MARQUETTE - The goal: pedaling through the woods with trees whipping by while keeping your mountain bike under control on the rough terrain. But how do you learn to do it?
Down Wind Sports has been offering their Jr. Mountain Bike program for 12 years now, and each year children ranging in age from 8 to 15 learn the basics of mountain biking and trail etiquette. Melanie Stasser has been a coach for the program since the beginning and has been a mountain biker for more than 20 years.
"We started this to get more kids into mountain biking," Stasser said. "We wanted to teach them more technical skills, maintenance on the trail and trail etiquette."
Coach Melanie Stasser leads her group past the Tourist Park trail head Tuesday during Down Wind Sports’ Jr. Mountain Bike Program. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Juliette Kimmes, 9, left, and Haylie Clark, 8, ride down the trail Tuesday during the Jr. Mountain Bike program. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Caitlyn Urimari, 8, pedals down the trail. The Jr. Mountain Bike program, in its 12th year, gives children ranging in age from 8 to 15 a chance to learn the basics of mountain biking and trail etiquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Class participants meet at Tourist Park every Tuesday morning for six weeks and they ride for about two hours.
Stasser said on of the lessons for kids is learning how to tackle obstacles on the trail.
"When we come to an obstacle, like a steep hill or sharp turn, we'll stop and explain to the kids what they need to do to get past it safely," Stasser said.
Groups are split up by age and ability. According to Stasser, the older children could pedal a maximum of 7 miles in a day, while the younger ones would be limited to about 3 miles.
The program teaches children to be self-sufficient out on a trail, she said.
"We want this to be a lifelong activity for them," Stasser said. 'Some of our kids have even gone on to do the Ore to Shore race. We've had a couple to the Soft Rock."
Juliette Kimmes, 9, said her brother and sister have participated in Jr. Mountain Bike program and she decided she wanted to try it, too.
"They did it two years ago and said it was really fun," Kimmes said. "So I wanted to try it because I'm really into mountain biking. My favorite part is going through the trails."
Caitlyn Urimari, 8, also joined Jr. Mountain Bike because a sibling had done it in the past. Her favorite part about the program is getting to go down big hills.
"I joined this class because it sounded really fun and my sister was in it and she said it was super fun," Urimari said. "And I've learned that you should always be standing up with going down big hills."
Haylie Clark, 8, said her favorite part is also is going down big hills because they're fun to ride. And one thing Clark learned in the program is to use her brakes when going down those hills, she said.
"I love to mountain bike and I always go on trails with my family," Clark said. "So I thought it would be fun to try (Jr. Mountain Bike)."
The Jr. Mountain Bike program is offered every summer for children 8 to 15 years of age by Down Wind Sports. It's free to join the group.
"We just want to expose kids to the sport and teach them as many skills as we can," Stasser said.
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243.