kids safe riding routes.
As Dieters says, “Most kids have that drive for adventure and independence. I’ve often thought about how beautiful a bike is. It’s the first tool that kids use. They realize that [a bike] gives them a chance to express themselves.”
For more information on the Young Riders program, including registration, fees and trail schedules, visit youngriders.com. The 2008 recreational season runs June 9 – August 22.
Liz Yokubison is a freelance writer, mother of twins and avid mountain biker. Thanks to the Young Riders program, her 9-year-old son can now conquer climbs that she would rather avoid. She can still beat him on the descents — at least for now.